Welcome to the new, hopefully improved edition of Wrestling Worth Watching. Back when Fear of a Ghost Planet started, this post was a way of looking at everything that happened in the world of televised wrestling that was good, from Chris Jericho trolling the crowd to Brodus Clay debuting as a funk-loving tubbo from outer space to a decent match on some indie fed’s YouTube channel. It was an ambitious project, and one that ultimately failed. In 2012, there is just too much wrestling out there to keep track of it all as it happens. So I’ll be forward and honest from the start of this new project: I don’t watch Impact Wrestling, as they don’t make an honest effort to make their shows available beyond airdate, and Ring of Honor doesn’t air where I live, though I’ll try to catch it whenever possible. These posts may seem like they’re dominated by the WWE, but that’s the reality of nearly every wrestling fan’s situation: the promotion who airs the most free wrestling is the one that gets watched the most. If you’d like to chime in with matches from elsewhere that should be noted, hit me up in the comments section.
Monday Night Raw (8/22/12)
Team Rhodes Scholars vs. Rey Mysterio & Sin Cara: For a month now, the WWE has done everything in its power to revitalize its tag team division, waking the dead by calling a time-tested audible in the long-running Daniel Bryan/Kane feud by pairing the two up and giving them the Tag Team Titles, running an angle where a rival team formed as a result of the champions’ dysfunction, then having a month-long tournament featuring several new teams. The only team that’s broken up as a result of not winning the tournament was the one pairing Kofi Kingston and R-Truth, the previous champions. Now there’s a power tag team (Primetime Players), a team of brothers (The Usos), a high-flying tag team (Justin Gabriel and Tyson Kidd) and these two teams, the most popular/hated and established of the bunch. Theirs was the best tag team match of the week, setting up the long-anticipated slight-letdown of a match between the Rhodes Scholars (I think putting “Team” in front of everything has been the worst part of the division’s rebuild. Team is implied!) and Team Hell No (the exception to the rule, as “team” is meant pseudo-ironically, though “Team Friendship” will forever be the better name). The only reason this wasn’t the best match on Raw is because Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan would later take the floor for 15 minutes.
Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler: For a long time, the only person the Money in the Bank briefcase turned into a star was Edge, and really all his surprising title victory over John Cena did was solidify his place as a top-tier talent. The second person to benefit from the odd bump the briefcase provides was C.M. Punk, though it took two tries—and an incredibly good feud against Jeff Hardy—to get it right. Everybody else either wasn’t ready, or wasn’t given something beyond that moment of glory, but in Edge and Punk, the briefcase has found purpose: either a crafty, dickish heel cashes it in and proves himself, or a mawkish good guy cashes it in and quickly turns evil. Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan are the next generation of men who’ve somehow taken that gaudy briefcase and turned it into a platform from which better careers are launched, Ziggler by taking Edge’s role, and Bryan by taking to Punk’s. While both remain a title reign away from true greatness, their match Monday on Raw was a gift from the ghost of WWE’s future, a thrilling contest teasing at the possibilities a full-blown rivalry between the two contain. The point of this was to reestablish the dysfunction between Bryan and his tag team partner Kane, and while that mission was accomplished and the work those two have done together has been very good, matches like this mean I can’t wait much longer to see Bryan on his own again, a mean little man with a nasty beard and a worse submission hold.
C.M. Punk vs. Sheamus: Though they didn’t mention it, there was a nice synergy to this contest, the 30 or so men around the ring not only serving as flesh-and-blood metaphor for the inescapability of the Hell In a Cell structure, but as closure to the mini-issue between Punk and Sheamus that started at the Raw in Chicago, when Punk bolted on a slated title vs. title match to eat at The Wiener’s Circle and hang with Paul Heyman. I haven’t seen every Lumberjack Match ever, but I feel pretty confident in claiming this as one of the best. The match is a throwback to a time when a sheer mass of humanity was enough to pique a crowd’s interest, and lately has been relegated to the typical blow-off match between Divas, the lumberjill match, if you will. Anymore, they’re confusing affairs, the lumberjacks rarely doing their job—containing the action in the ring—and instead clubbering on any poor bastard who ends up on the floor. So it was a sigh of relief when C.M. Punk landed on the floor, in a sea of humanity, and was merely tossed back into the ring. And it was surprisingly O.K. when Sheamus was thrown out there and got beat up, because he landed amongst a crowd of heels and wound up brawling back. Barroom brawls are an environment Sheamus thrives in, and lumberjack matches are a situation where crafty bad guys have to be their most cunning. C.M. Punk was just that, Sheamus was in his element, and the result was the most satisfying Raw main event in some time. The stuff with Ryback I covered last week, but having 30 men around the ring, overkill in any other match, was worthwhile just to see them split when the dude’s music hit.
WWE Main Event (8/24/12)
Dolph Ziggler vs. Ryback: There’s really no better opponent for Ryback than Dolph Ziggler, a wrestler who is, in every aspect, the second coming of “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig. If you’ve ever seen Hennig pinball around the ring for a larger, more muscular opponent, then you know what I’m talking about. Ryback’s an act only the most cynical wrestling fan doesn’t like, a monster in the Goldberg fashion who steamrolls through opponents with a variety of ridiculous power moves and stiff-looking strikes. Ziggler flopped around the ring for Ryback’s routine like a mad-man, putting over the legitimate danger presented by the monster while also showing that there’d be no escape for C.M. Punk on Sunday, even without the presence of a gigantic steal cage. The match did its job very well without tanking Ziggler. Credit for that goes to the length of the match—thus far the longest match of Ryback’s run—and to The Miz’s commentary, which pointed out that, against Ryback, everybody is off their game.
WWE Hell In A Cell (8/28/12)
The Miz vs. Kofi Kingston: The third match between these two in as many weeks, and, in many ways, the best of the bunch. Hard to believe that their issue began when Larry King’s wife threw a cup of water in The Miz’s face, but I’ve come away from their series as a fan of both men, when before I was ambivalent towards both of them. The opening two minutes or so were great, Miz and Kingston both fighting and failing to apply their finishing maneuvers, the fact that spots from previous matches evolved and became something else was a very nice touch, and the finishing struggle between the two, with Miz keeping the full nelson he uses in the Skull-Crushing Finale on as the two rolled to the ring and got back up to their feet, was tremendously exciting. Lately, Kofi’s Trouble in Paradise kick has been a devastating-looking, come-from-nowhere move akin to Shawn Michael’s Sweet Chin Music. That’s worked a lot better than the old set-up, where Kofi stands in the corner and tries to pump the crowd for it, much like Michaels did for his kick. And while you wouldn’t know it from the anemic crowd, the last three or four minutes of the match, from when Miz started targeting Kofi’s leg with a weird-looking, over-the-shoulder knee-breaker to the finish, was tremendously compelling stuff. Knee braces and leg casts are things the heel usually removes on an injured opponent, but they took things a step further here, with Miz injuring Kofi’s leg mid-match and stripping his boot and knee pad to further exploit the injury. I loved everything about it, even The Miz’s awkward execution of the half-crab.
The Big Show vs. Sheamus: For me, this was the match of the week, but I’m a big fan of Hoss vs. Hoss battles, something they featured plenty during the championship run of Mark Henry, and not enough during Sheamus’s time with the belt. Built up as a showdown between two knockout blows—The Big Show’s Knockout Punch and Sheamus’s Brogue Kick—the story of this contest wound up being much more complex, with Sheamus withstanding a number of Big Show’s past and present finishing moves, including the giant punch, and Big Show kicking out of the Brogue Kick, becoming the first man to do so in the process. The crowd—dead most of the evening—came alive when Sheamus picked up The Big Show and dropped him with a perfect-looking White Noise, and for good reason: however good Sheamus’s matches as champion have been (and however much he’s been built as the best champ in 10 years), they’ve lacked effective spectacle. The only other guy on the roster who has picked a guy like Show up on his shoulders is John Cena, but you expect that from him. This was built as blow vs. blow, a straight brawl, but that maneuver, more than Sheamus’ triumph over Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania, will be the defining moment of his championship reign. The finish, which saw Show sidestep a second Brogue Kick while throwing a K.O. Punch the champion’s way, was the best moment of the week, two semi-trucks playing chicken in the rain, only one driving away without jackknifing. This one wasn’t pretty, but boy was it effective.
C.M. Punk vs. Ryback: The most controversial match of the year, as even anti-Ryback partisans realized the risk of this match: Ryback loses the “wrong way,” and the WWE is out one potential game-changing superstar. Popular wrestling journalist (a three-word oxymoron, if ever there was one) Dave Meltzer says that he read through dozens of bad-to-middling ideas for the finish of this match, and that all of them were better than the one chosen here. Whatever. In 1998, Ryback’s ancestor Bill Goldberg defeated Hulk Hogan in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, ushering in what many felt was a new era in WCW. He was undefeated. He was slightly green. But he was at the apex of his popularity and ready for the championship. At Starrcade that year, he was defeated by Kevin Nash, who was aided by long-time running buddy Scott Hall, who used a taser to put “Da Man” (Bobby Heenan’s spelling, not mine) down for the count. It was an awful finish, an anti-climax that didn’t make a whole lot of sense (Hall and Nash were feuding, Goldberg was on the verge of reaching Hogan-esque levels of global fame), and Goldberg—and WCW—never quite recovered. The finish to the Hell in a Cell match between Punk and Ryback is similar in a way—Ryback was screwed over—but the circumstances are different. It doesn’t matter if the “GOLDBERG” chants that follow Ryback are now affectionate, if the same people who chant that stop to join the rest of the crowd in Ryback’s WWE-mandated “FEED ME MORE” chant, Ryback was not ready for the WWE Championship. To my recollection—hardly a useful tool, but one that probably feeds the WWE machine better than a photographic memory of every Ryback match—the man hadn’t bumped for move one of any opponent he faced before this match, from the jobbers named after presidents to the duet of former champions he faced leading into his main event this week. Here’s what Punk needed in order to win: the most biased official in wrestling history. Brad Maddox, last seen close to a month ago missing C.M. Punk’s foot on the ropes, stopped Ryback while he was marching around the ring with Punk on his shoulders. He low-blowed the man, slipped behind him, and quickly counted to three as soon as Punk pushed him over the ref and made the cover. I don’t want to say that it was brilliant, but it clearly shows that someone in the back learned from the essential mistake of the Nash/Goldberg issue, which was never successfully resolved. This was a FIRST TIME ENCOUNTER. That it happened in one of WWE’s most legendary matches was something of a head-scratcher, a calendar-based necessity, but really, it’s the only place it should have happened. Ryback’s destructive ways aided and got in the way of his goal. The cage provided a place where he could look momentarily weak, but also like the freaking monster he is. It allowed Paul Heyman to be at his panicked best. It meant that Punk and the referee would be unable to escape swiftly into the night. It meant Ryback would get his revenge. And he did so memorably, tossing Maddox into the cage as if he were Bam Bam Bigelow and the poor referee his Spike Dudley before chasing Punk up the cage and delivering Shellshocked 20-feet in the air. The show ended with Ryback nodding his head to his own music, foot planted firmly on Punk’s chest. Those who don’t think Ryback got his due last night, that his star was aborted rather than born, aren’t paying attention. The focus of this match, after all, was Punk establishing his legacy, finally gaining the respect of the WWE Universe. Punk is an asshole. A dick of the highest order. His legacy is that of a great, long-tenured heel champion. He stands in defiance of what the fans want to see. He makes those fans want to see his comeuppance even more. He finds and exploits the loophole and expects you to respect him for it. I’m going to come just short of calling this match brilliant, but it’s another example of why Punk’s run as WWE Champion, of late, has been one of the most effective such runs in memory. You wanted Ryback to win? You’re upset with the finish? That’s exactly how WWE wants you to feel. Tune in tonight on Raw to see that snide jerk get what’s coming to him.
The long and short of Sunday’s Wrestlemania is this: The matches that were meant to deliver, delivered. The matches that were going to be OK, were OK. The match that was going to suck, sucked. The only thing I had against what may possibly be the WWE’s biggest show (and perhaps its best) since Wrestlemania X7 was that Daniel Bryan lost his World Heavyweight Championship in 18 seconds, and, to be honest, I can’t complain about that either, given how that turned out. But, no matter how successful any given WrestleMania is, the RAW following is just as important, if not more so. While Wrestlemania is the cumulative blow-off of an entire year’s worth of build and anticipation, the Raw the night after serves as a platform upon which the company launches its new year, usually by bringing in new faces, re-debuting old ones, establishing the upper-echelon going forward, at least for the first quarter of the year.
I don’t have a crystal clear memory of every post-Wrestlemania episode of Monday Night Raw (or Wrestling Challenge or whatever), so pardon me if there are several hidden gems out there that go unaccounted for with this statement: Last night’s episode of Monday Night Raw might be the best one in a decade. For all I know, it may be the best episode of Raw ever. That’s not hyperbole; Raw, with nary a mention of the classic encounter between The Undertaker and Triple H that took place the night before, was better than all the hype, speculation, and drama leading up to or coming out of any Wrestlemania I can remember watching. It had, as its hook, the re-debut of a much maligned former WWE superstar, the return of a main event wrestler from injury, and a return so mind-bendingly improbable that I saw a picture of him in Miami hours before the show and kind of assumed he was just there to go on vacation. This was a Raw so good that I’m writing about it right now, as opposed to writing about it at the end of the week or, like every Raw this year, simply letting it dissipate, like mist. So yeah, here’s how everything went down:
The Crowd Was Insane
The crowd at Wrestlemania 28 was great, but the thing that happens when you take a roof off a stadium and put a wrestling crowd in there is that there’ll be long stretches of time where the crowd seems silent. The opening stretch of Chris Jericho vs. CM Punk, for example, seemed quiet, but in any other arena there would have been a fairly audible buzz. With 50,000 fewer people, the American Airlines Center seemed like it was going to explode the whole evening, as the fans chanted “YES! YES! YES!” for Daniel Bryan the entire night, even when The Rock was out there, even when John Cena was out there, and changed it to “SI!” for the return of Alberto Del Rio. I’ve watched a ton of wrestling and have heard a lot of crowds, and few compare to the sustained bombastics of tonight’s bunch. They were absolutely high on wrestling, making everything that happened seem important. That’s good, because most everything that did happen was, indeed, important.
Johnny Ace and “People Power”
Ace’s team won at Wrestlemania and, as such, he’s the GM of Raw and SmackDown! His speech opening Raw was brief, but it let us know exactly the kind of guy Ace was going to be, without the fear of losing his job hanging overhead: Smug and vindictive. Those are the two qualities that make the whole general manager thing work, and it gives guys like Zack Ryder and Santino a smarmy jerk to work with when, previously, the only thing they had working in their favor was how well-liked they are. It’s a good move with the potential to be made better, should the split between the two shows be brought to a merciful end. There’s been little distinguishing the two for years, and now, there’s even less. Do it! Pull the trigger.
The Rock Once Again Has My Hopes Up
The Rock won at Wrestlemania in a match that didn’t quite live up to the Once in a Lifetime hype, but it was still a good encounter and, hey, nothing was going to live up to the expectation placed upon it. And on Raw he came out and said exactly what I wasn’t expecting him to say, which was that Wrestlemania 28 was under no circumstances The Rock’s match. No. He want’s more. Specifically, he wants the WWE Title.
I’m not sure why “Christ” is a bleepable word or why “JHC” wound up being chanted (other than that the crowd was up for anything), but The Rock, once again, seems serious about this whole wrestling thing and is looking for an eighth reign atop the WWE. Something I didn’t mention while writing about Wrestlemania 28 is that The Rock, simply by being in the building, merely by being on the show, gives every wrestler on the roster more exposure than they’d receive were the Rock merely sipping bloody Marys in his trailer on the set of G.I. Joe. John Cena, as we’ll later learn, is pretty much occupied, leaving The Rock with some slim pickings when it comes to worthy championship opponents: Should The Rock go one on one with CM Punk or Daniel Bryan, for example, I will absolutely lose my mind. Moreover, a feud against a guy like CM Punk would probably elevate him to the sort of godhood only reserved for men like John Cena and The Rock himself, particularly if Punk does what Cena couldn’t and wins the thing.
That being said, The Rock will probably end up in a feud against Randy Orton or something, but a man can dream.
Funk Is In A Feud
I love Brodus Clay, to the point that his five minute dance number with Mamma Clay and the Bridge Club wasn’t an unnecessary intrusion on a night where I really didn’t want unnecessary intrusions. But if there’s something that Clay needed, it was a chance to expand beyond the three minute matches he’s been exclusively featured in since his re-debut. At the conclusion of a triple threat match for the United States Championship, Brodus came out and rescued Santino from the combined forces of Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler (Swaggler, as the kids say), absolutely leveling Ziggler with a headbutt that Ziggler made look like the very image of death. If that’s a one-off, for shame. If Clay ends up being part of an extended angle with either Ziggler or Swagger, that’s good. Santino, I’m convinced, will never be a useful figure to me again, but if he gets Brodus a seven minute tag match on Raw or a pay per view, I’ll do him a solid and pretend that his stellar heel run ended before the whole Santina farce.
Re-debuts of old characters rarely work, as wrestling fans have a longer memory than promoters believe and, usually, when a wrestler is making his second or third reappearance on the main show under his second or third gimmick, fans tend to know and are merciless about the past. As an example, fans still chant “Sexual Chocolate” at Mark Henry, despite how awesome he is as a giant, unstoppable monster. To my mind, there’ve been very few good redebuts in the history of wrestling. Two spring to mind immediately: Umaga, a drastically new look and style for a guy who was formerly a member of a sibling gangster Samoan tag team, and Kane, who had to suffer stints as a more popular wrestler’s doppelganger and as an evil dentist before settling into the role that will define his entire career. It’s early, but I’d like to add Lord Tensai to that list after one match, if only because the basis of the gimmick is so surprisingly unique. Look at this teaser video:
For the past few weeks, I’ve been under the assumption that A-Train (the artist formerly known as Prince Albert, he of the team T&A, both things being about as “Attitude Era” as you can get while still being forgettable) was returning with the gimmick that he was Asian, which would probably have been one of the worst ideas ever considering just how white he is. But Lord Tensai, who was once only distinguishable from other monster wrestlers by the fact that he had a ton of hair on his back, comes out to the ring dressed like an early 90s Great Muta and Michael Cole flat out acknowledges what everybody knows: That this guy used to go be in the WWE and that he went to Japan. Not only did he go to Japan, but he adopted the Japanese lifestyle because, get this, it made him a better wrestler. It wasn’t the sort of praise I was expecting. It was exactly the sort of praise this character deserves.
The match itself is simple brutality; one guy roughing up another. Brodus Clay was probably pushed into a feud because they can’t have two guys out there indiscriminately squashing the Alex Rileys and Heath Slaters of the world, but this here is one of the more impressive squash matches I can recall seeing. As opposed to just being a few moves leading to the star’s finishing move, Riley pretty much takes everything Tensai has to offer, to the point that he literally can’t continue. How good was this, as a re-debut? The fans, initially torn between making fun of A-Train’s past and cheering for Daniel Bryan, come around for Tensai’s butterfly suplex and are firmly in his pocket as he drills Riley with the fatsplash and his old Baldo Bomb finisher, which will surely get a better name. Also, Tensai appears to be bringing Asian Mist back to the WWE, which is amazing because I really love Asian Mist, and it’s unprecedented that a white guy can do it without looking stupid. A promising start, to say the least.
CM Punk vs. Mark Henry
This was just a good match, which is important, because that’s pretty much what wrestling is about. Punk and Henry really have little reason to be fighting, but Mark Henry has established himself as a solid title threat and, after calling Johnny Ace a “toolbox” (hard to believe that’s the best Punk could come up with), what other means of punishment would be more suitable for a WWE Champion with a hurt back than a title defense against a huge dude whose whole game is crushing spines?
There’s more to the match than the above, but you get the picture: Punk looks like a valiant champion, Henry looks like a killer, and the world keeps turning. The way the match ended, and with rumors that Chris Jericho was going to take time off (already!) to do a Fozzy tour, I was actually thinking that this’d be a good way to get a short, meaningful feud between the two started. But things didn’t turn out that way, and Mark Henry looks to be part of an angle to bring back Abraham Washington, who might end up being—shock of shocks—a manager in a managerless era.
Chris Jericho Forces CM Punk to Drink
Yes, Punk and Jericho continue to re-do one of Punk’s seminal indie storylines—the feud with Raven that ran through Ring of Honor and several other promotions—but to me, it’s different because of the essential difference in Raven and Chris Jericho’s characters: Raven was always looking to bring his opponent down to his level; Jericho is always seeking to elevate himself above his. Jericho failed in his Wrestlemania bid to prove to the world that he was a better wrestler than CM Punk (that not really being one of Raven’s objectives), and, as such, is resorting to prove that he’s the better person, if only because he won’t compromise his moral values, whatever those may be. With Punk down and out because of his match against Henry, Jericho has the opportunity to do what he said he was going to do and make Punk drink:
Call me crazy (or an apologist), but I like that Jericho slipped in the booze on the ground. Most dudes, given that situation, would freeze. Jericho pivots and starts beating on Punk. I won’t go as far as to say that it adds a shade of realism to the segment, but it’s nice to know that these things can’t flap some people. And Jericho’s promo was really quite good. The only thing totally unbelievable about the whole thing (beyond the fact that the second bottle of Jack Daniels breaks in Jericho’s hand) is how much booze Jericho felt was necessary to be a dick. I mean, Punk is pretty freakin’ straight edge. A travel-sized bottle of Jack from the airplane probably would have been shameful enough. But I guess if we’re going to have metaphors on Monday night, they need to be as big as possible.
ALBERTO DEL RIO
Literally the only bad thing about Alberto Del Rio returning on Raw is that it might mean pushing Daniel Bryan out of the title picture. Sheamus is still a big, oafish Irishman despite carrying around the World Heavyweight Championship, and, in order to establish himself as a true championship level face, he needs an opponent who is both talented and decidedly a heel. Outside of the American Airlines Center, where the crowd booed Sheamus because he was in that eighteen second match against Daniel Bryan—an eighteen second match that might have done more to get the Bryan over than anything he’s done in his WWE career—Del Rio will play exactly as he’s meant to, and will give SmackDown! a needed shot in the arm.
The return of Del Rio also meant the return of Ricardo, whose introduction of Del Rio, complete with the blaring trumpets, the cars, and Del Rio’s scarf, has been sorely missed. The guy has been doing breathing exercises, too, as his “RIO” lasted almost a full minute. If we end up getting a Del Rio/Sheamus feud, it’ll be pretty good. If Daniel Bryan is somehow still involved, it’ll be utterly fantastic. Better, Christian’s momentary return before Wrestlemania hints at him being ready to make a return, as well, meaning that both brands (should brand distinctions somehow continue to matter) carry a rich assortment of top guys for the first time in awhile.
I mostly know Brock Lesnar as a video game character, an action figure of freakish size and strength. I saw him debut, a whole ten years ago, the day after Wrestlemania X8, and it was obvious that he was going to be something special. I just never got to see most of his significant matches, as they mostly took place after the dreadful Kane/Triple H Katie Vick angle that chased me away from wrestling for four years. I don’t know if it’s my lack of interest in a bald Kurt Angle or my fear that much of Brock’s run may have been overrated or hasn’t aged particularly well, but Lesnar’s reign atop the WWE is one that I haven’t gone back and visited, despite really liking his match against The Rock at Summerslam 2002. I’d rather have him be an exaggerated figure of other people’s memories than another in a long list of potential disappointments I’ve faced as a fan.
But when John Cena asked the Rock to come out for a handshake and Lesnar’s music hit instead, I nearly leaped out of my chair. This was big. This was huge. The crowd, who had been loud all night, somehow got louder. And Cena, usually so cool in the face of danger, looked like he was cracking, even if only a little. The beauty of this segment is its simplicity:
Lesnar says nothing to Cena, at least nothing he can hear. He gets into the ring, points to the name on his shirt, offers Cena a handshake and, before Cena has time to react, Lesnar puts him in the F5, which remains one of the coolest finishing moves ever devised. The fans, no longer able to express their joy with mere chants of “YES! YES! YES!” resort to the now little-heard “HOLY SHIT” chant. Michael Cole claims that the entire landscape of the WWE has changed, and for once he’s not lying.
This was a great swerve. A GREAT swerve. I was expecting Cena to ask for a rematch against The Rock, an opportunity to redeem himself in the face of failure. After Wrestlemania, he doesn’t like The Rock; he wants to show the respect he has for him, and hopes The Rock will do the same. Instead we get Lesnar. Lesnar who so obviously does not respect anybody. Lesnar whose mere presence tells the fans that things have very much gotten real. Brock is wordless, but he doesn’t need words when he’s got the F5, when he can get up and kick Cena’s stupid little hat across the ring like he was toying with a child.
This is a challenge, the sort of thing John Cena can’t remain stagnant against. The Rock and John Cena were opposites, sure, but The Rock didn’t hate Cena and certainly didn’t hate the WWE. Brock Lesnar hates everything and is the WWE’s prodigal son, leaving for the NFL, for a stint in Japan, for a successful-if-short run in the UFC. He hated the traveling, hated the life, hated everything about professional wrestling. Cena, by contrast, loves the life and loves the WWE more than anything in the world. Brock is a world-destroyer, a man built of pure rage, and it’s not the gimmicky rage of Kane. This is real. This is a threat. This is a guy who is either going to kill John Cena or turn him into something he doesn’t want to become.
When I was complaining about the build-up to Cena’s match against The Rock, I said that, in terms of clear, effective storytelling, the feud between Rock and Steve Austin pretty much encapsulated everything that’s great about wrestling, and that’s true. This, too, is clear and effective storytelling, and in one short, deafening utterance. Music. F5. Hat kick. Brock Lesnar hates John Cena. Brock Lesnar wants to fight John Cena. Brock Lesnar can destroy John Cena. What does Cena do? Where does he go from here? I have no idea, and that’s exactly why I love professional wrestling: Even when things seem clear as day, it retains the capacity to shock, it still manages to surprise.
Beyond the utterly fantastic cage match between Daniel Bryan and Mark Henry and the largely good Survivor Series pay per view, it’s been a relatively lame couple of weeks for the WWE, who, in a mad attempt to a) build Zack Ryder b) build the Cena/Rock match at WrestleMania without the Rock and c) turn CM Punk into a sardonic version of Cena and Randy Orton, have managed to make themselves dreadfully uninteresting heading into the new year. I’ve been watching, but when the gist of my comments for the week could very well be “meh,” my time is better spent on things like grading. But, with the Slammy’s behind us and Alberto Del Rio once again looking like semi-credible heel threats, the WWE is, if not “interesting,” at least presenting a show that I can waste some digital ink on, capped by a very good, if redundantly named Pay Per View.
WWE Monday Night Raw (12/12/11)
Questionable Decision of the Week I: I know that midgets, racial stereotyping, and wigs are, for Vince McMahon, a dude in an ape suit away from comedic perfection, but man has Hornswoggle gotten more and more insufferable since gaining the ability to speak on the holiday SmackDown! Kids love the little guy, but I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that allowing him to talk is their way of edging him towards the firing line. He’s not cute. He’s not cuddly. And now that he’s trying to talk jive, he’s not in good taste.
Jim Ross: A few weeks ago, there was a sign in the crowd that asked, simply, that the WWE stop bullying Jim Ross. They haven’t, but kudos to Ross for trying his damnedest to work with what is perhaps the worst feud in WWE history. This week, he forgot the words to a rap-off and tried to do a spin-a-roonie, but, predictably, couldn’t. Whatever. Ross pulled off his not being able to pull things off in style. If he needs a rap in the future, I suggest this one:
Mick Foley and Ted DiBiase: They could have read from the telephone book, and I’d have been pleased so long as Ted let loose with his evil laugh.
Road Dogg Jessie James: I guess making fun of Vince McMahon on TNA television gets you somewhere, after all.
CM Punk’s Mega Massive Dynamic Dudes Burn: There are probably two ways of looking at Punk’s fascination with the former Johnny Ace. The first, obviously, is to question why it matters. Most people watching WWE–and it’s not just most kids who watch, but most everybody–have no idea that Ace was a former WCW wrestler and that he was one half of the infamously stupid Dynamic Dudes tag team (though, to his credit, at least he learned how to ride his skateboard). They hate Ace simply because he’s middle management, and the WWE has been telling its fans to hate middle management since the Montreal Screwjob. Making fun of Ace for tagging with Shane Douglas is a lot like making fun of Ace for being Road Warrior Animal’s brother–it hurts, but not because everybody is in on the joke. But, to a nerd like me who knows way too much about WCW and way too much about Ace, the subtle Dynamic Dudes burns have been small relief on a show that’s reached hard and failed to find anything resembling humor, of late. And when Punk comes out to accept a Slammy arm-in-arm with a mannequin wearing a Dynamic Dude’s t-shirt? Gut laughter. It also helps that the nine-minute segment had two of the better video packages of the year:
Granted, Punk’s best lines weren’t put into the video introducing the award, but represented in the video is the stunning transformation of R-Truth, the Punk/Austin confrontation, Booker T’s year of awesomeness, the Big O, and Howard goddamn Finkel. That’s all you need. And then, the Johnny Ace tribute package, put to Stan Bush’s “The Touch,” a video so good it almost made Ace look like a legitimate star, stateside. Not only that, but it involved JIM CORNETTE. The video truly was, as advertised, was Rad, Cool, and Gnarly.
Questionable Decision of the Week II: The “Trending Superstar of the Year” Slammy. It made no sense, and the match itself was pretty much pointless, as the winner wasn’t necessarily going to get a Slammy. Granted Ryder probably was the most popular wrestler of the year, as far as social media metrics go (he also has the most chintzy merch, after a long stretch where all he had was an awkward-looking t-shirt), but he could and probably should have just won the award and had a match where Twitter wasn’t mentioned once every other second.
Christian: I smile every time Christian asks for “one more match.”
Questionable Decision of the Week III: I know that handing Punk every Slammy was probably out of the realm of possibility, but not only was he not nominated for “Game Changer of the Year,” but he did not win “Oh My God Moment of the Year.” Both of which are pretty unreal, when you think about it. Triple H had nothing to do with McMahon getting “fired” other than delivering the news, and the game wasn’t exactly changed by the moment. The Undertaker kicking out of Triple H’s tombstone was a less-than-shocking but still cool moment in an otherwise dull brawl, as compared to Punk overcoming the Montreal Screwjob, beating John freaking Cena and exiting stage left with the WWE Championship.
I’m probably going to write more about this later, for whatever reason, but the Slammys, to me, represented the WWE’s assimilation of CM Punk’s wild summer. He was an aberration, and the company’s ability to shrug off what was, in June, a transcendent moment in the history of the medium, as business as usual in comparison to Cena challenging the Rock to a match that’ll take place next year and the finish to a match that will be forgotten in a year means that what Punk accomplished doesn’t matter beyond putting him into the Cena/Orton strata, but as the one smarks can stand to see win. You almost need to give the company kudos, but that match, as a moment, deserved a little more recognition on its own.
Questionable Decision of the Week IV: Having an “Oh My God Moment of the Year” award if you’re not going to use Joey Styles.
Having Goldust Do Anything: Even if it’s giving Snooki an award over the Muppets, I’m always a fan.
Questionable Decision of the Week V: Giving Snooki an award for accepting a paycheck. In the aftermath of her WrestleMania moment, John Morrison, Melina and Michelle McCool are gone, Layla hasn’t been seen on TV since getting injured shortly thereafter, and Trish Stratus went back to her yoga studio a slightly richer woman. Meanwhile, on the Muppet episode of Raw, Statler and Waldorf buried Michael Cole and we found out that Sheamus and Beaker are related. Who should have won? If it’s even a question, screw you.
KANE: Yes, yes, yes. I was worried, especially when he came out wearing Casey Jones’ goofy-as-hell mask, but the minute Kane’s old music hit and the lights went red, it was on. This might just be a cheap ploy for WWE to set the record for most masks worn in a public venue (yes, that’s a real record), and I may never have been a big fan of Kane, but whatever. The character always worked best as a silent, indefatigable killer, and if they had to go back to 1997 and give him a mask to get it done, so be it. Here’s a guy people have always liked and respected, who, in return, has been given a title reign where he beat the Undertaker with a flashlight, and where Edge covered his manager in half-eaten chicken wings. This after years of goofy attempts at humanizing him, after the lame reveal of his very much un-burned face, and after years of ill-advised booking. Things have been made right by him, and it’ll be interesting to see what he does.
I just noticed, upon watching that clip, that Jerry Lawler, for whatever reason, cracked a joke about Mark Henry and watermelon. Not that it matters, and not that I’ve never defended Jerry Lawler’s commentary or career before, but between this, his weird joke about the Jerry Sandusky scandal, his obsession with Vickie Guerrero’s weight, and his endlessly creepy comments about pretty much every WWE Diva under the age of 30/under 130 lbs, but Lawler has officially become a detriment to my enjoying the WWE. If he hangs up the headset sometime in the next year, it won’t be too soon.
WWE Tribute to the Troops (12/13/11)
For the record, I skipped past everything that wasn’t wrestling-related. While I appreciate what the WWE says it’s doing for the troops, the company has a long, shady history of exploiting war and patriotism for temporary gain. While turncoat Sgt. Slaughter and Muhammad Hussan aren’t exactly crimes against humanity, I don’t think the WWE should get a ton of extra credit just because they’re doing something nice. After all, they’re also trying to get some money from it, which, if nothing else, is the American way.
Questionable Decision of the Week VI: I understand that it’s not possible to hold the event in a war zone anymore, but it’s still a little weird to see the show taking place in a regular arena, with the TitanTron and everything. The outdoor setting of previous Tribute events, along with the sense that the company really went all out to put on a show for the troops, was a large part of what made those events work so well. Beyond the presence of so many troops, the show went on as would a typical episode of Raw or SmackDown!, building future shows (TLC: Tables Ladders and Chair), and featuring backstage interviews.
Sgt. Slaughter: Always a fan of the cobra clutch, the lisp, the chin. The night probably would have befitted from some “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, but Slaughter’s a good choice for easy nostalgia.
Zack Ryder vs. Jack Swagger: Sometimes it seems like the Great Ryder Experiment is going to fail, but when 10,000 soldiers are chanting “broski,” something is definitely going right. Dolph Ziggler’s douche-heel ways continue to be something to behold, and Slaughter put Swagger in THE CLUTCH. It may have only been four minutes long, but the match did a lot in building to the Ziggler/Ryder match at TLC.
Questionable Decision of the Week VII: Having the host of a TV show pin Beth Phoenix. There are a lot of problems with the Diva’s division, and having a non-wrestler beat the champion only exacerbates them, even if it’s only in good fun. That being said, in two matches, Maria Menounos has displayed more natural wrestling talent than Alicia Fox. The look on her face during Kelly Kelly’s headscissors of doom was also pretty good.
Questionable Decision of the Week VIII: This picture, ’nuff said.
Cody Rhodes vs. Daniel Bryan: Quietly, Rhodes and Bryan have been developing one of the WWE’s better in-ring feuds. If that becomes something bigger than it is, that’d be great, but they’ve had something like four or five matches against each other on WWE TV this year, and all of them have been worth watching. This one was more about building up Cody’s match against Booker T at TLC, but it was probably the best match of the evening.
Evan Bourne Being an Awkward Nerd Around Miss USA: Made perfect sense.
Air Boom vs. Primo & Epico: The best televised tag team match of the year, even if I wonder where the hell Hunico went in this stable. No matter. Air Boom is back and still working well as a team, and they’ve finally got a heel tandem that wasn’t thrown together hastily to match themselves against. A nice step forward for the WWE Tag Team division.
Christian: He should just say ridiculous things every week until he’s ready to come back. Between presenting himself the invisible Slammy for “Most Courageous” and paying tribute to the Canadian Army, which is the greatest fighting force in the world, Christian manages to be one of the WWE’s more interesting, effective heels, all without stepping into the ring.
CM Punk & John Cena & The Big Show vs. Mark Henry & The Miz & Alberto Del Rio: Any time you can simultaneously build to two main event matches and do so well, you’ve got a stew going. Granted, there’s Cena, a rare healthy scratch at the PPV, but he is pretty much the WWE’s avatar, as far as the troops go, and in Fort Bragg, he has a venue that refuses to boo him or get caught up in the lame LETS GO CENA/CENA SUCKS dueling-chant-a-thon that his matches tend to be. The big story coming out of this match is that I want mark Henry to feud against EVERYBODY. A CM Punk program would be exceptionally nice. Also of note: a twist on Punk’s Savage Elbow Drop and the typical Big Show/Little Guy splash spot. It looked adlibbed and, more important, it looked like Punk and Big Show were having fun with it. There are few things more infectious than wrestlers having fun at their jobs.
WWE NXT (12/13/11)
Questionable Decision of the Week IX: Granted that I haven’t seen NXT in a few weeks, but whoever decided to replace William Regal with Matt Striker deserves to be drawn and quartered. The only made-up facts I want to hear are Regal’s wonderful Maxine Facts of the Week.
Trent Baretta Gets a Microphone: And the first thing is does is call C. Recks (like I’d forget my clever tag name for Curt Hawkins and Tyler Recks) a pair of “grumpypantses.” Then Yoshi Tatsu told Recks to wash his hair. This is pretty much why I watch the alternate, horrifying universe that is WWE NXT.
The Bateman/Maxine/Curtis Love Triangle Video: This might just be the worst angle of the year, but you wouldn’t know if from the video they put together to hype the love triumvirate’s appearance on Percy Watson’s talk show. In all seriousness, it was put together better than some videos used to promote main event Pay Per View matches. If anything comes from this, I hope it’s that Bateman and Curtis get a shot. Both are talented, well-rounded wrestlers, and might even work well as a tag team. As soon as they figure a way off of the Island of Misfit Toys, they should see their fortunes improve. I mean, Bateman got a sign this week, so you know somebody cares.
Johnny Curtis’ Defense When Accused of Paying off JTG: “I don’t have that much money.” How sad.
Maxine is Tired of Titus O’Neil Barking: She speaks for us all.
Finding Out that “Uso” means “Brother” in Samoan: So they’re the Brother Brothers. I laughed.
One of Titus O’Neil’s Son’s Names is Titus. The Other’s is T.J.: I hope that stands for “Titus Jr.”
Titus O’Neil Compares Himself to Ted DiBiase Sr., Ron Simmons, and The Rock: I laughed, then I was thankful that he left out Vader. O’Neil is probably going to end up like Scotty Goldman…only Scotty doesn’t suck. And he probably wouldn’t fall over every fifth word. It’s no wonder they keep bringing guys back onto this never ending show–it takes all hands on deck to carry poor Titus through a segment, let alone a weekly, episodic telecast.
WWE Superstars (12/15/11)
Apparently: Superstars is now a nebulous, undefined zone where WWE superstars compete for a 10 match contract for Raw or SmackDown!. This is news to me, and smells of something Matt Striker made up because he doesn’t think matches are important enough on their own, but if this is indeed the case, I kind of like the idea, provided it’s followed up on and the likes of Drew McIntyre or Justin Gabriel really do get a chance to be on Raw or SmackDown!. It smacks a little bit like the concept of NXT, minus the awful format and still-green wrestlers.
Hunico’s Sweet Ride: I’m going to let Dusty Rhodes handle this one…
Hunico vs. Trent Baretta: The Abe Lincoln tights are gone, replaced with a sloppy mess that may as well read “Fire Me” instead of “Trent?” but Baretta is pretty much capable of having a good match with anybody. Lucky for him, Hunico’s pretty good as well. It’s a short match, and I can’t quite say that it’s worth seeking out for anything specific (beyond Hunico’s bicycle!), but the week leading up to TLC is kind of weak on the wrestling, so I’m mentioning it by name.
Questionable Decision of the Week X: Just noticed this, but it looks like the album cover for the TLC theme song is a swastika…being eaten by some disembodied heads.
Air Boom vs. Epico & Primo: Longer and better than their match at Tribute to the Troops. Kofi, it seems, has been watching his indie tapes. There’s certainly more Low-Ki in his offence, and he’s minimized his use of annoying roll-throughs and leaping chops and other suchlike garbage, though he does roll through for a leaping clothesline off a hot tag. Epico and Primo work very well together, even if Rosa Mandes feels tacked on, and if a few other teams can start getting exposure, there might just be something to this tag team division thing. Worth seeking out.
WWE Friday Night SmackDown! (12/16/11)
Booker T: I know that plenty of people on these here internets don’t like Booker T, but as a huge, huge WCW fan, the Harlem Heat theme song makes me so, so happy. Not only that, but Booker T sounded more serious in his interview at the beginning of SmackDown! than he had since his feud with Scott Steiner as WCW crashed down around him. If they let Booker sound more natural on the headset, he might yet prove to be a very, very good addition to the commentary booth. Not that I’m not already the only person who likes him as a commentator. Because I am. I love his commentary. But I wouldn’t mind a short-term return to the ring for Booker, as his feud against Rhodes has been far more interesting than any recent iteration of the young wrestler vs. old announcer feud the WWE seems to love. His facial expressions while Rhodes was running him down? Sublime.
Daniel Bryan vs. Cody Rhodes: For the love of God, somebody please give these two a twenty minute match without another feud hanging overhead. Without Booker T interfering, Rhodes and Bryan just flat out have another good match in their unsung series, and this one’s got a good finish, to boot. Bryan, I hope, will soon be booked as something more than just a threat to beat guys like Rhodes and Mark Henry, but I don’t think he’s had a bad outing since signing a WWE contract. Or ever. And Rhodes continues to improve, impress, etc., even if I miss his kneepad-less look.
Questionable Decision of the Week XI: It is no longer enough to just question why the WWE, in building Natalya and Beth as their main women’s heels, feels the need to constantly put Alicia Fox or Kelly Kelly or, really, anybody over them on a near constant basis. I’m willing to accept that Alicia Fox will pick up a win or two if that’s what it takes for women’s wrestling to have a presence on TV, but who benefits from a 90-second match that ends in a surprise roll-up, especially if that’s the finish every week? Certainly not Alicia, who could probably use all the ring time she could get, and definitely not the WWE, who have, in Beth Phoenix and Natalya, two of the most talented women they’ve ever employed. The Diva’s division is in clear and dire need of a rebuilding project, and on a scale much, much larger than that which faces the tag team division. When/if Kharma comes back, that’ll be a step in a positive direction, but you still face a problem where you’ve got three incredibly strong women fighting a roster of limp noodles capable of winning only via flash roll-ups. This needs to change, otherwise why bother?
Mark Henry’s T-Shirt: The WWE have, of late, been releasing a ton of great t-shirts. They’re not iconic in the way of Austin 3:16, but between Henry’s “Hall of Pain” shirt, the C.M. Punk “Best in the World” shirt, the new Daniel Bryan and Wade Barrett shirts, whoever comes up with these things are making a case for wearing wrestling shirts in public again.
Booker T’s Fave Five: 1) Not Booker T 2) These young guys, who it’s all about (I think he meant the Uso Brothers) 3) Rosa Mendez (Shucky, ducky, quack-quack) 4) ??? 5) ???
Big Show vs. Jack Swagger: Not a super tremendous match or anything, but Mark Henry was sitting at ringside, and he was awesome. Also, Swagger had a really nice counter for the chokeslam, rolling through an applying the ankle lock. Sometimes with Big Show, it’s the little things–like not crushing a guy when doing a roll through. I’ve always appreciated him, and I think 2011 has been one of his best years, if not just flat out his best work. Mark Henry taking out the camera guy with a chair before yelling “EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED” was a highlight of the week.
Zack Ryder & Randy Orton vs. Wade Barrett & Dolph Ziggler: You know what’s awesome? Dolph Ziggler selling Randy Orton’s anger stomps like they were murdering him. I don’t know if they’re going to give Ziggler a chance to be at the top of the mountain or if they’re always going to be happy with him as an upper mid-card Mr. Perfect kind of guy, but regardless, Ziggler is constantly stealing the show, win, lose, or draw. Watching he and Barrett as a team on SmackDown, the future looks to be alright for the WWE. Barrett might not be as over as WWE wants us to perceive him, but he’s made rapid improvement since dropping the Nexus/Corre business and going it alone. With the exception of Daniel Bryan, Barrett is the only guy in the group whose WWE career hasn’t stalled out in a series of matches on NXT: Redemption or Superstars, and he earns that distinction every week. As for Orton and Ryder: I’m not the world’s biggest Randy Orton fan (I don’t like him at all, it turns out), but 2011 has been a great year for him. His feuds against Punk, Christian, and Mark Henry were all good, and his feud with Barrett, while not over, has done a lot for him. He’s not quite the superhuman John Cena is, and the weird, goofball facial tics that have become part of his game make no sense to me, but he literally can’t do anything wrong right now, and rather than steamroll the roster, he’s been putting on compelling matches for the better part of the year. I don’t think that random tag teams with Zack Ryder give anybody a rub, but Ryder no longer looks out of place against the upper echelon, which is going to be important if the Ryder Revolution is to result in anything positive. Good tag team main event, even if I hate it when a guy is in a clear position to make the save and doesn’t, as Barrett does at the end of the match here. Sets up nicely for both matches at TLC, and is another good outing for four men who’ve all had very good years.
TLC: Tables, Ladders, Chairs (12/18/11)
Three Unadvertised Matches: I’m generally a fan of unannounced matches, though they don’t make much business sense, because it’s usually a chance for a lesser-known quantity to grab a piece of the spotlight. This month, the WWE served up not just one, not just two, but three unadvertised bonus matches, two of which were for titles. The first, pitting Air Boom against Primo & Epico (looking for a clever tag team name) was more of the same from these four, meaning a solid tag team contest. The difference between this and their Superstars match is that Air Boom pulled out the win. The announcers’ constant focus on Rosa Mendez is a little disconcerting, but while Jerry Lawler salivates over Rosa’s short shorts, two of the WWE’s better tag teams in awhile continue to impress. Also, in 2011, Primo Colon got on pay per view. That’s deserving of congratulations.
Later, Beth Phoenix took on Kelly Kelly in a match for the Diva’s Title that was booked after Kelly slapped Beth at the Slammy’s. Beth and Kelly have faced each other on pay per view a few times now, but this was probably their best outing yet. I feel myself getting furious every time Kelly Kelly manages to reverse the Glam Slam with a roll-up, but thankfully they don’t repeat that as a finishing spot every time. Here, Beth got Kelly up for a powerbomb and simply fell backwards, hitting her with a fairly devestating version of Big Show’s old Alley-Oop finisher. They’ve toned Kelly down a bit, as her satellite headscissors aren’t so horrible and we’ve gone a few weeks without her hitting the stinkface. Now she needs to stop yelling during every offensive and defensive series, and we’ll be at a point where K2 doesn’t make my heart hurt for today’s mainstream wrestling fans.
Finally, Sheamus took on Jack Swagger and won, shocking nobody. It seems like nothing poor Jack Swagger does will propel him forward, which is too bad. I was probably the only person in the world who enjoyed his reign as the World Heavyweight Champion, but, given time and ridiculous gimmicks (Swagger’s dad! The Swagger Soaring Eagle!), he’s a solidly entertaining guy. Now that Dolph Ziggler is without the U.S. Title, it might be wise to have Swagger feud with Zack Ryder for the United States Championship. A Ryder/Ryder’s Dad/Big O vs. Swagger/Swagger’s Dad/Swagger Soaring Eagle match would be the moment of the year.
Zack Ryder Finally Wins the United States Championship: I guess the only thing you can say at this point is “Good for him.” Now comes the true test. If Ryder has a pretty good run with the United States Championship, if he continues to evolve as an in-ring competitor and as a personality, then the Ryder Revolution will stand as a unique, positive moment in wrestling history. Even if Ryder never wins the big one, even if all this does is ensure that Ryder has a job and some merchandise, then it’ll show that a guy can make a name for himself outside of the system, which is something the WWE has been convinced is impossible for some time. If he utterly fails to make an impact now that he’s got what’s essentially a guaranteed place on every Raw telecast, then we return to the status quo. I don’t like the status quo. There’s a lot of pressure on Ryder, especially considering that there was virtually no pressure on him mere months ago, but as long as John Cena isn’t out there ramming Ryder down my throat, I think he’ll do fine.
Dolph Ziggler Finally Has Nothing Tying Him to the Midcard: Sure, he lost the United States Championship, and he’s got a rematch to have, but leaving behind the United States Championship is probably the best thing for Ziggler, who has had very, very good matches against Randy Orton and CM Punk while feuding with Ryder. Like Ryder deserved a chance to make it to the stage, Ziggler now deserves a chance to become a main player. I suspect he will, heading into the Royal Rumble, and I hope he’s given a better WrestleMania platform than last year’s Snooki showcase.
Questionable Decision of the Week XII: Not that the match was bad, but not giving Wade Barrett a win over Randy Orton in a match where there’s no real statement of dominance is kind of weird. A few years ago, when John Cena and Sheamus had a tables match on this show, Sheamus won when Cena fell off the top rope through a table. It gave Sheamus the title (prematurely, but it’s what the WWE wanted), and it was no skin off Cena’s back. Orton could have gone through a table through nefarious means or through the force of Barrett’s will, but a loss wouldn’t have done much to his credibility, as there’s a stark difference between going through a table and being pinned/submitted.
Alberto Del Rio Buries the Miz: He’s not boring on the microphone, and people need to stop claiming that he is.
Kevin Nash vs. Triple H: There was one spot–ONE SPOT–that made the booking of a ladder match between Nash and Triple H look bad, and that was the Pedigree towards the end of it. I’d like to think Nash went down for the move too soon because he was too amped up, knowing how much better the match was than literally everybody’s expectations. Despite its car-wreck nature, there was a lot going on for the match. The ladder spots looked pretty damn dangerous, Nash and Triple H didn’t hold back, throwing bombs the whole time, and Nash unexpectedly took a fall from the ladder through a table, managing to bump more in one match than he did during his entire WCW career. And the finish, where Nash held up the Cliq/Wolfpac sign before Triple H smashed his face in with a good-looking sledgehammer shot, was creative, good, and, for an Attitude Era fan, maybe a little emotional. Maybe. Triple H is beginning to specialize in Special Attraction brawls, and, somehow, he pulled out a really good one with Kevin ‘freaking Nash. If he has another brawl with Taker at next year’s WrestleMania, he might rectify this year’s misfire.
Daniel Bryan is the World Heavyweight Champion: A year ago, Daniel Bryan was the special attraction at an independent wrestling show at a flea market in Taylor Michigan. Yes, that promotion was CHIKARA and, yes, to most hardcore wrestling fans (me included), there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But most wrestlers dream about making it big in the WWE, and most wrestlers never get a chance, regardless of how good they are. Daniel Bryan, ladies and gentlemen, is very good, and it wasn’t too long ago that it seemed like the WWE had dumped him on shady grounds because they don’t know what to do with people of his size or his skillset. Last night, after an underwhelming finish to the Big Show/Mark Henry feud (Mark had a pulled or torn groin, so it’s not a QDotW), Daniel Bryan cashed in his briefs and freaking won the World Heavyweight Championship. You can say what you want about being the champion of SmackDown! or holding a title that’s been held by the Great Khali and a not-yet-ready Jack Swagger, but it’s the second most important belt the WWE has, and Daniel Bryan won it. If you like wrestling, if you remember that the second “W” in “WWE” stands for “wrestling,” Bryan’s championship win is huge, huge news and, depending on how they handle it, could well be the best story going into the early part of 2012. I could write about this endlessly (ENDLESSLY), but Bryan running around with the title last night joins a very short list of moments in mainstream wrestling that made me proud to be a fan.
The Odyssey of Booker T: The Intercontinental Title match between Booker T and Cody Rhodes got three segments last night, and all three of them were pretty good. If you consider that becoming a WWE announcer gives you superpowers between the ropes, attacking Booker T twice before the match was good strategy on the part of Cody Rhodes, and made it pretty clear how important the match was to him and Booker, who showed up regardless of the disadvantage. The match wasn’t the showstealer I kind of expected from Booker T, who is quite good when motivated (and judging by his passionate speeches on Tough Enough, he LOVES the WWE), but it furthered the story and had an interesting finish, where Booker was knocked loopy and started doing the spin-a-roonie during a disadvantageous time. Cody Rhodes continues to look great as the Intercontinental Champion, and it won’t be long before he forces management to nudge him higher up the card.
Ricardo Rodriguez: Not only did he get piefaced, but he took the biggest bump of the evening, falling backwards off of a ladder through a table. It was legit scary watching him go down like that, but hey, that’s the life of a second in wrestling. Between that and his more-somber-than-usual introduction for Del Rio, Ricardo was a highlight of a very strong pay per view and, hopefully, 2012 will see him get some in-ring action. He’s already a better valet than Virgil, and it stands to reason that he’ll make a bigger impact than him in the ring, too. For the record, I really wanted him to get the title, if only because I think there’s an outside chance he would have been declared champion.
CM Punk vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. The Miz: Less crazy, less memorable than most TLC matches, as outside of the Rodriguez bump and Punk taking a tumble from the turnbuckles to the floor, this match was much more about the craftiness of the combatants than their willingness to do insane stuff for the title. Del Rio continues to impress, and I like watching him use the armbar on people using ladders and chairs–very clever. Also clever–having Punk unscrew the turnbuckle to escape the fate of watching somebody climb the ladder to take the title from him while helpless. If there’s any justice in the world, Johnny Ace is going to have a segment on Raw where he fires the ring technician.
No John Cena: I don’t hate John Cena, but he did not make an appearance at TLC. This was new. This was a nice change of pace. It was appreciated. Now he can commence eating chokeslams from Kane and making fun of the Rock for making millions of dollars for not being on TV.
These Pictures: We’re currently watching a product where Kofi Kingston is the least talented person holding a championship belt. Kofi Kingston, for the record, is actually quite good. It’s strange, but I like it. It won’t last, but not all dreams do.
Another week, another tweak: It doesn’t make much sense to split up posts for the WWE’s televised content and their webshows, nor would it be entirely fair to an independent promotion if I spent half of a post talking about their work ethic and general awesomeness and the other half talking about how thankful I am that Maxine and Derrik Bateman actually kiss in a wrestling relationship. So NXT and Superstars are migrating here, to the weekly post about the WWE. Indie promotions and WWE’s developmental company, Florida Championship Wrestling, will get their own post starting next week. TNA and ROH, TV options two and three, will continue to get their own post, and pay per views will receive coverage separate from everything else, even if wrestling threatens to choke the slider bar on the main page out. I’m formulating a full blown schedule of posts for Fear of a Ghost Planet, but for now, much like the early 90s, if it’s the weekend, that must mean it’s time for some wrestling.
WWE Raw (10/31/11)
Before I go into a full-blown recap of Raw, allow me to vent: There are few things in pop culture that I love as much as pro-wrestling, and, of those things, the Muppets are probably tops, so much so that I once had a blog about them. This isn’t really the time or place to get into why I love Jim Henson’s ragtag creations, but I approached Monday Night’s episode with the sort of nervous trepidation I anticipate the new Muppet movie with. Yes, the Muppets are iconic and timeless and capable of making me happy on sight, and yes, two of my favorite things were colliding in ways most people with two favorite things never experience. This wasn’t that scene in Toy Story 3 where Andy had to choose between Woody and Buzz–both of my childhood preoccupations were on my TV screen at the same time. But, going into Raw, I knew I’d only be seeing the Muppets by proxy, Kermit the Frog & Co. as written by a group of people who, if you ask the typical manifesto blogging wrestling fan, don’t know their own product, let alone Jim Henson’s. It’s been a long time–a very long time–since the Muppets did anything resembling the gang’s Jim Henson heydey, and while the film looks like it’ll return them to form, Frank Oz doesn’t seem too convinced, and promoting your film on the same platform used to promote The Goods and the continued existence of David Arquette doesn’t fill me with confidence, either. The hit-to-miss ratio on this episode of Raw was about 50/50, but I’m heavily biased and tremendously optimistic, so feel free to disagree. I won’t be complaining about Santino/Jack Swagger this week, though, as I’m pretty much convinced that the WWE abandoned the Swagger train in 2010 and is never getting back on.
Booking Mark Henry vs. CM Punk: Even though it lasted less than three minutes, it was teased and I want more. If this match doesn’t happen on pay per view sometime within the next five months, I will be very, very sad.
Statler and Waldorf: They were easily the best part of a generally weak show. They were even afforded a private box. Rather than post the miserable bits that led to their best lines, I’ll let the screencap do the talking:
CM Punk Gets Del Rio to Give Him a Match: If nothing else, the segment that saw CM Punk get his title match against Alberto Del Rio at Survivor Series brought back the Anaconda Vice, Punk’s awesome ECW-era finishing submission move that hasn’t gotten nearly enough play since it’s last big moment, a shady submission victory over the Undertaker in 2009.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Zack Ryder: Good match, great finish. Ryder has been more interesting in the ring than on YouTube of late, and that’s probably a good thing. If he gets a US Title match against Ziggler at Survivor Series, in Madison Square Garden, it’ll be the biggest victory the internet and wrestling fans have ever scored over the intelligentsia who are convinced that we’d rather see Mason Ryan in Ryder’s spot.
Questionable Decision of the Week I: Telling the world that the Rock was going to respond to John Cena, only to have him BRING IT via satellite again. I love The Rock as much as anybody else who grew up in the Attitude Era, but watching him literally mail it in from exotic locale after exotic locale is getting tiresome, especially since he’s now robbing time and heat from guys who could actually use the TV time. If the Rock is getting a three hour Raw to himself a week or two before Survivor Series, why does he need ten minutes that could have gone to Cody Rhodes, Daniel Bryan, or Tyson Kidd? Why should he get that time? The WWE has put a lot of time and money into the John Cena vs. The Rock Wrestlemania main event next year, so much so that the Miz was a sidedish to his own Wrestlemania main event, so much so that The Rock will be the recipient of two very special episodes of Raw. What I’ve gotten from this, beyond one or two very good promos way back in March, is a mostly horrible Wrestlemania 27, a promise for 28, and a Rock so unlikable that I wish he’d either go back to making Disney movies or time travel to 1995, when people were willing to tell him that he sucked.
Rocky’s video promo was so grating that Fear of a Ghost Planet contributor Dante checked in with his opinion on it, as well:
It isn’t merely the fact that The Rock keeps bogarting the spotlight but why he’s doing it. Simple fact would be that those who miss the Attitude Era will buy Surivivor Series and that in of itself is sad. It’s like trying to buy a memory. The Rock should either come back or stay gone. This purgatory of cutting crappy internet promos is on par with Cena’s rap routine and I for one really wish I could see none of them.
Questionable Decision of the Week II: Having John Cena beat the Miz in extremely clean fashion (via submission) despite R-Truth’s interference, then having Cena give Truth an Attitude Adjustment. Bringing the Rock in for a Survivor Series tag team match is the equivalent of bringing atomic weaponry to a Super Soaker fight. I know that the Rock is coming back for the sake of a few extra buys on pay per view, but, like Dante says, that tactic is pretty sad.
Questionable Decision of the Week III: Not replacing Michael Cole with Statler and Waldorf for the week. This video could have happened, but totally didn’t:
WWE NXT: Redemption (11/2/11) (Watch it on YouTube)
The Derrik Bateman/Maxine Romance Video: Took place to the cheesiest wedding song of all time. Somebody producing NXT has a sense of humor, which may explain why the “prize” for surviving what seems like ten years of wrestling purgatory is a spot on the next season of NXT.
William Regal: The only three man booth I want to see is William Regal, Statler, and Waldorf.
The Usos vs. Tyson Kidd & Johnny Curtis: Johnny Curtis, marooned on a desert island after winning NXT Season 4, finally comes back to something like TV after it’s learned that making a lot of puns and getting killed by Mark Henry isn’t an effective means of introduction. He teams with Tyson Kidd, who could probably make a corned beef sandwich look amazing as a tag team partner or opponent, and takes on the Usos, who are pretty much the WWE’s best regular tag team, now that Air Boom is on the shelf for 30 days with Evan Bourne’s recent suspension. Watch this match for the end, which sees Kidd’s attempt at a dive foiled by the Usos, who then launch him into the barricade. Watch this match for Kidd in general, and for Curtis, who ispretty good. Watch it for the Usos. Watch it for tag team wrestling. Watch it because it’s good, and that’s reason enough.
Kaitlyn vs. Tamina: I imagine this is what Beth Phoenix’s matches would be like if she were facing women who didn’t have hollow bird bones and Maxim covershoots. Granted it’s still not a SHIMMER-level masterpiece, but the two women clubbered each other silly, didn’t rely on awkward ass-centric offense, and would be a welcome breath of fresh air on the main roster.
William Regal’s Fascinating Maxine Fact of the Week: The black sheep of the family is an unsavory bishop from the Isle of Bute. He owns a combined trifold factory in Nacker’s Yard (note: I may have misheard him here) and, in his spare time, he likes to take unsavory pictures of Shetland ponies.
William Regal Name Check’s Curtis Mayfield: If he were any more awesome, the sight of him would cause my head to explode.
Yoshi Tatsu vs. Tyson Kidd: These two have had the best in-ring feud of 2011, but nobody cares because it’s been on NXT and was over an action figure. Here, on Superstars, they’re fighting because of some tweets the two exchanged, which is better than an action figure, but still stupid and something I’m not going to bother looking for. This was, without question, the match of the week. In a fair universe, Yoshi and Tyson would get to open Survivor Series, but this isn’t 1995, and that time will likely go to the Michael Cole Challenge. Do yourself a favor and put on WWE Superstars this week. It’s only 40 minutes, and 15 of them are spent wonderfully.
Drew McIntyre vs. John Morrison: Two guys struggling to find their footing on the main roster having a very good match on a webshow nobody watches? Must be WWE Superstars. Personally, I think the reports of Morrison’s pending WWE departure are premature, as the WWE usually keeps guys around who they can merchandise and market based on their uniqueness, and while his leaving for TNA wouldn’t hurt them one bit, the kids who like Morrison and the people who think he makes a compelling, likable underdog would probably notice his absence. His losing to Drew McIntyre, official WWE Superstars punching bag, doesn’t make things look too promising, but again, were he on his way out, I highly doubt they’d help him by putting together such an effective highlight reel of the skills he brings to the table.
Cody Rhodes vs. Randy Orton: Strange, opening WWE SmackDown! with an unadvertised street fight to cap off the feud between Cody Rhodes and Randy Orton, but they did so, and it was good. Fast-paced and intelligently put together, the two beat each other up for around twenty minutes until Cody started using his mask as a weapon, including a sick-sounding shot while Orton was tied up in a figure four leglock. They finally found a way to make Orton’s rope-drape DDT look dangerous and not contrived, and, again, Cody Rhodes makes a strong case for pushing him up the card. In the end, though, Orton won cleanly with an RKO and bagged Cody, cashing in his receipt from a few weeks ago. I’d put this moment and Booker T saying that the sky’s the limit for, of all people, Randy Orton down as a Questionable Decision of the Week, but those slight imperfections don’t mar an otherwise very enjoyable match.
Ted DiBiase vs. Tyson Kidd: Three Tyson Kidd matches this week? I’d say that WWE spoils me, but Kidd lost all three, and I had to hear endless yammering about the stupid DiBiase Posse. Still, this one’s worth it for the finish, where Kidd tries his damnedest to get out of the Million Dollar Dream, but just can’t. Short match, good finish.
Mark Henry Confronts Daniel Bryan Backstage: This was awesome in about 6,000 ways. Henry was great, Daniel Bryan should be getting matches like this, and it’s the first time I think I’ve seen Henry stand toe to toe with a normal-sized human being, which made his size even more impressive.
Daniel Bryan Beard Tracker: Mark Henry may not sweat Daniel Bryan, but his beard does.
Alicia Fox vs. Natalya: Not worth watching for the match, which was good in the way watching a really talented wrestler physically dissect a lesser opponent is good. This match is really only worth watching for the following exchange:
Natalya: (Setting up for the Boston Crab) You stuck your nose in the wrong person’s business! Alicia Fox: (Should be struggling to get out of Boston Crab; yelling) Your nose is bigger than my nose! Natalya: (Ignores; applies Boston Crab)
If there were any justice in the world, the referee would have been radioed to change the finish to a Natalya win, but Alicia Fox, whose face gimmick appears to be firing Derek Zoolander level retorts back at her opponent, beat Nattie with a somersault leg drop, which, according to Booker T, looks kind of like his scissors kick (it doesn’t).
Wade Barrett vs. Sheamus: After a pretty good Big Show/Christian angle that saw Christian get chokeslammed, Wade Barrett decided to take Christian’s place in his scheduled match against Sheamus, giving us a much-needed breather from Sheamus beating the tar out of poor Christian. The end result was two big dudes clubbering each other, which is exactly what I want to see out of two big dudes. Entertaining big man match, indicative of tremendous improvement on the part of both Barrett, who no longer looks as green as he did upon his main roster debut, and Sheamus, who is finally settled in to his role as world’s least likely face.
Sin Cara vs. Epico: On the surface, this is just a jobber squash match, but, in the grand tradition of jobber squashes that are more important than they look, Hunico (the former Sin Cara imposter) came down to the ring looking like a skinny version of 1998 Konnan and attacked Sin Cara. Then the two attacked Sin Cara together. Epico and Hunico are a tag team in WWE’s developmental league, Florida Championship Wrestling, and Epico’s debut on SmackDown not only adds a wrinkle in the now kind of stalled Sin Cara/Hunico feud, but gives the company another viable tag team to make some hay with while Air Boom sit on the shelf. Also of note: No botches on Sin Cara’s part. Dude is moving on up.
Daniel Bryan vs. Mark Henry: Was awesome in 6,000 ways, not the least of which was that Daniel Bryan, at several points in time, looked capable of beating Mark Henry. At the end of the match, when Henry was content to just destroy poor ‘ol D-Bry, Big Show waltzed into the ring and nailed Henry with a knockout punch (which I refuse to call the Weapon of Mass Destruction). Henry got the DQ win, then Big Show encouraged Bryan to cash in his briefcase…which he almost did. It was one of those moments where you really want something to happen (even if it’d be better if Bryan cashed it in at Wrestlemania), but the alternative, where Bryan got smashed with a World’s Strongest Slam, was just as good, since it’s no skin off Bryan’s back and further establishes Henry as a guy you have a very limited window of opportunity against. Show and Henry will collide again at Survivor Series, in a match that should end cleanly, but now that the Money in the Bank contract is back in play, I look forward to seeing where Daniel Bryan goes from here.
Questionable Decision of the Week: Other than Rhodes and Natalya losing matches they should probably have taken, none. Very solid episode of SmackDown!, as usual.
Indy promoters: Looking for some free promotion. Leave a comment or drop me an e-mail about your online content, and I’ll gladly write you up in this space. You guys are doing a tremendous job and deserve more promotion than the WWE, which doesn’t need any help. If you like what I’m doing here, I’ll probably like what you’re doing. Let’s chat!
Jack Korpella Calls William Regal “The Living Legend:” I suspect Larry Zbyszko will be suing shortly.
Titus O’Neil Can’t Say “WWE” Properly: Yet he expects to be its next breakout star. The laughs are non-stop on NXT.
William Regal Getting Tired of Lame Trashtalk: Oddly, I suspect his comments were off-the-cuff, while I bet O’Neil and Bateman were fed their lines. The difference between Regal and the fish-lips this, dog bark that Talk the Talk Challenge participants? Regal sounds organic and natural and like he really means what he’s saying when he says that the two bit it. I don’t know how well O’Neil would do off script (since he’s so awkward on it), but Bateman seems like a natural, so it’s a bit of a waste having him go for cheap heat.
Tyson Kidd vs. Jey Uso: Not only is Tyson Kidd awesome, the match adhered to the secret, unwritten rule of putting a tag team specialist in a singles match: No matter how good they look, they lose. As soon as the WWE finds a purpose for Kidd, he’s going to turn a lot of heads. Until that point, I guess I’m going to struggle to find ways to compliment him on having good match after good match, as if such things were going out of style.
William Regal, During Maxine and AJ’s Guest Commentary: The picture says everything.
AJ’s Fascinating Maxine Fact of the Week: “She feeds off the souls of babies. Innocent, innocent babies.” Fighting words.
Maxine Insinuates that AJ Would Sleep With a Black Dude and a Midget, Possibly at the Same Time: If her parents actually watched NXT, I’m sure they’d be shocked!
Derrik Bateman Proposes to Maxine: It wasn’t exactly Randy Savage proposing to Elizabeth, but I got a chuckle out of Bateman quoting Bryan Adams (not the wrestler, sadly, though Adams didn’t have any quotes he didn’t steal from “Classy” Freddie Blassie), and nearly died when William Regal threatened to start self-harming. For point of reference, the best and second best proposal scenes in WWE history:
Cody Rhodes vs. Ted DiBiase: If Ted DiBiase’s new character weren’t literally the most boring thing on the face of the planet (he loves tailgating! he loves the fans! he loves attention!), I might have turned the corner on what was once an intense dislike for him, much like a fresh character turned around the flagging career of Cody Rhodes. DiBiase’s a guy with unlimited potential (his matches in NOAH were quite good, and he has matches like this that are flashes of something like brilliance), but there are simply too many dudes jumping around, pumping their fists and smiling for him to stand out on his own, without the last name. Good match against Cody, his former teammate, though it’s telling that this feud ended after a month and this match was demoted from PPV to Superstars.
Evan Bourne: Yes, Kofi Kingston, Primo, and JTG were in the match with Evan Bourne, but if there’s a reason to watch Air Boom face a random jobber pairing, it’s Bourne. He’s delightful. He does new things every week. He has a nice smile. There’s nothing about him to dislike, and, for the first time in his WWE career, he’s hitting his stride without the threat of being dismantled by Kane or injury. Of course, now that I say that, they’ll inexplicably turn him heel, 1-2-3 Kid style.
Questionable Decision of the Week: Eve bringing back the booty-popping moonsault. Just when I was starting to like her, she decides to once again prove that she has no rhythm. Kelly Kelly also brought back the Stinkface. Kill me. Kill me, please.
FCW Match of the Week: Mike Dalton vs. Antonio Cesaro (10/23/11)
The first step in Claudio Castagnoli realizing his dream to becoming a WWE Superstar, his FCW television debut was a high-impact, quickly paced match against Mike Dalton, showcasing, oddly, his backbreakers, which are straight-up nasty. Also his uppercuts. Also his cravates. Also the Ricola Bomb. Really, there’s nothing I can say about Antonio Cesaro that William Regal can’t say better. Watch the match. Also, watch for the pop-up European Uppercut, which is extra-devestating in this clip.
Random Video of the Week
Next Week: Ohio Valley Wrestling, NWA Wrestling From Hollywood, CHIKARA, and more!