Monday, 30 September 2013

Hi, My Name Is...

Have you noticed the trend that’s hit wrestling promos this year? Wrestlers have begun introducing themselves, saying their name at the start of a promo. Two guys who are especially guilty of this are Bully Ray and Paul Heyman. But there are others like Randy Orton and Triple H. With names like these doing it it will quickly become the industry standard.
 
It could be considered a good thing for new viewers. If you’re tuning in for the first time I imagine it’s helpful to have the name of someone talking being flagged up. It helps the programme appear a little more accessible and logical. And, being a regular viewer, I think I forget a lot of the time how baffling wrestling (particularly WWE or TNA) could appear to someone getting their first taste.
 
That said it’s not like the names of wrestlers are kept a secret. A graphic appears when they walk to the ring. That gives us their name and, where applicable, their Twitter address. Not only that but the commentary team will more than likely mention the guy’s (or gal’s) name as the saunter to the ring. They have to fill that air time somehow.
 
So we have a situation where regular viewers will know who the person cutting the promo is without even thinking about it and new viewers having a couple of different methods of discovering who the silver tongued stranger is. So really the only time the in-ring intro is useful is when someone new tunes in just after the wrestler in question has walked out but just before they start talking.
 
One word: niche.
 
All this said I find it hard to completely hate the approach. On some level it’s amusing. Heyman seems to do it to get heat, which is fine. It’s an extra sentence with which to get his New York accent across. That being one of his chief tools for turning audiences against him it’s hard to deny it’s a good thing for him to be doing.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, his name is Paul Heyman
 
Everyone else though? Bully Ray is much like Heyman with regards to deploying his NYC accent, but it’s harder to accept from him somehow. It’s completely ridiculous when Triple H does it because it’s clearly just an excuse to remind us all that he’s the storyline COO. And Orton? He’s doing it because he’s regressed so much with his verbal dexterity that he no longer remembers how to cut an effective promo.
 
The more guys at this level do it the more it will be emulated elsewhere. That’s a problem. It’s easy enough to overlook now but when everyone’s doing it it’s going to become unbearable.  

Sunday, 29 September 2013

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 5



In this week’s episode of That Wrestling Podcast we mainly discuss finishing moves. What makes a good finishing move? What are some of the best finishers? What are some of the worst finishers? That sort of thing. If this sounds appealing give it a listen. If it doesn’t then maybe listen anyway. Maybe you’ll enjoy our droning despite the topics.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Changing Trends

This is going to be a short one so enjoy it while it lasts.

When I first started watching wrestling long hair and ponytails were the fashion. Look back at late 90s WWF and WCW shows and you’ll see what I mean. The rosters were packed with guys in love with their hair. Purely by coincidence Kevin Nash was on top then.

I could write extensive lists to prove my point. I won’t. I’ll name a few guys to highlight how prominent the long hair look was and I’ll let you continue from there if you want. Triple H is an obvious guy to mention, as is his DX stablemate Shawn Michaels. Edge, Christian, Billy Gunn, Val Venis, Al Snow and Test are all also on the list.

Over in WCW there was, as has already been mentioned, ‘Big Sexy’ leading the way for the follicly gifted. Chris Kanyon, DDP, Lex Luger are a handful of the others that sported the look there.

Over the years long hair has seen its popularity dwindle. Over the course of the last decade shorter hair has become the norm as guys like John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista have risen to prominence with shaved or short hair.

Over the last year or so the short hair look has been slowly replaced by another. Nowadays beards are the in thing. And I don’t mean trim little goatees. No, these days huge, thick, long beards are fashionable. Daniel Bryan’s rise to the top of WWE has helped there, and he remains the most obvious bearded wrestler to highlight, because he draws attention to it with promos and merchandise.
 
I'm writing about beards now, apparently
 
There are plenty of other beards on offer. The Wyatt Family have some astonishingly lengthy facial hair. Curtis Axel has, if you pay attention, a surprisingly scruffy beard, as does Jack Swagger. Mark Henry, Randy Orton, Kassius Ohno, Antonio Cesaro, Damien Sandow, and Sylvester LeFort are among the many men on the roster who can boast of powerful and-or manly facial hair.
 
It's not just WWE where we're seeing this. Jay Briscoe, Mike 'Knuxx' Knox, Bully Ray, Gunner and James Storm are prominent names rocking the look elsewhere. I'm sure there are others I've not heard of.

There is no point to this post beyond me noting the observation that ponytails will be back in. Or maybe some bold new trend will have emerged. Mohawks or mankini ring gear or tattooed faces perhaps. Who knows?

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Rhodes Boys

On the September 2nd RAW Triple H fired Cody Rhodes. At first it appeared to be nothing more than a convenient way to give Cody a few weeks off to get married and have a honeymoon (you know, like a normal person). It did the job of excusing Cody and got over 'The Game's' heel act, and it seemed that that was all it was intended for.

It has developed into far more. Cody's dad and brother appeared on TV in his stead to discuss him getting him his job back. Both were humiliated by the McMahon fam. Dusty took a solitary punch from Big Show on the orders of Stephanie while Goldust wrestled and took a pasting from then WWE champion Randy Orton at the order of Tripper.

These could have been throwaway or filler parts of their respective episodes. They weren't. Everyone involved did their best to make them memorable pieces of WWE television. Goldust in particular shone. He did an exemplary job of emphasising the importance of his return to RAW and his match with 'The Viper', which would have seen Cody rehired had he won.

The match itself was great. Fans were drawn in in part because of ‘The Golden One’s’ status as a character from the company's past and the rehiring stip. But the quality of the match and the performance of the two wrestlers undoubtedly helped.

Based on that single episode of RAW alone WWE could do worse things than rehiring Goldust as an agent. He could teach a lot of guys a good deal about creating and establishing a character. There may not be any as outlandish as Goldust on the roster anymore but his knowledge would still apply.

That wig has seen better days
 
The September 23rd RAW saw Cody and Goldy run in through the crowd and attack The Shield in response to their father’s treatment the previous week. Wherever the storyline is going it's clear it's not yet peaked. There are various things we could see happen. Cody and Goldust could be made to wrestle for a contract, which could be a very emotional match with the right crowd. It could harm Cody’s face turn though, which is the main reason I think this is something we won’t see.

A swerve turn and singles match isn’t out of the question although it would be asting a clearly popular performer in Goldust and potentially risking Cody’s face run. The two have wanted to face each other at WrestleMania for years so it shouldn’t be ruled out completely. It’s certainly the sort of thing I could imagine WWE promoting on one of their strong B plus level pay-per-views.

What comes to mind for the pair’s immediate future is a match with The Shield. I’d like to see them against Rollins and Ambrose although the combo of Rollins and Reigns seems likelier. Hey, maybe they'll push the boat out and give us a six man match pitting the Rhodes family against 'The Hounds of Justice'. Longer term Goldy and-or Cody could find themselves tangling with Big Show and possibly even ‘The Cerebral Assassin’ himself.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter what matches we get. This is a way of elevating Cody Rhodes. He’s someone that is capable and deserving of a higher standing in the company. It’s nice to see WWE recognising that and Goldust getting to contribute too. This is proof that over the last twelve months WWE has seen a return to form when it comes to creating stars.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Cabanarama

Despite not working for any wrestling promotion with a meaningful television deal Colt Cabana is known to a lot of wrestling fans. His notoriety can be explained by his stints in ROH and (as Scotty Goldman) WWE. In the former he gained a reputation for being a well-rounded performer, someone who could brawl, wrestle technically, do comedy or cut a promo with spirited proficiency. Fans appreciated him for his versatility as much as anything else. He was little more than enhancement talent in WWE but he brought something even to that lowly role.

Since parting ways with Ring of Honor in 2011 Cabana has maintained a high profile, thanks largely to his Art of Wrestling podcast. You've probably heard of it. If not I suggest listening to an episode. The general idea is that Colt speaks to fellow wrestlers about their personal lives, wrestling careers and feelings on the business. It provides a fascinating insight into wrestling and usually makes you appreciate wrestlers who appear in a new light.

It's also given us an insight into Cabana as a person. That he is routinely affable and humorous makes the podcast a good listen, as does his under-appreciated skill as an interviewer. He gets the best out of his guests.

That he's fashioned a name for himself as a podcasting personality shows that he knows how to connect with wrestling fans and that fans want to follow, support, listen to and watch him. With that in mind I'm surprised he remains out of the loop of North America's big three promotions.

TNA should be desperate for new talent to add to their bedraggled embarrassment of a roster. Cabana would fit the bill perfectly. He's likeable enough to prove inoffensive to existing viewers, a good enough wrestler to give us enjoyable matches with mostly everyone in the company, and could feasibly attract a small number of new viewers who'd want to see what TNA does with him. There are very few wrestlers available to TNA at the moment who could have the potential impact of Cabana.
 
A happy young man
 
A return to ROH seems to be hindered by a long-standing and hazily defined grudge Colt holds against the group. He originally left because he was unhappy with the treatment he received during SBG's purchase of the promotion and dealing with Jim Cornette. He has since been angered by DVDs being released on his career. I can understand both sides there. ROH has realised Colt is popular and put their library of matches to good use releasing footage of him. It makes them cash, which is the point of the exercise. But Cabana has said he doesn't see a penny of any sales made, which is naturally going to irk him as ROH is benefiting from his success.

What's peculiar is that this indicates Ring of Honor understand Cabana has enough if a following to make producing a DVD worthwhile. Yet they haven’t done everything they can to bring him in.

It was revealed during Kevin Steen's second AOW appearance that ROH contacted Cabana after Jim Cornette left last year. Obviously nothing much came of that contact. They should keep trying. In Cabana ROH would have a readymade main event star to use. As with TNA he could wrestle enjoyable matches against pretty much the whole roster.  

Then there's WWE. I can understand why they didn't keep him around as a wrestler. He's not out of shape but he's also not ever going to get into the condition the promotion likes its top stars to be in. He's also unlikely to produce a five star WWE style match.

But what he could do is be a great colour commentator. To put it slightly indelicately, Jerry Lawler is not going to be able to stay at the commentary desk forever. The RAW team will probably end up as JBL and Cold when 'The King' retires but it would be prudent to introduce a third man or an alternative now, on SmackDown or one of the peripheral shows, to allow for a smoother transition when the time comes.

Cabana could obviously provide the insight on what the wrestlers are going through that colour guys are supposed to and his age and experience using social media for himself should allow him to more naturally plug polls and talk about tweets than Lawler (and JBL for that matter). A final bonus of having Cabana working as a commentator is that he'd be available for matches against guys having tryouts or joining the main roster from NXT.

Perhaps Colt himself is against all of the above and is happy roaming the world wrestling smaller shows. If he is then great. It's nice that he's enjoying himself. But I hope it is his choice, because if it's not a very talented man is being wasted.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 4



So Jim Ross is no longer affiliated with WWE. I’ve already discussed that here but there was no input from That Wrestling Podcast co-host Michael King. He wasn’t convinced we’d be able to fill an entire episode with JR talk. Find out if we did by giving this a listen!

… Okay a mild spoiler. We didn’t just discuss Jim Ross. We also discussed our thoughts on the role of commentators and the state of wrestling commentary in WWE.

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Summer Event

Over the last several years WWE has gotten into the habit of promoting a large-scale, "game-changing" storylines during the summer months, in a fashion not entirely dissimilar to comic book crossovers that hit the shelves annually. 2009 saw Donald Trump “buy” RAW from Vince for a week before selling it back at an inflated price. It achieved nothing and didn’t fit with the pattern that established itself over the following years of the Big Event being something that would change WWE’s creative direction in the long term. It was more of a learning curve, as was the exploding limo stunt of 2007.
 
2010 gave us the massively promising but ultimately disappointing Nexus invasion. The next year CM Punk cut that memorable worked shoot promo of his and rocketed up to the top of the card. They followed that last year by having him assault The Rock, turning him into a bad guy.
 
And this year... Nothing. There had been an absence of such a development in 2013.
 
About the closest they came was Mark Henry's retirement swerve. That did an excellent job of shocking viewers and reheating Mark Henry for his WWE championship match with John Cena. Which were its only goals. Henry wasn't and isn't the sort of performer who could be used to start a bold new creative direction.
 
It seems that the era of the summer blockbuster in WWE may have gone. For some that will likely be reason to rejoice. It had gotten to the point where we were expecting a big storyline to kick off around the same time each year. Predictability in wrestling is rarely a good thing so in that regard the apparent ceasing is good.
 
But there was a positive to be had from the approach. Predictable as it was it ensured the WWE creative team were trying something big each year in an attempt to excite more experienced (jaded, call it what you will) fans and attract new ones. The usual formulaic approach to writing RAW was tossed aside and something new was sought. It was an annual freshening up of what is often a tiresome approach from WWE.
 
They didn't always get it right. Vince McMahon's car exploding is remembered for all the wrong reasons and failed to actually lead anywhere. The same can be said for the Trump purchase, when it’s remembered at all. Nexus was bungled but it started out as a very appealing idea. Handled better it could have been a winner and memorable for the right reasons.
 
Spot the only guy no longer with the company
 
But they undeniably hit the nail on the head with CM Punk. They faltered a little in the late summer and early autumn of 2011 but by the end of the year they'd worked out how best to use and present him. The heel turn was essentially an upgrade of what we'd already had. It worked in part because WWE were willing to use ‘The Second City Saint’ correctly. The heel turn was a chance for him to do something different.
 
WWE have been doing a very good job this year so they clearly don't need their annual Event Moment. It's not as if not doing anything this year means they'll never be able to give us a shocking moment of RAW ever again. I'll miss the approach though. It gave us something to look forward to. And that's just as important a factor for episodic television as anything else.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 3



Episode three’s are tough. Just ask Ricky Gervais. He cracked the joke a load of times when he was doing promotional work for The Office Christmas specials. Bearing this (third episode trickiness that is, not Gervais and Merchant’s festive send off to Wernham Hogg) in mind we played it safe with our third instalment.

Episode 3 of That Wrestling Podcast features us discussing three WWE wrestlers: Kofi Kingston, Jack Swagger and Antonio Cesaro. We ask how far they could go in the company. Could they replace John Cena as the promotion’s leading man? Or are they forever doomed to life in the middle of the card? It’ll be a recurring topic.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

2013's Seventh Champion

As part of the ongoing Daniel Bryan v Triple H saga the WWE championship has been vacated. This is not something I’d expected to happen (which I'm sure certain parties in WWE consider makes it an instant success). I'd thought Randy Orton would enjoy a lengthy title reign before losing the belt to Bryan or a transitional champion. Surely 'The Face of WWE' should have had the title for as long as possible?

The WWE title being vacated doesn't bother me like the ROH title vacation earlier this year did. The companies operate very differently and portray their championships accordingly. Ring of Honor, as a promotion that promotes good sportsmanship and wrestling as an athletic contest, needs to ensure their top title is always seen as the most cherished prize to its wrestlers. They’ve traditionally done this by conserving title changes for special occasions and ensuring only the best men hold it, although they've not consistently managed that for a while before the vacation, I admit.

WWE uses its title to signify who's a headliner and who's someone we should believe can win. It's an important part of WWE but it's not always at the centre of the top plots. The history of the title is, in many ways, more important than its current status. Being able to rattle off the name of greats to have held it during modern title matches is what matters, especially where John Bradshaw Layfield is concerned.
 
Is this a sight we'll see again?
 
There are several ways we could see the story advance. A singles match could be announced to determine a new champion. Randy Orton could prove to ‘The Game’ as Mrs McMahon-Leveque that he’s worthy of being their figurehead by punting a few skulls. He made a good start showing that he’s still got his mean streak when he (storyline) injured The Miz on RAW.

Daniel Bryan would almost certainly be the other man in this scenario. His inclusion doesn’t need to contradict Triple H’s stated feelings on him. The COO could have his hand forced by the roster threatening to walk out if Bryan’s not given a fair shot. Trips could even decide to put Bryan in the match of his own volition, trotting out the “it’s best for business” line before screwing him and getting the belt back on Orton.

However a Bryan v Orton match was brought about it would be a disappointment given the situation. Why vacate the title in the middle of their feud only to have them face off again with the championship vacated?

Personally I like the idea of a tournament being held for the title. WWE’s not the kind of company that would book a sixteen man tournament for its top prize, although they have the roster depth to give us a good one. An eight man tournament would be ideal for several weeks of television.

Battleground could work nicely as a starting point in this scenario as it would allow four matches featuring big names to have some meaning on the card. Bryan could be pitted against corporate stooge Big Show. Orton could be put against someone at the Zack Ryder level, allegedly to give someone lower down the ranks a chance but really to give Orty an easy first round. The expected CM Punk v Ryback bout could even be incorporated into the tournament, with whoever lost costing whoever won their second round match to keep that programme separate and away from the title.

This isn’t a path WWE are likely to take though. They’re not a company keen on tournaments or stories that revolve around wins and losses. As good as this would be for stretching out easy to follow stories for a few weeks it’s simply not something WWE are likely to have an interest in.

A four man tournament seems a little likelier. They could get that out of the way in one night and involve Bryan, Orton, Big Show and one other person whom they deem fit to give a crack at headlining. That would also allow them to present that Bryan v Orton match that we can probably expect to decide a new champion.

The final option that occurs to me is omitting Bryan entirely and giving ‘The Viper’ an easy ride to regaining the gold. That would take us back to the situation of a few weeks ago, thus being pointless, but that’s not something likely to stop WWE. This idea has one interesting possible scenario: Orton being put in a match with Big Show to decide a new champ and ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ refusing to lay down and battering Orton, forcing him to overcome ‘The Giant’. Or at least taking a beating before Trips and-or Steph ordered Show to “take it easy” on Orty.

The championship being vacated presents WWE with some interesting booking options. I’m interested to see what they go with because it will not only tie into the Orton v Bryan programme and Bryan’s push but also because they’ve been going out of their way since SummerSlam to give us match results that don’t fit with their usual approach to the progression of main event feuds. We may be seeing a different format emerging. That’s something WWE should have experimented with years ago.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Corporate Image

When the current Corporation story-slash-Triple H and Randy Orton heel turn started I was reluctant to join what seemed to be a large number of people saying that it’s a rerun of the, very successful, Austin v McMahon feud. For starters it doesn’t really matter if elements of the more successful plot crop up. It ended fourteen years ago. There are sufficient viewers regularly tuning in who can see this programme through entirely fresh eyes. Ad there’s nothing wrong with emulating successes, especially your own.

More to the point the original cries of a rerun seemed to be based exclusively on Daniel Bryan being pitted against a united McMahon family. For me that’s not grounds enough to compare storylines, or Bryan and Austin for that matter. Plenty of wrestlers have been in that situation.

As the story has developed things have happened that have made it harder to distance it from the original Corporation tale. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As I’ve already pointed out the original was a hit. Writing this isn’t intended as a knock or a complaint, more an opportunity for me to empty my mind on the subject of comparing the two Corporation factions.
 
Finally an excuse to use a picture of the original Corporation line-up!
 
One of the more obvious similarities is one that a lot of people seem to have overlooked. Both groups involved Triple H. In the current incarnation ‘The Game’ is very obviously at the centre of the plot, in the role previously occupied by Mr McMahon in 1998 and ’99. Vince, for his part, has drifted off into the ether (for now) to allow Trips to establish himself as the leading on-screen bad guy.

He was a late recruit to the original Corporation. He turned on his pal X Pac at WrestleMania XV, which marked the beginning of his journey to the very top of the card. He was overshadowed by The Rock for his first month in the group and barely got a chance to shine once ‘The Great One’ left the group before it was unified with The Ministry of Darkness and he was left playing second fiddle to The Undertaker. It’s easy to forget his involvement, but it was a significant part of his career.

The Shield are obvious equivalents of Big Boss Man. The way they’ve been tasked with guarding the ring since Helmsley went bad indicates that they have some sort of authority over security staff at venues. That was always the (hilarious) conceit with Boss Man. Apparently working as a prison guard in Cobb County, by God, Georgia prepared him for such a role.

Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns also vaguely, although not as clearly, also fill the same roles as Ken Shamrock and Test used to. They were and are all guys who can perform run-ins and work as bump fodder for the bigger names. Between the three of them they also hold a singles title and the tag straps, just like BBM and Shamrock did.

Another aspect of the original that seems to have been forgotten is Kane’s involvement. He was blackmailed into doing the bidding of his bosses with threats of being institutionalised1. Does that or does that not sound incredibly similar to Big Show’s current plight?

Beyond the fact that both oppose the real life and on-screen bosses of the company there are no glaring similarities between Austin and Bryan. They’re very different personalities and wrestle very different styles. And as much as I like ‘The Dazzler’ he’s no ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. ‘The Rattlesnake’ was a major part of creating WWE’s most successful period ever. Bryan is more simply a currently popular wrestler who may or may not work out as a long term headline attraction.

I’ll stop short of saying that Steph’s in the Shane McMahon role. Firstly it’s not an entirely accurate comparison. Secondly the relationship she shares with the Vince analogue and the original Vince and Shane relationship are very different things.

***

1 This was at a time when ‘The Big Red Machine’s’ character was far less relatable and fleshed-out, and at a time when WWE were happy to run stories like that.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

That RAW Recap 16.09.13

Monday's RAW saw Daniel Bryan stripped of the WWE championship. For anyone who'd seen Night of Champions the evening before this failed to come as a surprise. That show had ended with Bryan dropping Orton with his knee strike finisher and referee Scott Armstrong counting a distinctly fast three count.

It was clear from that that something was going to happen on RAW regarding Bryan's status as WWE champion. Something turned out to be the stripping. Triple H interrupted the new champ’s celebratory yesfest during the opening segment and called out Armstrong to check out some footage of him counting to three. Once it was established that he had indeed counted a little faster than usual he muttered to Bryan that they’d been had.

Bryan asked what he was talking about and it was immediately clear that Triple H, living up to his ‘Cerebral Assassin’ moniker had set Bryan up. Orty joined them in the ring and ended up laying Bryan out so Tripper could regain the title belt.
 
The champ is here! Yes! Yes! Yes! etc.
 
The short reign Bryan had at SummerSlam was not harmful to him. It portrayed him as being a worthy headliner. He defeated John Cena clean and was only defeated by Randy Orton because of a surprise Pedigree from Triple H. The combination of the unexpected finisher and the gruelling encounter with Cena is what put him down at SummerSlam. The loss of was presented as, in wrestling parlance, a screw job. It set him up to chase Randy for the championship, the assumption being that he would eventually defeat him for the feel good victory (and the title).

I didn't expect this to come just four weeks later. If I'd had to guess I'd have said Bryan would get the championship back sometime between Survivor Series and WrestleMania XXX. I thought he'd lose at Night of Champions, due to outside interference or similar conceit, and head into a placeholder programme with someone else. It seemed like the logical step.

What we have instead is WWE's hottest star having won the WWE championship twice in under a month with both reigns combined lasting under twenty-four hours. There's obviously a plan in place here but right now it's tough to see what it is. I understand WWE want to crank up the sympathy for Bryan and to a certain extent the approach they're using will achieve that. But I can't help but feel that too much of this will cause fans to feel they can't put their trust in Bryan. If every time he wins the title he loses it very shortly afterwards people will simply begin predicting the losses and stop caring.

We're not at that point yet. With the title vacated it looks as though it'll be a while before Bryan's in a position to be one a three time champ. If and when that happens I think Bryan will get the lengthy title reign he deserves.

For the record the reason the McMahons gave for not returning the title to Orton was that he’s lost his edge. Stephanie specifically told him that she wants the man who handcuffed Trips and gave her a DDT. Her reasoning for wanting this was (completely unsurprisingly) not stated.

The only other notable occurrence from RAW was a passionate promo from Dusty Rhodes. He talked about going down the wrong in life and being unable to pay bills and mortgages (and, strangely for a man who’s theme song declares him to be “just a common man”, being unable to pay for people to come and cut the lawn). It was, of course, about Cody being fired. Dusty wanted him rehired.

Steph hit the ring with her catchy R’n’B theme music and offered Dusty exactly that but also threw in the option of having Goldust rehired. She actually said there was only one open spot. Remember that as newcomers continue debuting on the main roster in the coming months.

Dusty refused to choose. His reasoning was that as a parent he couldn’t pick one son over another. This resulted in The Shield storming the ring and Big Show being summoned by Steph. ‘The Dream’ was then given a second choice: a beating from The Shield or a KO punch from ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’. Dusty refused to pick so Show was ordered to do the deed.

That didn’t happen so Steph ordered The Shield to dish out some hurt. Show yelled at them not to. Reigns evened the score with chairs so Show ended up launching his WMD fist at Dusty anyway (Dusty swayed after absorbing the blow instead of doing what everyone else does and simply falling flat, which allowed Show to catch him). Rhodes did a stretcher job.
 
Big Show sobs after accidentally killing Dusty Rhodes
 
It was a bit long-winded but it got the job done. Steph looks like a callous ice queen and we were all reminded that Cody Rhodes exists. Plus they managed to keep Big Show’s story going. Not bad. It’s just a shame so much else on the show was filler.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 2



That Wrestling Podcast isn't afraid to tackle the difficult questions. To illustrate that we ask one of wrestling's biggest... and it's only episode 2! Will TNA be around in five years? If they are what will they be doing and who'll be working there?

We have some ideas.

Night of Champions 2013 review

"The fate, future and direction of WWE will be decided tonight," said Josh Mathews at the start of the Night of Champions pre-show. Even by WWE standards this was overly dramatic. Anyone who’d had a glance at the announced line-up of matches this show was offering could have told you it was going to be, at best, a functional show more concerned with advancing storylines than anything else.

Towards the end of the pre-show Booker T said he wasn't the face of WWE when he worked for WCW. He was entirely accurate. In addition to inane comments there was also a surprisingly good tag team turmoil match on the half hour freebie. It was won by The Prime Time Players, granting them a shot at the straps held by Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins later in the evening.

Triple H kicked off the main show, entering to his heel King of Kings track. He was there to put his stamp of approval on the show because he believed it would be one of the greatest nights in company history (I’d be amazed if anyone believed that claim). After trotting out his "best for business" catchphrase he announced that the main event would feature no interference from anyone, specifically naming The Shield and Big Show. He then, bizarrely, started doing his “Are you ready?” shtick but got interrupted by Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel.

Heyman tried to get out of his match, spurring 'The Game' to activate face mode. This was a bad move. Inconsistency with how performers are presented is a contributing factor to heel and faces switches not sticking. You never would have caught Vince McMahon playing a face while acting as top bad guy.

Triple H pointed out that Paul had nothing to worry about because he could simply rely on Axel to defeat Punk, ensuring he wouldn’t need to tag in. When Axel piped up he got booked in an Intercontinental title defence against, perhaps as some sort of poster-related title switch tease, Kofi Kingston.

Michael Cole described the match as being of great importance to both men. That he spent several minutes promoting an online poll and rattling off seemingly random IC title-related factoids should tell you how true that claim was. Axel won an enjoyable enough bit of filler with his neck breaker driver.
 
Curtis Axel is very good at post-match celebrations
 
Following the decision it was revealed that 63% of WWE fans had voted Chris Jericho as the greatest Intercontinental champion ever. They'd only been able to vote for him, Rick Rude (2%), Mr Perfect (24%), Pat Patterson (1%), and the Honky Tonk Man (10%), so this is far from a definitive answer to the "who's the greatest?" question. For the record I’d have voted for Hennig or HTM from the selection.

Backstage Ricardo Rodriguez and Rob Van Dam had a painfully awkward conversation. RR taught RVD various Spanish phrases in what apparently passes as comedy.

Elsewhere in the back Alicia Fox and Aksana were busy abandoning AJ Lee. Layla remained loyal but then disappeared to straighten out the deserters. It’s possible Layla was actually meant to be leaving AJ too, but that wasn’t clear. The upshot of this segment was that AJ was left alone for the four-way match.

Before the match we were reminded of AJ's worked shoot promo and subsequent alliance with the Divas who we'd just seen abandon her. An on-screen graphic also revealed that fans had voted Trish Stratus the greatest Divas champion of all time. That's pretty impressive considering she never won the belt.

The Total Divas teamed up on AJ at the start of the match before Brie turned on her allies and presented us with a fair bout. One of the highlights of this match, for me, was the revelation that fans had voted on what outfit Brie Bella would wear. Losing options included "raggedy Bella" and "strawberry shortcake Bella". This voting for outfits idea needs to be a permanent gimmick for the Bellas. It's tremendous.

Natalya clumsily applied a double sharpshooter to Brie and Naomi (during which the recipients' shoulders were on the mat in pinning positions for a lot longer than three seconds) only to be lumped by AJ. The champ then applied her wonderful Black Widow on Natty hold for the submission victory. The division has a long way to go before it becomes unmissable stuff but it's got the right woman as its figurehead.

Experts Booker T, Santino and Alex Riley had a chat about the World Heavyweight championship match. Booker picked Van Dam to win, largely because they're pals. I like the idea that he makes all predictions based on how well he gets on with people, as opposed to form or anything that even tries to sound legitimate. Santino and A-Ry contributed nothing.
 
The battle of men known by three initials is on!
 
'Mr Pay-Per-View' got a great reaction from his home state crowd. Alberto Del Rio had to work for his heat. That wasn't a problem: he had fans jeering by the time he was on the apron. Lilian Garcia's Spanish intro helped too. That heat only intensified when ADR got disqualified for refusing to release his cross arm breaker submission after a five count. The finish did what he was designed to, namely keeping heat on ADR and avoiding a clean loss for RVD in an area where he’s very popular.

Following the decision Del Rio gave his foe a kicking. His attempt to involve a chair was foiled by Ricardo, allowing ‘The Whole F’n Show’ to drop the champ with a DDT and dust off the old Van Terminator (a move which sees Van Dam launch himself from one corner of the ring to the other and kick a chair into a seated opponent). If that was a regular part of his repertoire it would be a nice use of Ricardo. But it's not. Head shots like that are rare in modern WWE, and for good reason. It happened here because RVD was so popular and it was a positive note on which to end the segment.

Backstage Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel were shown discussing their handicap match. Here Heyman tried using the fear of Triple H causing problems for Axel as motivation for his charge to perform. We’d seen plenty of this sort of stuff on TV since the match was announced.

The WHC poll revealed that Booker T is considered the greatest man to hold that belt by fans. He got an impressive 38% of the vote. Edge (22%), Batista (5%), Undertaker (21%), and Ric Flair (14%) were the other options. I suspect Booker benefited from being a part of the broadcast. I'd have voted for Edge.

Backstage (again) Randy Orton asked Triple H why he wasn't getting any help in the main event, all but admitting he felt he couldn't defeat Daniel Bryan unaided. Why are all heels cowards these days? This hasn’t always been the case, surely? 'The King of Kings' told him he wanted to make sure he'd picked the right man to be 'The Face of WWE'. Orton told him he had done and wandered off to do whatever it is he does before matches.

We were presented with a bonus match after that, The Miz facing Faaaaaan... daaaaaan... goooooo. 'The Ballroom Brute' was introduced first to a huge pop and enthusiastic gyrations. 'The Awesome One's' reaction was decidedly more tepid. I suspect WWE are building to a double turn with this feud. Miz is not considered a success as a face (although I like him in the role) and Fandango basically plays a tweener anyway, so it'd make sense.

The match was solid. Miz worked over Fandango's leg (further indicating he may be turning) and they included a number of spots that should have gotten a response from the crowd. They didn't. The audience was dead. Miz won with the figure four.

CM Punk and Curtis Axel both had kendo sticks with them when they came out for their handicap match. Perhaps they should have had a kendo stick on a pole match instead. Chairs and tables were also introduced. They made the most of the no DQ ruling they'd been granted, walloping each other and doing everything they could to remind us this was a relaxed rules affair. It was very effective. They undoubtedly benefited from being the only non-standard bout on the show. WWE should bear that in mind. Less is more.

Heyman predictably stayed down on the mat and didn’t involve himself in proceedings for the majority of the bout. His hand was forced when Axel had fallen to a GTS and an Anaconda Vice. He tried running away but that didn't work. After a jog around the tech area Punk caught him in the ring. He pulled handcuffs from his boot, slapped them onto his former agent-slash-bestie, and then pelted him with painful-looking kendo stick shots.
 
CM Punk is a talented man to be capable of wrestling with handcuffs pressed against his leg
 
After several minutes of fun and frolics Punk announced he was going to break Heyman's face. That was the signal for Ryback to charge to the ring and spear Punk through a table (a decision which did nothing to dissuade the Goldberg chant). 'The Big Guy' pulled Heyman on top of Punk and the match ended.

I'm a fan of this development. It's what I predicted would happen in my preview for the show. It should give Ryback a fresh start after being thoroughly mishandled for most of the year. He’s not bad on promos, but he’ll benefit from not having to do them quite so much and from the association with Heyman. Naturally he’ll be facing Punk at Battleground, which should be good for him too.

We saw the experts again at this point. They wittered on about what had occurred so far on the show. Santino's mind was apparently blown by the actions of Ryback. He's easily impressed.

Dolph Ziggler failed in his attempt to become a two time United States champion. Dean Ambrose beat him with the headlock DDT he's fond of. The match was good but didn't draw the crowd in. You may have noticed this was a theme at Night of Champions. The crowd were rowdy during introductions and at certain points during matches but quietened down often. They were less than ideal.

The result was a blessing in disguise for 'The Show Off'. Winning a mid-card title a couple of months after losing the WHC would have been a comedown for him, and would have looked like an admission that he didn't belong at the top of the card. Hopefully WWE will remember how popular he was in early summer soon and so something meaningful with him. He’s wasted at the moment.

After being told that 53% of WWE fans (those that voted, at least) believe Sting to be the greatest US champion ever it was time for the tag team title match. I wouldn't have been surprised had The Prime Time Players won the championship considering the rise in status they've enjoyed recently. But they didn't. The Shield retained when Reigns hit a spear on Titus, setting up a Rollins pin.

A video package recapped Bryan defeating John Cena for the WWE championship, Triple H going heel, Randy Orton successfully cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase, the firing of Cody Rhodes, the manipulation of Big Show, and Trips explaining that he's all about what's best for business. It was a very good video. It's the sort of approach that could be good for a post-PPV RAW.

Randy Orton's entrance was deemed the perfect time to address the greatest WWE champion poll. Bit weird, what with him being the face of the company and all. Hulk Hogan was considered the greatest (which surprised me) with an impressive 55%. 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin came second with 16% (he'd have been my pick), followed by John Cena (13%), CM Punk (12%) and Triple H (a meagre 4%). If these polls proved anything it's that we can't trust poll results from WWE's website.

Back to the action. The match was slow to begin with. Orty was on offence which meant a plethora of stomps, rest holds and nonsensical mid-match posing. Bryan took over at various points, which always resulted in a quickened pace and some noise from the crowd.

They had a good match. The regular spots such as Bryan’s diving headbutt, Yes Lock, and top rope German suplex and Orton’s hanging DDT and numerous failed RKO attempts were all present and correct. As good as it was it didn’t quite hit the heights of their exchanges on RAW and SmackDown from the summer. Perhaps it was the lack of a stipulation or Orty altering his style because he’s now a bad guy.

The finish saw Daniel Bryan escape an RKO attempt before hitting his running knee to win. That's two shows in a row where Bryan has beaten an established star with his new finisher. At SummerSlam it was a completely clean win. Not so with Night of Champions. Referee Scott Armstrong, who'd taken a scheduled bump at the hands of ‘The Viper’ during the match and been briefly replaced by a second official, gave a fast count during the match-winning pin.
 
Daniel Bryan there, celebrating his title win with a fan
 
This will almost certainly become a plot point. Perhaps it will be revealed Tripper ordered Armstrong to end the match in Bryan's favour so he'd have the chance to gauge Bryan's popularity as champ. That would contradict his reason for turning on Bryan in the first place but it’s still possible WWE will go with it. Perhaps we’ll learn it was 'The Cerebral Assassin's' way of discrediting Bryan. There's no obvious answer but the way the camera was angled to fully show Armstrong, not the norm on a WWE broadcast, indicates something was up.

Night of Champions had the potential to be a surprise hit. The handicap match and the WWE title match both featured performers popular enough to deliver belters, but they didn’t. The rest of the card featured nothing that couldn’t have occurred on RAW or SmackDown (or Main Event in some cases). The fate, future and direction of the company were not affected in any unforeseen manner.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

No Surrender 2013 review

Remember Chris Sabin? He's the man who has worked for TNA for a decade, routinely being relied upon to provide exciting matches. He's the man who was chosen to unseat TNA's lead heel as world champion. He's the man that, with a little bit of work, could have been a perfectly satisfactory addition to the company's rather drab main event scene.

You and I may remember who Mr Sabin is but TNA's writing team apparently do not. Just four weeks after his world title reign (which also lasted just four weeks) was unceremoniously halted Sabin has already slipped down the card enough to be omitted from what is allegedly a pay-per-view quality edition of Impact Wrestling. The treatment obviously does Sabin no good and it's not a positive for the TNA world championship either. That now looks like something that anyone can get a shot at and win. That's not how any promotion should present what is supposed to be their top prize.

Thankfully this was the only major complaint I have about No Surrender. Sabin's absence aside it was a perfectly fine show.

The evening kicked off with the standard video package. It was well produced. First it showed us the four men who would compete in the BFG semi-finals and finals, each man doing his utmost to stress the importance of the BFG series and the title shot the winner would receive. Following an F Scott Fitzgerald quote (I like the idea of TNA doing more literary quotes, partly because it's such a clich├ęd thing to do that it suits them perfectly) we were shown how the Mr Anderson and Bully Ray, the Vice President and President of Aces and Eights respectively, issue came about.

Bully Ray opened with a promo. That wouldn’t have happened were No Surrender a real pay-per-view. He said the problems between Anderson and him were because of General Manager Hulk Hogan. That brought out 'The Hulkster' who said that Bully should be focused on Anderson, cracking the same "You should be worried about facing one of your brothers, brother!" gag twice. Hey, no one can accuse Hulk of not reusing things that work.

Bully called Anderson out to the ring. His music hit immediately, almost as if he'd been waiting at the gorilla position. The Vice President of Aces and Eights refused a handshake from Hogan and joined Bully in the ring. He was told that if he just apologised it would all be over. After very briefly teasing giving that apology he decked the Pres. After that he shouted his own name and Hogan got back on the stick to say that the world title match would be a Last Man Standing match.

Match one saw Austin Aries meet AJ Styles. They had the sort of smooth and enjoyable match you'd expect. There was nothing wrong with what they have us at all. The finish came when 'A Double' went for a splash in the corner but got hung up on the top rope. Styles then hit a Pele kick and followed up with a middle rope Styles Clash for the win.
 
Finish ahoy!
 
Backstage Sting tried to give Magnus a pep talk. Magnus told him he's tired of being the future and declared he was going to be the champion. Samoa Joe was slouched on a sofa throughout.

After a break Bobby Roode was shown screaming at Taz, Mike Tenay and the referee whose surname isn't Hebner, demanding Magnus be brought out so he could beat him and then go on to beat Styles in the finals. We also got a shot of a handful of the St Louis Rams. Which was... well, it was something. Their support would mean a lot more if they were shown to support TNA on non-TNA programming. But obviously that's not going to happen.

'The It Factor' got the match off to a quick pace when he jumped Magnus and instigated some fiery brawling. When they got underway in the ring the intensity remained and they produced a very lively match. Magnus reversed a fisherman suplex into a double leg takedown, floating over for a victory from nowhere. Presumably he didn't get a more convincing result because TNA want to keep the Extraordinary Gentlemen's Club member strong.

Backstage Roode jobbed out a table before being joined by fellow EGO boys Daniels and Kazarian. Roode said it was Hogan's fault they weren't in the finals and said if they couldn't be there nobody would be. That so many heels blame Hogan for their woes is distressing. He's had his TV time cut as a way of saving money and isn't going to be working a match any time soon, yet he's essentially positioned as the company's top face, the man all the bad guys are gunning for.

Talking of Hogan, he was shown talking to TJ Perkins backstage. Apparently the Manik gimmick reminds Hogan of his Hulk Up routine. I think he may have taken one too many chair shots. Dixie Carter came in and told Hogan that Bellator has pulled Tito and Rampage until after they've had their MMA match on November 3. That's not a loss. If anything it's a good thing for TNA. It will force them to concentrate on their wrestlers for a while.

Elsewhere in the arena Bully Ray ranted at Knuxx, Garrett Bischoff and Wes Brisco. His feeling was that they wanted Anderson as the world champ and club President over him. The three didn't get to address these accusations. They're not important enough to have speaking parts. Bully said he knew they'd do the right thing and walked off. We were left to presume "the right thing" was interfering in the world championship match on his behalf as opposed to not getting involved and seeing who could win on their own merits.

Following a recap of the tensions between Anderson and Ray we got the TNA would title match. As gimmick brawls go it wasn't a bad one. The only minor niggle I have is that Anderson wrestled in his Aces vest and jeans. Surely the storyline would've lent itself to Anderson busting out his more traditional wrestling trunks. Perhaps they want to save that for later, to signify he's finally done with the group.

Anderson had the match won from a Mic Check onto a chair but Bully had floored Hebner with a manly shove into a turnbuckle. Hebner had stood up to him, y'see, and the champ didn't like that. Anderson dragged Ray to his feet, presumably to hit another move and keep him dazed, this earning himself the gold. Instead he was floored with a Bully Cutter. This was the signal for the rest of Aces and Eights to mosey on out. Anderson staggered to his feet only to be low blowed by Brooke (Tessmacher, not Hogan) and triple power bombed (Shield style) by A&E.

Hebner recovered to make the count and Anderson managed to make his way back up by nine. A chain-assisted punch put him down for another count of nine. He finally went down for ten after he was tackled through a table by Bully.

Anderson was put on a gurney and wheeled up to the entrance ramp to be slapped about some more by Bully. The champ whipped Anderson with the leather vest and then gave him a piledriver on the steel. It's nothing we've not seen before from the character but it did earn some heavy boos, so it was obviously the right thing to do (from a booking standpoint, of course).
 
Nothing gets heat like an exposed piledriver
 
ODB was shown in a bar talking up a Knockout title match had scheduled for the next able. It was effective as a thirty second promo.

James Storm and Gunner came to the ring for a dire segment. Gunner just stood around as Storm shouted nonsensically. It was easy to believe in his gimmick of drinking heavily. Chavo and Hernandez interrupted and acted in a decidedly heelish fashion. Gunner granted them a title match for the next episode of Impact. Everyone involved seemed stilted and ill-prepared for the exchange. It highlighted how much TNA needs fresh teams.

In the main event AJ Styles defeated Magnus in a match that was fitting of being the final instalment of a lengthy series. EGO interfered at one point, attacking both competitors before being dealt with by officials. When the show returned from a break they were gone and weren't seen again. It was odd booking.

'The Phenomenal One' won with a Spiral Tap. There were more shots of Magnus immediately after the bout finished than there were if Styles celebrating. He looked glum. Perhaps a heel turn could be coming. That wouldn't be the worst thing TNA could do.
 
The next TNA world champion?
 
Styles cut a promo about not getting a response from Dixie Carter about the mistakes he pointed out a week or two ago. He asked for Dixie to show up next week, so that he can point out more mistakes presumably. It wasn't the greatest thing AJ's ever done, but I've seen far worse from him.

While this show didn't do anything wrong it didn't do anything to show that TNA understands they need to do something new and different. Some interesting possibilities were presented (potential Anderson and Magnus turns, EGO being used as a strong faction beyond the BFG series, something involving Styles and Carter) but none of them are things that will turn TNA's misfortune around.

The final words of the show? "Stay tuned, Bellator is now!" I think that says it all about TNA's standing.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Ross Report

On Wednesday WWE announced via their website that Jim Ross is retiring, putting an end to a business relationship that started 1993 and has survived two firings (plus a number of kayfabe ones). It’s an announcement that came completely out of the blue. JR’s official exit as a television mainstay came several years ago but he’d still been very active for the company. Mostly he was involved in NXT, attending evaluation sessions and tapings and, occasionally, commentating for the league.

It’s commentary that ‘Good Old’ JR will be most remembered for. When I first started watching WWF programming in late 1998 he was the company’s lead play-by-play guy working alongside Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler on Monday Night RAW. That role was as integral to the success of the Attitude Era as anything else you care to name.

During that period alone JR enhanced an uncountable number of matches and contributed to some all-time classics. The one that immediately springs to mind is the Mankind v Undertaker v Hell in a Cell match at King of the Ring ’98. That match is incredible for the life-endangering falls Mick Foley took off and through the Cell structure. If you watch it back with a critical eye you’ll realise that very little besides that actually happens. Foley is knocked senseless after his two falls and has to be guided through a relatively basic exchange within the Cell by ‘The Phenom’. Part of the reason the bout has the reputation it does is Ross’s commentary. He helped to make Foley’s falls, in a very real way sacrifices, even more memorable and made the remainder of the match seem more animated than it was with his spirited performance from the announce booth. Ross’s impassioned plea of “Will someone stop the damn match!” is just as memorable as either of Foley’s tumbles.

There are other matches improved by JR, of course. Foley v Triple H at Royal Rumble 2000, Austin v Rock at WrestleMania X7 (and indeed ‘Manias XV and XIX), Chris Jericho v Triple H from the April 17th RAW, Hulk Hogan v Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam ’05, the Batista v Triple H pay-per-view trilogy from 2005, Cactus Jack v Randy Orton at Backlash ’04, Shane McMahon’s hardcore title match with Steve Blackman, and even Kurt Angle’s main roster debut against Shawn Stasiak all benefited from Jim Ross’s involvement. I could go on. All were great matches to begin with, but JR’s skill calling them made them that little bit better.

What makes a good wrestling announcer is probably just as debatable as what makes a good wrestler. JR may not be everyone’s favourite commentator ever but I think anyone would be hard pushed to argue that he’s not amongst the best. He was an incredibly adept performer, just as comfortable calling a brutal TLC or Hell in a Cell match as he was contributing asides to a half hour long This Is Your Life comedy segment. When at the commentary desk JR could help to mask some of the shortcomings of less able wrestlers, an incredibly important knack for any commentator to have (it’s something Michael Cole still needs to improve), and explaining the story of a match with an air of good natured ease, arguably the chief role of a WWF and E commentator.

The more wrestling I watched the more commentators I was exposed to. Despite having a sizable commentary roster there was nobody in WCW who did such a great job as JR. It would be years before I noticed how good Ross was at his job, which is a sign in itself that he was talented. I noticed immediately how forced Tony Schiavone and his gang sounded. In ECW Joey Styles was great and for a while I was convinced he was the best wrestling commentator going. Looking back I realise that while he was good he was more technical. He could call wrestling moves and holds that JR wouldn’t have known the name of, true, but he wasn’t as gifted a storyteller as JR. Although in fairness that was slightly less a priority in ECW and Styles contributed to that product just as much as Ross did to the WWF.
 
JR cutting a promo and rocking a beard
 
This is not to say that JR was perfect. It wasn’t unknown for him to miscall moves and he would routinely get basic things wrong, such as mixing up Matt and Jeff Hardy. But when it came to getting over the story of any given match, recapping ongoing plots, covering weakness, and hyping pay-per-views, there was nobody finer .

While commentary is the role for which JR will be most remembered it’s not the only job he held in the company. From the late 90s until the middle of the “naughties” Ross was the Fed’s head of talent relations. The duties linked to this job are many but the key aspects of it were hiring, firing and re-signing wrestlers to appear on WWE’s TV shows. As great and passionate as he was on and about the commentary role it was the talent relations job that allowed Ross to make his greatest contributions to the company. He played a part in signing names such as Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Batista, Randy Orton, CM Punk and John Cena. Considering the amount of money those men, and many others signed by JR, have made for WWE, and themselves by extension, over the years it’s hard not to see this as his greatest contribution to WWE.

That the men who succeeded Ross in both of his roles struggled to gain acceptance shows just what a great wrestling mind he was. Michael Cole was so unpopular when he first replaced JR on RAW that he ended up being turned heel. Over the last two years he’s gradually drifted back to a babyface approach and is proficient at his job, but I know of nobody who has the same affection for him that they have for JR. Part of that is perhaps the fact that the nature of the job has changed and is now as much about promoting Twitter as telling us someone’s applied an armbar.

Over in talent relations John Laurinaitis was a flop when he replaced Ross (after several years of training, it should be pointed out). The only major player he signed during his time in the role was Daniel Bryan and, by most accounts, he alienated himself from the roster. Ross benefited from being in a position to sign established grapplers like Foley, Austin and Punk, but he also signed guys who were unproven. He clearly had an eye for talent that Laurinaitis lacked.

There are plenty of rumours doing that rounds as to why JR left. They’re largely unimportant. The thing to focus on is that he’s leaving, ostensibly to spend more time with his family and work on his ever-growing range of BBQ products (sauce it!). While it’s always possible he’ll surface in WWE again sometime in the future it’s not likely to come soon, and his contributions will probably be far more sporadic if he does.

WWE isn’t going to fall apart without Jim Ross. But it will be a little worse off without his knowledge, passion and input. He’ll be missed, on screen and off.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Night of Champions 2013 preview

I don't usually talk that much about posters for WWE pay-per-views but I think I should here. At SummerSlam Triple H made Randy Orton the face of the company. Shouldn't it naturally follow that 'The Face' should be the featured performer on the following month's major show, especially when it's got a name as evocative as Night of Champions? Seems like a natural move to me.

The standard argument against that will surely be that the poster would have been produced months in advance. Well yes, but WWE clearly had a title win planned for Orty by the time he won Money in the Bank in July. That would have been decided on at least a week or two in advance. So basically WWE would have known over two months ago (at the absolute minimum) that Randy Orton was going to be heading up Corporation 2.0 as WWE champ by now. That's enough time for a company with their means to get a new poster ready. It would have been worth the trouble for the lovely little touch it would have been to the company’s main storyline.

Instead we have Kofi Kingston holding the Intercontinental championship, a title he hasn’t held since December of last year. It's changed hands several times since then and 'The Wildcat' hasn’t been seriously involved in the title picture since his loss. He is, in short, a peculiar sight on a Night of Champions poster.
 
The offending item

If WWE bosses were desperate to have the IC title on the pay-per-view poster, which is possible but entirely inexplicable, then current gold-holder Curtis Axel would have been a far better choice. In addition to being the reigning champion he's also involved in the company's number two feud right now. He’s playing a bit part but he's still there and his face on a poster would make a lot more sense than Kofi Kingston's does.

Axel's feud is, of course, with CM Punk. He's been brought in as a Brock Lesnar surrogate in order to keep the Heyman and Punk war going and preserve 'The Pain's' limited dates. It's a smart decision. Lesnar will be of far more value when WrestleMania season rolls around. And his SummerSlam match with Punk was a mild disappointment anyway. There's no urgent need for a rematch.

Since Lesnar took his leave of absence Punk and Axel have enjoyed a few brawls on RAW. All of them have been too long. Punk may be over and he and Heyman may be (rightfully) regarded as two of WWE's greatest assets in 2013 but they're still subject to the Too Much of a Good Thing rule. Having Punk and Axel tussle or Punk and Heyman snipe at one another in promos isn't necessarily a bad approach it's just one that can become samey pretty quickly. I did enjoy Heyman’s feigned ankle injury on RAW but it came just a little too late to be fully appreciated. The malaise had set in.

The Night of Champions clash will be a non-title handicap affair, Axel and Heyman facing a solo Punk. It will be fought under elimination rules, meaning that Punk has a chance to get his hands on Heyman in a "legal" setting. Should the New Yorker refuse to comply he'll be fired. This means Punk has no chance of becoming the Intercontinental champion. His feelings on this state of affairs are unrecorded.

Is there anyone who doesn't think that Punk will end up getting a measure of revenge against Heyman? I can't imagine this match playing out without the agent being forced to face the proverbial music. From there I can see two things happening. The first is Punk battering Heyman and then pinning him after a GTS or making him submit to an Anaconda Vice. That would wrap up the feud, which is the main reason I think WWE will avoid it. There's still at least another month left in Heyman v Punk.

The second possibility is the debut of a new charge for Heyman. They could interfere and cause a DQ or make the save after, it's all much of a muchness in that regard. They could get around Heyman organising someone to provide aid by having him deny all knowledge before agreeing to manage the new boy on the following RAW. The new guy could even make a pitch to Heyman about saving him because of their desire to be a Paul Heyman guy.

Obviously a new member of Heyman's stable would be the man to face Punk at Battleground. It could be a main roster guy who's doing nothing interesting. It could be Tyson Kidd returning from injury. It could be a newbie from NXT. Personally I think it should be Ryback. The heel turn's been disastrous for him. About the only thing that could save him and restore his credibility is an alliance with Heyman which sees him facing one of the most popular guys on the roster.

The match could go either way. Punk could win clean or via disqualification or Heyman could get the assisted victory. But because CM did the honours at SummerSlam I'm leaning towards him winning. Don't be surprised if Heyman wins though: it'll be a great chance for him to cut promos about holding a win over a former WWE champion.

Outside of the handicap match and the main event Night of Champions doesn't have anything especially noteworthy to offer. That's not necessarily a bad thing. WWE clearly aren't expecting it to be a show we remember in six months’ time. It seems to be more about advancing the big feuds and setting things up on the undercard. The show doesn’t look bad. It's just not going to be memorable.

The World Heavyweight championship match is probably the biggest match outside of the main events. Alberto Del Rio defends against Rob Van Dam. It's been a standard feud. Del Rio lost a non-title match to 'Mr Monday Night' and has attacked him a few times. RVD has hired ADR's former personal ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez, making this feud as much Del Rio v Ricardo as it is Del Rio v Van Dam. Which makes sense: Ricardo has far more reason for targeting Del Rio than anyone else on the roster but isn't in a position to have competitive matches with him (not yet anyway).

The matches ADR and RVD have had on TV recently are best described as standard. There's been nothing especially great about them and they've avoided being bad. If they can achieve that at NOC, and I think they probably will, I won't have any complaints.

As far as a winner goes I'm picking Del Rio. Van Dam is exactly the sort of guy who would be given the World title but there's no need to take it off ADR. I think it'll be with him until there's a face ready to take it from him who could go on to work with Money in the Bank briefcase holder Damien Sandow directly afterwards.

The event's pre-show will feature a tag team turmoil match for a title match later in the show. Entered into it are Tons of Funk, the Usos, two undisclosed members of 3MB, The Real Americans and The Prime Time Players.

As this is on the pre-show WWE has the option of giving it a lot of time. I hope they do because this could be a great series of matches (although it relies on The Real Americans getting a long stay to reach its full potential). As the champions are heels it seems reasonable to assume a fan favourite team will win. I'm picking the PTPs. There are no two men better suited to playing babyface tag champions now. I don't think they'll win the titles here though. I can see Rollins and Reigns going over to remind us that they're a formidable unit. Perhaps it'll start a PTPs v Shield programme, which would do everyone involved some good, but I don't think it's likely.

Speaking of The Shield I suspect Dean Ambrose will end up in a match with Dolph Ziggler. They've had a little feud going for the past week or two based around 'The Show Off' speaking out against the Triple H regime. I think they'll have a good match but I don't think we’ll see a title change, nor should we want one. Ziggler getting a mid-card championship would be a massive step backwards. Perhaps Rollins and Reigns could interfere to avoid (yet another) clean loss for Ziggler, providing a handy segue point for the tag title match to boot.

Ziggler's on-screen ex-beau AJ Lee will defend her Divas title in a four-way match. Her opponents are Natalya, Naomi and Brie Bella. The match has come about because of AJ's feelings regarding the Total Divas show (made emphatically clear on the August 26th RAW). Since then WWE has taken some tentative steps towards making this an actual feud, including recasting all of the Total Divas as babyfaces fighting on the same side. How that will translate to a four-way match is anyone’s guess.

This match could help to make the division mean more. I can't imagine Naomi or Brie winning the title. Natalya would be good enough in the role but she wouldn't be better than AJ. If WWE wants to make their women's league mean something again, and all signs indicate that they do, then their best course of action, to my mind, is to keep the championship on AJ. Let her have good matches and build up anticipation for a title change. She's the perfect person for the job.

The big match is the WWE title match. Randy Orton, 'Apex Predator', champion, and ‘Face of WWE’ (I’m not going to sully the English language by referring to it as “the” WWE) defends his title against Daniel Bryan. In a way this rivalry has been just as formulaic and prone to repetition as has Heyman v Punk. Practically every TV show since SummerSlam has ended with some combination of Randy Orton, Triple H, The Shield, and a reluctant Big Show giving ‘The World’s Toughest Vegan’ a hiding.

Somehow the approach hasn’t worn thin here. It could be because there are more people involved, giving us more variety. It could also be that Bryan is fresher in such a prominent spot than either Punk or Heyman. That Randy Orton’s been playing a diminished role for several years could be a contributing factor too. Whatever it is I’m pleased not only that Bryan’s been given a chance to succeed at the highest level in WWE but also that audiences have reacted so well to him and the feud. It’s a good sign that he’ll stay at the top of the card for good.

I’ll be very surprised if Bryan and Orton don’t have the best match of the night. Both are two of the best wrestlers in WWE and have been doing solid work lately. ‘The Viper’s’ been an A-lister in the company for so long that he can beat anyone on any night. Bryan doesn’t have the tenure that his opponent does but he did beat John Cena, completely clean, just a month ago. These things serve to create a match that makes suspension of disbelief easy: either man could beat the other.

I’m picking Orton to win. While ‘The Dazzler’ regaining the title would get a great reaction I think it’s far too soon into the feud for that to happen. If I had to guess I’d say he won’t get the belt back until at least Survivor Series. I could even see WWE holding off until WrestleMania XXX.

Orton beating Bryan fair and square would risk putting a serious dent in Bryan’s popularity, not to mention show that Orty actually deserves to be the champion. As that goes against the entire point of him being ‘The Game’s’ hand-picked champion I think it’s safe to assume we’ll see some outside interference. It could come from The Shield and perhaps even Triple H himself, but I think the likeliest person to make an “unscheduled” appearance during the match is Big Show.

‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ has been dragged into the WWE title feud since SummerSlam. His financial recklessness is being exploited by the McMahons, making him batter Daniel Bryan on a weekly basis or see his contract terminated (presumably those iron clad clauses John Laurinaitis wrote in for him have expired). Show’s been an important part of the last month’s worth of plots and yet he doesn’t have a match at Night of Champions. An appearance during the main event is practically guaranteed.

This appearance could come alongside Triple H and-or Stephanie, with the bosses demanding that Show cost Bryan the title. Or we could see a classic swerve turn with Show coming out to ward off Shield interference only to KO Bryan once ‘The Hounds of Justice’ are gone. We could even see a combination of the two: Show being told to assault Bryan by ‘The King of Kings’, pretending he doesn’t want to, and then doing it.

A Show heel turn makes sense. It would create a new rivalry to keep Bryan busy before he moves back into WWE title contendership. Orton could then move on to… well, something. Perhaps I’m wrong about the Punk and Heyman feud ending. Punk may be heading into a programme with ‘The Apex Predator’. Or perhaps I’m wrong about Show being built up for a heel turn. Maybe he’s going to remain a face and slide into a title match with Orton.

That there are several possibilities regarding the top matches and performers at and after Night of Champions is good. There’s no obvious next step, but all realistic possibilities seem like they’d be entertaining. I approve.

Predictions summary:
Randy Orton to defeat Daniel Bryan
CM Punk to defeat Curtis Axel and Paul Heyman
Alberto Del Rio to defeat Rob Van Dam
AJ Lee to retain the Divas championship
The Prime Time Players to win tag team turmoil
The Shield to retain the tag team championship
Dean Ambrose to defeat Dolph Ziggler