Wrestling Worth Watching: WWE 12/12/11-12/18/11

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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.

YES, BOO HIM.

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.

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