On these here internets, it’s possible that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of pasty white nerds posting their views and opinions on pro-wrasslin’. I’m no different from any of them, but I’d prefer to stay focused on the positive. Instead of railing against booking decisions or complaining about the lack of airtime any particular wrestler gets, I hope to present to you some wrestling worth watching–matches (and the occasional segment) that make all the other stuff go down a little more smoothly.
A note, though: Ring of Honor does not air in my area, so I’ll constantly be a week behind. I’ve yet to have an opportunity to watch last week’s (likely fantastic) show, and I can tell this article’s going to run way, way long, so I’ll leave you without my account of El Generico vs. Jay Lethal. Still, if you’re so inclined, go watch their product at www.rohwrestling.com. It’s the best wrestling you can watch on TV, and it’s always nice supporting the little guy.
WWE Monday Night Raw (10/3/11)
Everything Mark Henry Does: Seriously, Mark Henry as the World Heavyweight Champion is great; a tremendous throwback to early 90s WCW, where monsters stalked the ring and laid waste to everybody and everything standing between them and respect. This week, the former Sexual Chocolate battled John Morrison, and it was pretty decent for what was an extended squash of Morrison, who must be wondering what happened to his early-year momentum. Morrison actually connected with his finishing top rope splash, only to have Henry shove him off, leading to JoMo’s swift execution. The really exciting stuff, for me at least, continues to be Mark Henry’s work on the microphone. His rants about the Hall of Pain remind me a lot of early 90s WCW monsters as well, particularly Vader, who once told the WCW roster that they should pay rent to him. Big, bad hosses are a good thing, particularly when they’re being booked like big, bad hosses. Henry might be set-up for an eventual title loss to Randy Orton, but I’m going to enjoy his reign while I can.
WWE NXT: Redemption (10/5/11) (Watch it on YouTube)
Note: I haven’t watched NXT since Season 3, which was a intentional trainwreck meant to sink the show as quickly as possible in an effort to clear SyFy up for the cable debut of SmackDown! The show lost a ton of steam that season (despite being hilarious, at times), and probably wasn’t helped by the fizzled WWE career of Low-Ki, the absolute lack of season 4’s winner on the current product, and the fact that this season of NXT just won’t end. At this point, they should rename NXT: Redemption to NXT: Purgatory.
William Regal’s Commentary: If you tune in to an episode of Raw or SmackDown!, it’s likely that, at some point, the three man announce crew will break down into angry tirades that often have nothing to do with what’s going on in the ring. Sometimes it advances a storyline. Sometimes it just drags, to the point that the one neutral party in the argument must throw his hands in the air and say “Guys, the match?” before things settle down. Regal, long one of my favorite wrestlers, seems to be making the transition to the announce desk rather smoothly–his serene, austere delivery is not only a great counterbalance to what’s on TV, but he manages to sound knowledgeable about the craft (which he is) while putting the product over. I’ve wanted to see more Regal on TV for some time, but it was previously for his wrestling. I’d settle for a talking role, at this point, as he is currently flying under the radar as one of the best color commentators WWE’s had since Paul Heyman’s brilliant run during the WCW/ECW InVasion angle.
Curt Hawkins and Tyler Reks: If this tag team isn’t called C. Reks, it needs to be. That’s a license to print money. Long written off, the WWE Tag Team division appears to be making a slight comeback. The champions have a (terrible) tag team name and matching gear. The titles were defended on a Pay Per View that didn’t advertise every belt as being on the line. It’s not like the glory days, but it’s a start, and there’s something to be said for pairing together two guys who previously didn’t have much to do. Hawkins and Recks certainly fit that bill. They opened up NXT this week on the microphone–which is maybe what NXT should be a platform for–and weren’t that bad. I can’t quite get over Recks’ hair, but the two got into the ring and got the crowd to boo them…which isn’t exactly an easy thing to do with virtually no hype or build-up. Beyond that, both of them made some pretty good points. Giving guys legit-sounding beef and allowing them to air it on the air? Good strategy, bro.
Yoshi Tatsu’s Great Muta Get-Up: Anything Muta-esque is gonna grab my attention, particularly if it’s something that has the potential to be something great, and not just Snooki doing a handspring elbow at WrestleMania. The only problem I have with it is that they can’t well enough let Tatsu look good without some dude in the back cracking wise about him wearing makeup, going so far as to call him “Ms. Tatsu” and “Lucy Liu.” I get that this is wrestling, and that wrestling is incredibly macho, but it’s 2011, dudes, and Tatsu’s a far cry from “Adorable” Adrian Adonis. Yoshi should be getting the fans to cheer for him because he’s a great wrestler who looks cool, not because he’s playing a role in an old trope. Same goes for JTG and Darren Young. They could be good wrestlers (JTG was formerly a member of a pretty good tag team), but it’s hard to care about them when they’re not only bullying a guy for his supposed femininity, but are doing so as two black men. That’s double-stereotypical, and just unfortunate.
Daniel Bryan’s Beard: Someday, I hope it’ll be at maximum power. For now, it’ll do.
Daniel Bryan vs. Heath Slater: This match has happened a few times since “Dat Supah Hero” D-Bryan won the SmackDown! Money in the Bank match at the aptly-named Money in the Bank pay per view, and Bryan’s, so the two seem plugged in and ready to go. It’s a short match, which is what happens when you have four matches and two ten-minute flashbacks to get through, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. I think the thing I appreciate most about watching Daniel Bryan in the WWE, even if he doesn’t win as much as I’d like (it’s called a slow build, but I’m impatient), is that he doesn’t really have a finishing move in the sense that other WWE wrestlers do. Yeah, his main hold is the Labell Lock, but it’s been awhile since I’ve seen him put somebody away with it, and Bryan is being booked as a guy so proficient, a basic hammerlock could spell doom for his opponent. Here, he beats Slater with his mentor William Regal’s hold, the Regal Stretch, and it doesn’t at all seem out of place. As for Heath Slater, I’ve never liked him, but I was never meant to. He seems to be getting better with each outing, but that “One Man Southern Rock Band” thing doesn’t really mean jack if he’s not playing instruments or pretending to do so, badly. If they nicked a little personality from the Honky Tonk Man’s gimmick, Slater might just go somewhere significant.
Four Significant Matches: It’s not everyday that a wrestling show has four matches that are all given a decent amount of time, all of which end relatively cleanly. I’d take four matches like the ones on NXT over Santino/Jinder Mahal every day, and wouldn’t mind seeing Derek Bateman elevated to the main Raw or SmackDown! roster, even if there’s a guy in WWE’s developmental system doing the crazy, unorthodox guy thing better. There’s something slightly different about everybody on this show, which is refreshing. It’s easy to think of the WWE as a sort of homogenized wasteland, but there are men and women on the roster doing things differently from the norm, which is nice. If that were reflected company-wide, we’d be golden.
TNA IMPACT Wrestling (10/6/11)
Impact Hits the Road: Granted, the Knoxville Civic Coliseum isn’t the most impressive venue, but TNA always seems to do account for itself better when it’s not in the IMPACT Zone. As good as that deal probably has been for TNA, the IMPACT Zone often felt like wrestling’s version of Cheers. Inside, everybody knows your name. Outside, you’re either a blip on the radar or “retired” from WWE. Hitting the road, the energy in the building doesn’t feel as manufactured as usual, as you get an enthusiastic, paid crowd to see things up close and personal. IMPACT, or at least TNA’s pay per views, should always be away from the IMPACT Zone. The one negative? The crowd noise is obviously piped in, at times.
Bully Ray: There may be nobody better on TV at playing his role than Bully Ray, and if there was any justice, he’d be in a feud against somebody much better than the inexplicably popular Mr. Anderson, who may be the worst guy on TV when it comes to playing any role. Anderson wants to face Bully Ray in a falls count anywhere in Philadelphia street fight (and, without Bully Ray saying yes or no, Mike Tenay pretty much booked the match). If this one doesn’t end with Ray suffocating Anderson with a Gino’s Cheesesteak, I’ll weep.
Kid Kash: He’s 40-something, still wrestling with a name that sounds like a 13-year-old’s idea of a cool AIM handle. Can’t help but respect that.
Bobby Roode vs. James Storm: Face vs. Face matches are sometimes awkward, but not this one. If you discount Kurt Angle’s interference (he helped his future opponent beat who he was facing that night, which makes sense somewhere), nothing about this small teaser for an eventual singles match/feud disappointed. I’m not a massive Beer Money booster or anything, but Roode and Storm are very solid hands. Not only that, but the two are pretty much the only established guys on the roster who can truly call themselves TNA originals in that their initial buzz didn’t start elsewhere. If this is a small taste of what’s to come from TNA’s heavyweight title scene, I guess I want more.
Hulk Hogan’s Andy Kaufman Impersonation: When a 60-year-old man who admits to increasingly limited mobility claims that he’s going to retire instead of participating in a do-over of a wrestling match that took place in 1997, it’s a safe bet that it’s going to be a ruse. The whole night, TNA played clips of Hogan’s greatest moments in the company (mostly him talking), displayed tweets remembering his matches in the WWF and WCW, and speculated as to what the future of wrestling held without him. All the “Hulkamania 4 Life” signs in the crowd were for nothing, though, as it turned out that Hogan wasn’t retiring. Not only that, but he didn’t respect the good folk of Knoxville, who’d welcomed the Hulkster with open arms. When Hogan mocked them with his best hillbilly voice—it was a fairly decent approximation of the voice Andy Kaufman used to belittle the good folk of Memphis nearly 40 years earlier. That’s the only thing I enjoyed about the psudo-retirement ceremony. If TNA really wanted me to buy it, they’d have at least booked the show somewhere that wasn’t Tennessee.
WWE Superstars (10/6/11) (Watch it On YouTube)
JTG Clapping His Hands Before Applying the Reverse Chinlock: A mannerism so 1986, my heart couldn’t help but flutter. His hip-toss suplex thingie was also pretty looking, but I worry about JTG’s status on the WWE roster. It’s been awhile since his tag team partner was released, but JTG simply has not evolved as a character since Shad Gaspard was future endeavored. As the claimant of at least three unused shots for the WWE Tag Team Championships, my continuity-obsessed brain would explode were he to be axed without using one of them.
The Snot Rocket Stuck to Alex Riley’s Face: It was gross. I laughed. I’m five-years-old in February. I also love how white his face is compared to his super-tan body.
Scott Stanford: For years, the WWE has been looking for an announcer who sounds like a SportsCenter anchor. For years, that search has been as fruitless for them as it’s been frustrating for fans, even though dudes like Todd Grisham and Johnathan Coachman have, ironically, gone on to careers with ESPN. WWE seems to have found their man in Scott Stanford, a local Emmy-winning sportscaster who slips Zack Ryder references into his day job and who, by all accounts, seems to love him some wrestling. On Alex Riley, after his win: “If you look up ‘Pure Athlete’ in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Jim Thorpe holding up an 8×10 of Alex Riley.” Real SportsCenter anchors would kill for one-liners like that. He also makes up reasons for wrestlers to have their random-seeming matches (Michael McGillicutty and Percy Watson got into a fight at a restaurant, leading to their match), which adds flavor to the otherwise flavorless.
Michael McGillicutty: In the first six seconds of his match against “Showtime” Percy Watson, Mr. Perfect’s kid showed more charisma than he did during a whole season of NXT, an ill-fated run with the Nexus, and a disastrously uneventful, mercifully ended Tag Team Championship reign with David Otunga. I tend to root for the second and third generation guys to make it, simply because they’re facing the incredible task of living in their fathers’ shadows. McGillicutty’s early WWE career hasn’t been easy to watch (see below), but he’s young and he’s got time.
Ted DiBiase vs. Tyson Kidd: Tyson Kidd promises to be a regular feature of this column. He’s one of WWE’s best five wrestlers, but I doubt many WWE fans know much about him because he’s constantly on Superstars. Doesn’t seem to matter to him–he just goes out and wrestles good-to-great eight minute matches every week, none of which are exactly alike. As for Ted, he looks to be picking up a little momentum of late, which is good. Before his WWE run, he picked up some well-deserved praise for his work in Pro=Wrestling NOAH, but since being signed, he’s been mired by his connection to his father. The last name is enough, but putting him in a stable full of guys with second and third generation bloodlines, handing him the Million Dollar Title, and leading him to the ring to an awful theme song that starts “I come from money” is going to make it awful hard to forget his father. Not that that connection is ever going to go away, but if you put Cody Rhodes next to his father Dusty or his brother Dustin, you’d never see the connection. Ted needs some distance, and looks to be finding it. They still need to drop that music, though, and I don’t know if “DiBiase Posse” is clever or kind of sad. Based on his plea to WWE fans to start tailgating before live events, I’m leaning towards sad.
WWE SmackDown! (10/7/11) (Watch it on YouTube)
Is He Gonna Hire Scabs?: Leave it to Zack Ryder to ask the important question about Monday Night Raw’s walkout. If Triple H does “hire” a bunch of scabs to work Raw on Monday, it may be one of the better wrestled shows of the year. WWE’s developmental roster is absolutely stocked with dudes I’d pay cash money to see live, even if a live audience has no idea who Antonio Caesaro, Seth Rollins or Dean Ambrose are, and it’d be interesting to debut a cadre of new faces in this way. Everybody on the show would have a feud built-in, and it’d allow Triple H to do something more than make fun of the situations he finds himself in.
Pee-Wee Otunga, Attorney at Law: Few professional wrestlers have found themselves as ridiculously attired as David Otunga, who dropped his burgeoning (but awful) feud with Jerry “The King” Lawler in favor of reminding people that, beyond being engaged to Jennifer Hudson, he graduated from Harvard with a law degree. Instead of being a kinda boring dude in Ed Hardy-inspired trunks, he’s now a kinda boring dude in a bowtie and argyle sweater, which is exactly what I’d wear to scare the bejesus out of my opponents. The entirety of the Stand Up to WWE Walkout angle has me utterly confused, but it looks like they’re trying to make a star out of somebody who, prior to being involved, wasn’t. How it turns out will be interesting, and could well determine Otunga’s status in the company. Storyline-wise, I don’t see how you can regress from suing the company and hope to retain employment.
Cody Rhodes: The best actor in WWE. His evolution has been amazing and nigh-unprecedented.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Sin Cara: A tiny slice of goodness to start the show, right up until the end, which was flubbed. Despite that, Del Rio was great (as always), and Sin Cara continues to display the occasional flash of brilliance that made him so exciting to watch when he was in Mexico and Japan as Mistico. Del Rio’s cross armbreaker is starting to reach an insane level as a simple submission finisher–nobody right now sells the application of their move better than Del Rio, and few have. It’s like watching Ric Flair “apply more pressure” to the figure four, only Flair didn’t kick his opponents away when they tapped out. I can’t say that I’m particularly interested in the Sin Cara vs. Sin Cara feud, but Hunicio, under the black Sin Cara hood, deserves a do-over from the Hell in a Cell pay per view. Nobody deserves a PPV like the one he got, and he’s a good wrestler, to boot.
Booker T: He says ridiculous stuff. He gets everybody over. I love it. On why he walked out on HHH on Raw: “I had to go to the bathroom. I thought the show was over.” Insipid, or insanely brilliant?
Air Boom Finally Get a Cohesive Theme Song: Now they need a better name. Also, is it ironic that the dudes complaining about the lack of safety on Raw attack their opponents before the bell, or is that the point?
Vickie Guerrero: They’re starting to establish her as a (lesser) Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Ditch the “Cougar” necklace and give her two, maybe three guys around Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler, and we’re cooking.
Air Boom vs. Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger (Swaggler): Not as good as their match at Hell in a Cell, but it didn’t need to be. After the pre-match assault, Even Bourne was injured and Kofi Kingston took the brunt of Swaggler’s tag team onslaught. Then Evan tried to come in and turn things around, but he was still injured and was picked apart. Logic? In my pro-wrestling? I’m a fan.
Oh Hey, the Divas of Doom Hurt People: About time. ‘Nuff said.
Big Show’s Return: Big Show’s been wrestling since 1995. Despite that, he’s had exactly zero good t-shirts for his fans’ buying pleasure. That streak of merchandising ineptitude continued this past Friday, as his W.M.D. Precision Strike t-shirt could have been given to practically everybody, and probably should have been given to Air Boom. BUT! Big Show’s return angle was a classic, kind of like Mark Henry’s rise to the top of the card. Four months ago, Mark Henry broke Big Show’s ankle. Show comes back, gets real emotional about his inability to do things like put on his pants or play with his dogs as he normally would. Then he promises to destroy Mark Henry. I don’t remember their match at Money in the Bank, and I can’t imagine their eventual championship match being a barn burner, but it’s the first time I’ve been remotely interested in Big Show since his tremendous run as Chris Jericho’s tag team partner in 2009.
Mark Henry, Man of Logic: His promo about not giving Big Show a title shot was tremendous. “You sat at home for four months; a vacation I afforded you.” I can’t tell if there were no “WHAT?” chants live, or if they were edited out in post-production, but the crowd seems to respect Henry as champion. My mind is still blown by the complete 180 Henry’s career has taken, and I’ve yet to be disappointed by anything he’s done. Go, Henry, go!
Brodus Clay Hype Video: I usually don’t care about hype videos, no matter how well-produced they are. This one’s different, as Brodus Clay’s a giant fat dude, and I love me some giant fat dudes in wrestling, especially if they can throw a good suplex. Looking forward to Clay making his proper post-NXT debut as soon as possible.
MVP of the Week: Mark Henry’s the easy choice. The very easy choice. If I could find more ways to compliment him for his work this week, I would.
Match of the Week: Without seeing El Generico vs. Jay Lethal, I’m giving it up to Daniel Bryan vs. Heath Slater. I could watch solid undercard matches like this all day, but here’s hoping that D-Bryan starts ascending the SmackDown! ladder soon. No prop in wrestling is dumber than the blue or red Money in the Bank briefcase the winner of that match is forced to carry, and while I dig that Daniel Bryan does more with it than clutch it or hit his opponents over the head, I can’t help but think he’d look a whole lot better with one of the WWE’s championship belts around his waist.
Call of the Week: “I had to go to the bathroom. I thought the show was over.” Booker T is nothing if not honest.
Questionable Decision of the Week: Having the people complaining of unsafe work environments go out and make the work environment unsafe for others. This is especially true of the Divas of Doom, who probably shouldn’t have been the ones to tell HHH that they felt unsafe because they were girls. They hated Kelly Kelly for being a girl. The quick squash and torture of Alicia Fox was for the best, and I dig the Legion of Doom mini shoulder pads the two rock on their new gear, but without a sound victory over Kelly Kelly, I’ll end up more than a little bitter about the whole thing. I don’t want to be bitter. I want to like the wrestling that’s on my TV.