Thursday, 31 October 2013

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 14



With Bound For Glory and Hell in a Cell being just a week apart Michael and I felt it would be good to put together an episode discussing both. You can’t talk about pay-per-views these days without discussing the respective television shows that follow them, so we chat about them too. And there’s been talk of Panda Energy-slash-the Carter family wanting to flog TNA to the highest bidder so we talk about that too. Why would Panda want to sell, who would want to buy, and what exactly would they hope to get out of the purchase? That’s all discussed.

Plus there are some amusing news stories doing the rounds so we talked about them too. It’s a packed episode, reflected in the hour-plus running time.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Hell in a Cell 2013 review

At the turn of the century the WWF would routinely secondary level pay-per-view s to move guys up the card. Never was this more apparent than at Fully Loaded 2000. At that show the three most established guys on the active roster, The Rock, The Undertaker, and Triple H, faced Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho, three men the company were keen to turn into stars.

Those three matches alone did not make those three men stars. They were part of a process of star building that the WWF was known for at the time. The practice of pitting big names against men lower down the card and having competitive matches with them was the norm. Even if the non-headliners lost their profile was raised by association.

Compare that approach with the modern one. Feuds stretch on forever and WWE generally does a poor job of utilising popular acts. I’m not talking about Daniel Bryan or CM Punk two years ago. Bryan is being, and Punk was, handled right for the most part. I’m thinking more of guys like Fandango, Bray Wyatt, and Dolph Ziggler. Men who do everything in their power to get over ith fans yet find themselves playing diminished roles on TV and pay-per-view. It’s impossible to imagine WWE’s three most established names, Punk, Orton and Cena, being pitted against the likes of ‘The Show Off’ in competitive pay-per-view bouts. Which illustrates how WWE’s approach to building stars has changed over the years.

This was a thought that occurred to me at several points during Hell in a Cell, usually when two established names were wrestling each other or mid-card guys were facing off in unadvertised “bonus” matches. I wrote about this a few weeks ago after Battleground. WWE needs to spend more time creating worthwhile undercards for its shows, and gradually start pitting lower card guys against the big names. That’s their best chance at creating names that people will pay to see.

Hell in a Cell kicked off with the triple threat tag team championship match. This resulted in it peaking early, because Goldust and Cody Rhodes’ title defence was the best bout on the card.

The Uso brothers took on the Rhodes brothers for the first few minutes of the match before Roman Reigns tagged in and started the task of isolating Goldust. There were nice moments that The Shield knock Cody off the apron and then pull the Usos down to ringside to keep Goldy isolated.

Eventually ‘The Bizarre One’ got the hot tag to Cody, who came in with a very nice missile drop kick and followed up with a crisp moonsault to a standing Rollins. The former Tyler Black continued to kick out as he was he with a cross body block and a splash by an Uso. Moments later Jey Uso leapt over the top rope and landed on Goldust and Reigns. Back in the ring the false finishes continued with an elevated Samoan drop from Jimmy to Seth. Cody tagged himself in and tried for a Cross Rhodes on Rollins but it got reversed. Moments later the two men were up on the top rope to perform an impressive superplex to the outside (cushioned by the other four men in the match). Cody went for a pin but it was broken by an Uso.
 
Not much of a landing committee
 
A series of spears and punches wiped out the Usos and Reigns, leaving Cody free to try a Disaster kick on Rollins. That was reversed (for the first time that I’ve seen) when Rollins caught him and held him in position for a power bomb. Cody slipped out, Goldust gave Seth an uppercut and then Cody hit the Cross Rhodes for the win.

It was exactly how a show opener should be. It was fast, filled with near falls and exciting moments, and it energised the crowd.

The Miz marched to ringside and called out Bray Wyatt. ‘The Eater of Worlds’ appeared on the Titantron (does anyone in WWE still refer to it as that?) and wittered about a monster that lives behind his eyes. Rowan and Harper ambushed 'The Awesome One' as the crowd chant, presumably bored by and with Miz, chanted "We want Kane!" Seconds after the chant died down Kane strode out. He battered the Wyatt boys before giving Miz a choke slam and setting off his pyro. The fans approved.

Faaaaaan… daaaaaan…goooooo and Summer Rae salsa’d to the ring for match two. Fandango should be booked as a womanising, heart-breaking, tweening lothario. Instead he's a comedy heel. Just a few minor tweaks and 'The Ballroom Brute' could be a far more important part of the WWE machine than he currently is. This ties into what I was saying at the start of this post. Perhaps WWE will use TLC to give us some experimental match-ups. But I won’t hold my breath.

Fandango talked some smack about being a great dancer (presumably Miami is known as a city big on dancing?) and then danced like he was in a night club. Khali's music put a stop to the heels' shenanigans. The crowd booed the roar he emitted as he clambered into the ring. Good for them, says this observer.

The match was a waste of Fandango and Summer Rae, although it was notable for being Summer’s first televised match since being promoted form NXT. She’s a solid wrestler and possesses far more personality than most WWE Divas. Fandango, as I’ve already mentioned, should be doing more than making Khali look good.

The finish saw Summer Rae wriggle out of a Sharpshooter before rolling Natalya up for the three count. They may have been wasted but at least they won. That's something.

Up in the skybox Kaitlyn talked about the mixed tag match and related it to the Divas championship match that would happen later. R-Truth was keen on the tag title match, while Dolph Ziggler was impressed by Miz calling out the Wyatt Family. How convenient that each performer was interested in a different segment. It’s almost like it’s scripted!

Michael Cole provided a handy recap of the pre-show dispute that set up Ambrose v Langston as the United States champ made his way to the ring. Ambrose's facial expression as Big E stood bellowing on the apron was priceless, a mixture of contempt, puzzlement and disinterest.

The match was good. It would be tempting to attribute that to Ambrose, the man with more experience and greater charisma and the one taking the bigger bumps, but that would be unfair (and would also overlook him loudly calling a belly-to-belly). Langston did a good job playing the face, showing weakness and rallying the crowd. Anyone who saw his work in NXT will be aware that he's better than the average muscle guy.

The ending was presumably designed to setup a rematch. Langston speared Ambrose off of the apron to the outside of the ring. Both men were up before the ten count but Ambrose opted not to get back into the ring, taking a deliberate loss. Big E caught Ambrose before he could leave and flattened him with a Big Ending. It seems to have been decided that Langston’s getting a mid-card title. With Curtis Axel unable to compete expect Langston to get the US champion.

CM Punk versus Ryback and Paul Heyman nestled in the middle of the card. It was not pretty.

The nonsense started early when Heyman was driven to the ring on a cherry picker. Both JBL and 'King' referenced the entrances at WrestleMania III, Lawler clearly not listening to his colleague. What a pro. Heyman cut a promo in which he stated his name twice and claimed to be WWE's answer to Satan (that's PG, that is). The cherry picker was there to grant Heyman access to the top of the cage, where he stood for the entirety of the match.

And what a match it was. It was slow, dull and sloppy, a perfect advert for CM Punk not being 'The Best in the World' he claims to be. I'm not alone in this belief: scattered "Boring!" chants could be heard during the match. That's something even Khali avoided.

After what seemed like an eternity , but was probably about five minutes, of 'Big Hungry' controlling the pace ‘The Second City Saint’ made a kendo stick assisted comeback and added a chair to proceedings. Instead of someone going through it straight away Ryback crotched his foe on it as it lay on its side. He went to follow up with a power bomb but got low blowed. He did the natural thing and had a lie down on the table to recover (wrestling logic!). Punk then did a particularly clumsy Macho Elbow.

CM Punk then hit ‘The Big Guy’ with a kendo stick and a GTS to win. Just like that the match was over. It should have been a hot finishing sequence but it wasn't, thanks mainly to the boring nature of the match.

After getting his win Punk grabbed a kendo stick and clambered on top of the cage to give Heyman a beating. The crowd warned up for that considerably. Yep, a babyface battering a heel non-wrestler with a weapon is, apparently, a great way to get over. Based on the post-match reactions the smart thing would have been to have Heyman inside the cage avoiding Punk and breaking up pinfalls.

Backstage Daniel Bryan told Renee Young he just wanted a fair chance, one-on-one match with Randall Keith Orton. He (incorrectly) referred to the post-WrestleMania XXVIII RAW being the start of people screaming yes, then kicked off a chant.

Match five was another unadvertised affair: Los Matadores v The Real Americans. Everyone knows the sort of promo Colter cuts by now but he changed things up a bit here by referring to El Torito as a half-man, half-bull. Basically Zeb thinks Torito's a Minotaur. Diego and Fernando survived the big swing and an ankle lock to get the win with a weak-looking double team move. After the decision Cesaro, Swagger and Colter all took bumps for Torito.

The video for the Cena v Del Rio match was great. Footage of Cena's surgery and rehabilitation was intercut with footage putting over the cross arm breaker as a submission hold to be feared. It was very effective and set up the story of the match perfectly.
 
Alberto Del Rio: a true Mexican hero
 
The champion was introduced first, eschewing tradition. JBL, who was very outspoken about Ziggler "disrespectfully" wearing the championship belt backwards in the summer, didn't utter a word. ADR got boos. Cena got a strong mixed reaction, although I think there were more cheers than there usually are.

Cena used a tornado DDT, drop kicks, and top rope body blocks in addition to his usual repertoire, which combined nicely with ADR's diversity to create an unpredictable and highly enjoyable contest. Cena sold well and often, particularly beautiful was his flop forward off a superkick. It was a stirring performance from the challenger.

Things picked up considerably when the two exchanged submissions. Del Rio went for the cross arm breaker but Cena nipped out and applied the STF until the champ grabbed the ropes. ‘The Essence of Excellence’ would be luckier moments later as he successfully applied his hold to wear down the challenger. The selling Cena had given us earlier was ignored at this point as he powered out, injured arm and all, to hit ADR with a power bomb.

Back on their feet Cena hit an AA for the win. It was mildly anticlimactic but not to the extent that it ruined the match. It was one of Cena's better matches of 2013. What's interesting is that in his last match before this Cena lost the WWE title. I don’t think anyone’s ever lost a world title in one match and won a different one in their next. If anyone was ever going to do it it had to be Cena, didn’t it?
 
The champ is here...
 
I’ll be interested to see what happens with Cena World Heavyweight title reign. It seemed like ADR was safe as champ for the foreseeable future because there’s nothing much else for him to do, and Cena doesn’t really need the championship. It would be nice if it was an early move towards a title unification, ideally at next year’s WrestleMania. That both worlds titles are now on major established names makes me think it’s a possibility.

Up in the skybox Kaitlyn and R-Truth predicted victories for Brie Bella and Daniel Bryan respectively. Dolph gave a firm “maybe” on the subject of Bryan being champ.

AJ got a positive reaction when she entered the arena. Brie did too, but it was noticeably quieter and didn't last as long. The match was okay, but nothing special. Hopefully this will be Brie’s last pay-per-view match with AJ for a while. The finish saw Brie accidentally boot her sister in the face. While she stood there looking confused AJ applied the Black Widow and got the win by submission.

Backstage Bob Backlund and The Prime Time Players advertised the WWE 2K14 game. Then they danced. It was as wonderful as it sounds.

Elsewhere backstage we saw Shawn Michaels (who's now sporting stubble as opposed to that massive beard he had a month or two ago) and Triple H have a heated conversation. HBK walked off looking peeved. Tripper stood still, staring after him, also looking peeved. It's the sort of thing WWE always feels compelled to insert into shows when there's a guest referee around.

After the (very good) video package Michaels was introduced, followed by Orton and then Bryan. Triple H sauntered down to the ring with the WWE championship and shook hands with 'The Viper'. He offered Bryan a handshake to Bryan but it was refused. Non-adherence to the Code of Honor from Bryan? Strong stuff!

Bryan and Orton had what I think is the strongest entry in their current series. They made the most of the relaxed rules the Hell in a Cell gimmick allows by using ring steps, the cage itself and a bundle of chairs as weapons, setting a fast pace that took them all around the construct, and hitting their signature moves in unconventional ways. The turning point came when Orty threw Bryan onto a pile of chairs with a superplex. That 'The World's Toughest Vegan' kicked out angered Orton and brought 'The Game' back out to ringside. As the DX pals bickered Orton went for a cover. That Shawn wasn't there to count infuriated him further and caused him to leave the ring to have a scream at Michaels.

Orton went for an RKO but got shoved off into ‘The Heartbreak Kid’, who was busy looking at Triple H emulating his hero Ric Flair, going mad and climbing the cage. Bryan hit a knee as Triple H had the Cell opened, supposedly to check on Michaels. After shoving Bryan out of the way Tripper checked on Shawn and then turned around into Bryan's running knee. Bryan celebrated and then turned around into a surprise move himself, this one a Sweet Chin Music from Michaels. ‘The Apex Predator’ went for the cover and, after a brief pause, Michaels counted the three. He left immediately, looking dejected, while Orty celebrated winning his eighth WWE championship with Triple H.
 
There's a knee coming Triple H's way
 
The obvious question is: why did Shawn Michaels cost Daniel Bryan, who’s been acknowledged as his student, the WWE championship? Expect the “best for business” line to be trotted out on RAW, as well as fluff about Michaels having faith in Triple H’s vision for the future of the company. It seems likely that Michaels will play to unwilling accomplice and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him manage Triple H in a match against Bryan at some point. That would be a nice point for him to seek retribution and abandon his pal, allowing Bryan a clean win.

A lot of people have taken this development as a sign that Michaels is going to wrestle again. For what it’s worth I don’t think that will happen. Michaels seems content in his retirement from active wrestling duties. Just as importantly he went out on top in a highly regarded match. He’s made it very clear over the years that he wants to be remembered as a good wrestler. I don’t think he’d have a bad match if he did wrestle again, but I also don’t think he’d want to take the risk. An HBK in-ring return seems a stretch.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 13



Today’s episode is an almost fifty-fifty split between to topics. One is Paul Heyman and his Paul Heyman Guys. Specifically we chat about what WWE’s premier agent’s three current clients are up to and what they could do in the future and what they could be doing in the future. Also, who on the roster and in developmental would work well alongside Heyman as fresh clients.
 
This is how Heyman struts to the ring when managing Paul Heyman
 
The second topic, the first discussed, is about wrestling. It turns into a stream of nonsense fairly quickly but amazingly doesn’t veer off course at all. And we discuss ring gear for eleven minutes.

The final thing I’ll mention is that I refer in this podcast to Enzo Amore being from New York. I suspect he may be from New Jersey. If this is the case then I can only apologise.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Hogan XXX

Hulk Hogan has left TNA. For the time being at least. It was to be expected.

Hogan had been linked to TNA for the last few years. In that time he has failed to implement any notable creative changes or help improve the average viewing figure. These were things that could have been reasonably expected from Hogan's presence given his standing in wrestling history. He's a man with a lot of experience and drawing power.

That TNA have allowed their deal to expire indicates that they no longer feel having 'The Hulkster' around is worth their while or that Hogan was unwilling to take a pay cut as everyone else in the promotion is being asked to when their contracts expire. Or perhaps both. I'm also of the opinion that it indicates Hogan may feel there are more lucrative opportunities waiting for him elsewhere. Specifically in WWE.

Hogan hasn't wrestled much for TNA, and hasn't wrestled for them at all since Bound For Glory 2011. But since that last bout he has mentioned (numerous times) that he feels he has a few more matches left in him. He also mentioned wanting to be the TNA world champion, but I think we can put that down to a misguided and-or half-hearted attempt to make the TNA prize seem more prestigious as much as any genuine desire on Hulk’s part.

If Hogan can wrestle a few more matches it would be easy to imagine him wanting them to take place in WWE. I mean, what wrestler would chose to wrestle their final matches in a struggling TNA if WWE seems like a possibility? And to Hogan WWE is always a possibility. No matter how many failings out he has with Vince McMahon or Triple H a Hogan return will always be possible because all involved stand to benefit. WWE gets increased television figures and pay-per-view buys while Hogan gets some cash in his bank accounts.

I don't think there's much argument to be made for Hogan not being a draw anymore. He will always be one of the biggest stars in wrestling (for better or for worse) and therefore will always be of interest to the casual audience. He’s had no effect in TNA because TNA have no idea how to promote and use him. That’s not a problem for the infinitely more savvy WWE. Nobody wants to see him wrestle on a regular basis but he'd be fine as a big match attraction on a big show with the right opponent. As is the case with many major acts Hogan is at his best when used sparingly.

It just so happens that WWE has a particularly big show rolling around next year. The company is expected to push the boat out for WrestleMania XXX because not only is it a 'Mania but it’s a round figured instalment. Such things matter in WWE. Over the last few years the company has become skilled at utilising guys working part time thanks to experience gained from working around the limited availability of The Rock, Brock Lesnar, and, to a lesser extent, The Undertaker. With matches involving The Rock or 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin looking increasingly unlikely for WM30 it's not hard to imagine WWE being interested in using Hogan on the show.
 
This guy says he's got one more leg drop left in him, brother!
 
The question of who the red and yellow icon could face isn't hard to answer, although the names that come to mind aren't necessarily desirable. As decrepit as he is Hogan has the name power to challenge Undertaker's Streak. 'The Phenom' would struggle to get the match of the night honour he's consistently earned every year for the last several years but if anyone in WWE could drag something approaching great from Hulk it would be him.

Brock Lesnar is another name that could be paired with Hogan. It would be a big marquee match (only slightly harmed by the fact it was given away on SmackDown in 2002) and while Lesnar's physical style would not be a natural fit with Hogan's current physical ability I'm sure they could come up with something worthwhile. Two key things to remember about this potential match are that Lesnar is a trained pro wrestler and does know how to work safely and that Hogan is a master when it comes to connecting with audiences. A softer approach from Lesnar in a match built around Hogan going all out for sympathy would stand a good chance of working despite the limitations it would entail.

Elsewhere there are guys like Punk and Bryan, who are not ideal choices but are good enough to be able to do something bearable with a limited big man. The biggest worry would be Hogan stealing the spotlight. That could harm either man's standing, although it would be an interesting test to see if Punk's as good and as popular as he believes himself to be.

The final obvious name is John Cena. Both men have been involved in successful inter-generational battles with 'The Great One' at WrestleMania. There's clearly interest in seeing first time matches pitting icons against one another. After Rock I think Hogan is the next best fit for Cena's style. The match would not be appalling, but it would get a tremendous buzz and would have the added bonus of being the only one I've suggested where WWE wouldn't need to consider turning someone heel1.

I'm sure that Hogan would prefer a light WWE schedule as opposed to a TNA return. He'd obviously get more money and would probably end up working less. He'd only be required on TV when a pay-per-view match needed hyping, which would realistically be twice a year at most. In TNA he'd be a TV regular pretty much all year round. Don't surprised if you hear Real American blasting out of speakers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome next April.

***

1 That said Hogan v Cena would be a good way to kick off a Cena heel run.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 12



TNA has been in a rut, creatively and financially, for a long time now. There are many reasons for this, a leading one being that they don’t have any stars capable of leading them to prosperity. None of their biggest homegrown wrestlers are up to the task and nobody brought in from WWE and-or WCW has been capable of it either.

Anyone who’s going to lead a wrestling company to success in this day and age will do so because of a combination of promo ability, charisma, luck, and wrestling ability. Someone already talented needs to come along at just the right time, and that’s not yet happened in TNA.

Was Chris Daniels ever going to be 'The Big Man on Campus' in TNA?

This forms the backbone of the twelfth episode of That Wrestling Podcast. We look at the top three TNA guys from throughout the company’s history, AJ Styles, Chris Daniels, and Samoa Joe, and talk about whether there’s any chance left of them becoming the star TNA has always needed one of them to be. TNA diehards probably won’t enjoy this episode.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Hell in a Cell 2013 preview

In previous years I've written extensively about why gimmick pay-per-view names are not - ahem - good for business. I'm not going to repeat the argument at length here. The thrust of it is that gimmick matches should be employed on shows throughout the year as and when feuds require them. By tying them to a particular show it imposes constraints on an already uninspiring creative process. In previous years it's led to feuding wrestlers being put into the Cell when their disputes don't really feel serious enough for it. Happily that's been bypassed this year by two rivalries which have been running since the summer and feel natural being put into the structure.

When I was writing my preview of Battleground I completely forgot what show was following it. Had I remembered I would have altered my predictions accordingly. With hindsight it seems obvious that Bryan and Orton were going to wrestle to a no contest to set up another match in the series inside WWE's premier gimmick. With their programme stretching back to SummerSlam it makes sense to have the final showdown occur in the Hell in a Cell.

There are arguments to be made in favour of both as far as winning's concerned. 'The Viper' could become a eight time champion and head into a dispute with Big Show. That wouldn't be anyone's favourite feud but it would at least make sense and follow on from the last few months of story. Bryan could win and continue his rivalry with Triple H. The championship has been central to the animosity between them, Bryan wanting it and Tripper wanting to keep a tight control on who gets it. Casting Bryan as the renegade champ might not be the best fit but it would at least follow from what’s already happened.

When thinking about who'll win this match I've not paid much attention to Shawn Michaels being on referee duty. The likelihood is that he'll call the match fairly. I can't see him turning heel, there would be little point as there's no match that could come directly from it. I could see him giving Sweet Chin Music to 'The Viper' though, after bring sufficiently provoked. That would provide a storyline clause for 'The Game' to keep up his campaign of hatred against Bryan: he won because if the actions of HBK. Alternatively Orton could win after an errant kick floors Bryan, although that would serve only to prolong a programme I think is wrapping up.

The minutia of the match layout is impossible to predict and so I'm not going to bother trying. What I will predict is a win for Daniel Bryan and a title defence in the not too distant future against Triple H. That ‘The Cerebral Assassin’ went out of his way to say that he would not face Daniel Bryan during the October 21st RAW can be taken as a pretty clear indication that the match will happen. Or at least that it's being considered.

The other world championship will also be defended, though in a regular match as opposed to inside the Cell. In one corner will be Alberto Del Rio. No surprise there: he's been wearing or challenging for the WHC all year.

In the other corner will be John Cena. Which is surprising for a couple of reasons. Firstly Cena underwent surgery shortly after SummerSlam and we were told he'd be gone until early next year. Having seen him return quickly from injuries before, thanks to his Wolverine-like ability to heal, I wouldn't have been surprised to see him in a match at TLC. But to cut back his recuperation time from five months to two verges on witchcraft.

The second reason Cena's involvement is surprising is that the World Heavyweight championship has been beneath Cena for years now. That the company's top star shows no interest in it is part of the reason the title is now considered to be the second tier prize. Cena has concerned himself exclusively with the WWE title, cementing that belt's reputation as the more prestigious.

It's not impossible Cena will win as part of a long-term title unification plot. But don't get your hopes up. I think the title is likelier to stay with ADR. It would be a hindrance to Cena at this point and any argument that him winning it could enhance is stature is invalid: if Cena won the WHC it would clearly be to give him something to do and, more to the point, championships increase in credibility over time as opposed to overnight by being slapped around the waist of one man (even if that one is the biggest active name in wrestling). If anything the title would be harmed being on someone clearly viewing it as something to do until more important business comes their way.

I'll be amazed if the match doesn't see 'The Essence of Excellence' focusing on Cena's arm. Cena is returning from surgery on his elbow and Del Rio's finisher, the cross arm breaker, has been built up over the years as a legitimate hold that consistently gets wins. It's too good an opportunity to miss. ADR may beat Cena clean with it, setting up the story of Cena returning too soon. Where that would lead is anyone's guess but it would be nice to have that element of fallibility introduced to the currently nigh invincible Cena character.

The other option is that Del Rio gets disqualified for shenanigans. That would protect Cena, always of importance, and would also keep the strap on Del Rio. It's the safe, and boring, option and the one I suspect they'll go with. Whatever the result I expect ADR to leave with the gold.
 
Another month, another guy on the poster not booked in an advertised match
 
If we follow the progression of WWE titles the next in line is either the Intercontinental or the tag team. At the moment I think the doubles belts just clinch it due to a combination of disinterest in the IC strap and the focus brought to teams over the last few months.

The tag team titles were won by Cody Rhodes and Goldust in a very good match on the October 14th RAW. That the titles changed hands wasn't surprising: Cody 'n' Goldy have been amazingly popular over the last month or so, to the extent that WWE practically had to capitalise on it. Not only that but The Shield had been the champions since May 19th. It was time for a change.

WWE are not presenting a straight rematch. The reason is probably that we've seen Rollins and Reigns versus the Rhodes boys twice in the last three weeks. As good as a third bout would be it would not be able to offer anything new. Unless of course a gimmick had been added, which for some reason seems to be off limits at this year's HIAC show.

To keep things from getting monotonous the Uso brothers have been added to the match. Someone in WWE, quite possibly Triple H, seems determined to have the public accept Jimmy and Jey. They're a perfectly serviceable unit but I don't think they can progress much further than where they are now. I get the feeling they're in this match to protect the more important teams by taking the loss. 'The Hounds of Justice' could regain the titles to keep the rivalry alive and ensure they remain hot but I think a successful defence for the new champions is a better bet.

Meanwhile the Intercontinental championship will be defended on the pre-show. Paul Heyman Guy Curtis Axel will defend against Big E Langston. Think Big E's a heel? Think again! He became a good guy out of nowhere on Monday's RAW, in a move that makes the breakup of the Langston-Ziggler-AJ unit even more depressing. There was clearly no long term plan for any of them (beyond having AJ "save" the Divas division) so there was no reason they had to be parted.

I think we'll see 'The Perfect One' win with help from Heyman. That would reinforce the image of Heyman being an effective agent and someone wrestlers would want to have at ringside. It'd create reason for a rematch too. I think Big E will get the gold at some point, just not this Sunday.

On the subject of Heyman, he'll compete in his second pay-per-view match of the year at Hell in a Cell. Like his Night of Champions outing it will be a handicap match against CM Punk, only this time he'll team with Ryback as opposed to the rather less effective Curtis Axel. And, to really push the boat out, this match will also be fought inside the Hell in a Cell.

As I've already noted the addition of the Cell to this match makes sense: Heyman and Punk have been at each other's throats since July. I still think it's been a mostly tedious affair but it’s still one that lends itself to the Hell in a Cell and the importance that comes with it.

Traditionally Hell in a Cell marks the end of a feud in WWE. It’s a fittingly epic environment for a feud-ender and generally produces matches that can’t be topped, so why bother trying? I’ve a feeling Punk v Heyman and co will continue until Survivor Series (at least) and take in an elimination match: Team Punk v Team Heyman.

‘The Second City Saint’ has lain down for Heyman clients and Heyman himself at the last three pay-per-views. While wins and losses at the level Punk is at don’t usually matter too much within WWE there does come a point where a wrestler has to get a win to retain credibility. That’s the point I think Punk’s at here. A loss won’t see him fall down the card or lose the backing of people who already support him but it will send the message that he’s doomed to failure battling Heyman. I don’t think that’s a message WWE wants to give and so I’m predicting a Punk win.

AJ Lee defending the Divas championship against Brie Bella is the final match announced. This is the third straight supershow on which they’ll face each other. That’s not as bad as other matches on this card but it is strange when you consider that WWE has a not insignificant number of women that could be pitted against Ms Lee. The constant title shots for Brie are desperate attempts to establish her as a babyface.

The Total Divas star has guaranteed victory. I don’t think that’s something we should focus on. That’s not to say Brie definitely won’t become the new champion, but I don’t think it’s anywhere close to a certainty. I’d like to see AJ retain the title and move on to defences against some of the other ladies on the roster (and for some NXT Divas to be called up). Even if she remains champion I don’t think I’ll get my wish.

If we take the rumours that WWE wants to make Hell in a Cell a top quality show to make up for their recent offerings to be true the card we have is a little surprising. Yes, they're wheeling out the premier gimmick. Yes, John Cena is making a comeback (after missing a grand total of two pay-per-views). Yes, they've roped in Shawn Michaels to add interest to the main event storyline. But that's it. The show was going to feature the cage no matter what. Cena may attract a few extra buys but he by no means ensures the show will be a classic. 'The Heartbreak Kid's' involvement could and should be worthwhile, which is something, but not much by itself.

Ultimately though there's nothing about the card which makes me think it will be significantly better than Battleground or Night of Champions. WWE has misunderstood what was lacking from those shows: it wasn't Cena or focus on the major matches, it was an enticing undercard. If WWE wanted HIAC to appeal to fans irritated by the previous two supershows they should have spent more time working on matches outside of their central plots.

On paper I don't think Hell in a Cell looks bad. Both of the cage bouts should be enjoyable and the tag title affair has the potential to be memorable. But nothing's been announced that makes me think this show will reach the heights WWE apparently wants. The show could reach those heights but it's going to take numerous excellent performances and surprises. And those are disappointingly light on the ground in WWE at the moment.

Predictions summary:
Daniel Bryan to defeat Randy Orton
CM Punk to defeat Ryback and Paul Heyman
Alberto Del Rio to retain the World Heavyweight championship
Cody Rhodes and Goldust to retain the tag team championship
AJ Lee to defeat Brie Bella
Curtis Axel to defeat Big E Langston

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Ascension (to the Top?)

Stop and think about The Ascension for a moment. If you're not familiar with them take this opportunity to look them up. Pay particular attention to the results of an image search.

Looking at or thinking about The Ascension for more than a couple of seconds should make one thing clear. They are ridiculous.

The inspiration for the gimmick seems to be Game of Thrones, with some Undertaker, Kevin Thorn and ancient Egyptian symbols thrown in for good measure. These sorts of characters crop up in WWE every few years but with the exception of 'The Phenom' they never have much staying power without hefty modifications being made to the gimmick. The ideas never gel with the rest of WWE.
 
This sums up the nonsense that is The Ascension nicely
 
These days The Ascension feel out of place simply because practically every performer in the company sticks to the forename-surname format and is presented, broadly speaking, as a normal guy. Conor O’Brian and Rick Victor sound the part but they don’t look it. The outlandish Ascension characters wouldn't have slotted neatly alongside the characters of the nineties either. Gimmicks were more prominent then certainly, but they were generally walks of life turned into wrestling characters. The Ascension would have been just as incongruent then as they are now, just for different reasons.

But this is part of their charm. That Conor O'Brian clearly isn't in the shape he should be in, that Rick Victor clearly has no personality, that they’re not as polished as they should be for the level of prominence they’ve gained in developmental all adds to the utter ridiculousness of it all. We can't take them seriously to begin with. The best thing they could do is ham it up as much as possible. Which they have been doing and continue to do.

Sooner or later I expect we’ll see O’Brian and Victor on the main roster. Tag teams seem to be in the in-thing right now. You can level many criticisms at The Ascension but not looking like a unit is not among them. If tag team wrestling is going to be a regular part of the WWE experience they’re going to need pairs of guys who stand little chance of cracking the big time on their own merits. The Ascension fit that description perfectly.

Monday, 21 October 2013

RPW Uprising 2013 review

In 2002 the Frontier Wrestling Alliance promoted a show called British Uprising. It was a massive success, for a number of reasons. First and foremost British wrestling fans, with only WWE’s new and mishandled Brand Extension on offer, were on the hunt for something to replace the void left by ECW and the Attitude Era (and possibly, to a far lesser extent, WCW). The FWA came along at just the right time to capitalise on that. A second reason for success was the canny use of foreign stars. Balls Mahoney and Jerry Lynn may not seem like the biggest names in wrestling now, but they were good choices at the time. Far more noteworthy was a young AJ Styles, who then seemed like he was on course to become one of the biggest stars in all of wrestling, as opposed to the biggest star in a wildly floundering promotion ten years later.

A third reason for the show’s success was a non-FWA show (later lumped in with genuine FWA shows) that had aired on Bravo the month before. The show aired at a reasonable time of day and produced decent viewing figures, thanks in large part to the involvement of Eddie Guerrero. It proved there was an audience for a homegrown product in Britain. It just had to be packaged in a suitable way and feature one or two wrestlers people had heard of.

The FWA used the success of British Uprising to turn themselves into the face of British wrestling for the next couple of years. They ran shows throughout the country, including more at York Hall, always ensuring they presented a card that catered to all tastes and featured foreign stars to attract an audience. One of these shows was British Uprising 2, which featured the European debut of both CM Punk and Colt Cabana.

By British Uprising 3 the FWA was falling from glory. They’d overstretched themselves and lost a lot of momentum, mainly due to other promotions emulating their approach of smattering cards with foreign talent to attract and audience. The third British Uprising was a great effort but it was the last hurrah for the FWA. It soldiered on for a while long before closing down, later starting back up again, but nothing produced under the initials since BU3 has been a must-see event.

In the nine years since that show the British wrestling scene has continued to evolve. The internet has made it far easier to follow than it was even at the FWA’s peak, and fans in general have become more discerning about what they look for in a wrestling show. Balls Mahoney and his modern day equivalents no longer cut it. Fans these days want (and are fully entitled to expect) shows featuring talented, hardworking guys who want to put on the best matches possible. Nostalgia is out, quality wrestling is in.

All of which brings me to Uprising 2013. It was produced by Revolution Pro Wrestling as opposed to the Frontier Wrestling Alliance, but the intention was clearly to evoke memories of the FWA’s original run of events. Uprising 2013 was held at the same venue, in the same month, and used the same formula of bringing in foreign stars to attract an audience. The idea of a modern company wanting to encourage comparisons to the FWA is questionable considering Frontier’s fall from grace, but targeting the Uprising name in particular is smart. The British Uprising cards were considered the zenith of what the FWA achieved and are still held in high regard.

I and my That Wrestling Podcast co-host, Michael King, bought tickets to Uprising 2013 based on the names announced for the show. Topping the bill was Hiroshi Tanahashi. That alone was extraordinary: that the biggest and best name in Japanese wrestling had agreed to appear at a venue in the East End of London that can hold around one thousand people fascinated both of us. The Prince Devitt v Ricochet match was also something that swayed me (although Michael avoided reading the full announced card and so didn’t know the match would be happening: he was unaware of who Ricochet was anyway).

Our seats weren’t the best, probably a result of waiting until not too long before the show to buy them. They had my name printed on them though, so that was a bonus. You’re not getting that sort of treatment at WWE house shows.
 
The opening match was a Brits only affair. The Swords of Essex teamed with Project Ego to take on the London Riots, Fake El Ligero and former TNA Superstar Mark Haskins. Of the eight men involved I’d heard of three: Project Ego’s Kris Travis and Martin Kirby and Mark Haskins. I’d come across El Ligero before but was utterly nonplussed by the fake variant we were presented with. No context was given but I think it’s pretty safe to assume the idea is that he’s stolen Ligero’s identity and a Real v Fake match is being built to. If that’s the case then I approve.

The match was a very effective opener. People more familiar with the Rev Pro setup than Michael and I were solidly behind Project Ego and solidly against the Riots and their partners. In a way I found that confusing: surely London is the one place the London Riots should be greeted as babyfaces?

The number of guys involved ensured a fast pace with lots going on, which is ideal for a first match. The babyface union won when one of the Swords (I can only apologise for not knowing which) hit a shooting star press on Haskins. After the match the heels bickered over their loss on the entrance ramp.

Match two featured Michael Elgin taking on the highly regarded Noam Dar. That may strike you as a peculiar match up, and that’s because it was: Dar was a replacement for the originally announced Dave Mastiff. The bout wasn’t bad, Elgin made sure to include his stalling vertical suplex and deadlift middle rope suplex to ensure nobody felt cheated by his performance, but I was disappointed Mastiff wasn’t involved. I’m a big fan of his work and thought that a match between him and Elgin would be great.

Elgin’s knack of constructing blistering finishing sequences failed him a tad here. The finish was by no means bad but it wasn’t the several minute affair we get in his bigger matches in ROH. Perhaps that was because of Dar being a last minute replacement. ‘Unbreakable’ went over following a bicycle kick, an elbow to the back of the head, a spinning back fist, a buckle bomb and an Elgin bomb. That it took that series to put Dar down certainly kept him looking competitive in defeat. That’s the right way for an outside star to beat a regular.

That was followed by Sha Samuels taking on Doug Williams. Sha’s gimmick is tremendous. He has the London Underground logo on his trunks, wears a Dennis the Menace scarf to the ring, and is announced as hailing from nowhere more specific than “East London”. As with the London Riots that should have made him a face in my book, but the more experienced fans in the crowd seemed happy to boo him.
 
A (poor) picture of Sha Samuels

For a Williams match this involved a surprising amount of ringside brawling, including the first kick of the night that was so hard it caused the lighting rig set up around the ring to shift. Sha led proceedings when they tumbled out of the ring while Doug took control with traditional British wrestling back between the ropes. It was all very enjoyable even if it did last perhaps a couple of minutes too long. Sha went over with a low blow and a Mick Foley-esque stump-puller piledriver. It was the right result: Doug doesn’t need to win to be over with British fans.

The last match before the intermission was Ricochet versus Prince Devitt. It was the ideal spot for them: they produced such an incredible match that nobody would have been able to follow them immediately. The audience needed some time to cool off so that the rest of the show could be fully appreciated.
 
A charming shot of the back of Ricochet's head

The two constructed what was easily the match of the night. It was stuffed with high-flying and flashy spots. A particularly memorable moment spot was Ricochet’s springboard 450 splash to the floor, which saw him land on his feet and immediately pose. It was from there that Devitt started playing a heel, although the crowd was so appreciative of the talent of both men that he never really heard boos for long.

Eventually Devitt got the win, retaining his undisputed British cruiserweight championship after avoiding a 630 splash and hitting a top rope double stomp followed by Bloody Sunday. It was the match of the night and should ensure that the DVD is a hot seller.

The intermission gave me a glimpse of a guy in an nWo T-shirt (there’s always one) and various wrestlers walking passed us on their way to the merch stand. Naturally Cabana was amongst them. If there’s one thing that guy knows (besides wrestling) it’s merch. It also featured the announcement that Ric Flair will be present for RPW’s return to York Hall in March.

The beginning of the second half is as good a time as any to mention the ring announcer for the evening. He was comically bad. Tasked with the thankless task of trying to keep the audience enthused during matches he made a hard job worse by being repetitive, over-hyping everything, mumbling (though only once or twice), and being repetitive. Had he played up to these things he’d have been a great character. Unfortunately it all stemmed from his general ineptitude. Nobody else seemed to care though, and we found it amusing, so no harm done.

The first match of the second half saw Zack Sabre Jr (who has some incredible techno entrance music) take on Davey Richards. This was a personal highlight for me as it gave me the chance to heckle Davey with cries such as “You’re a nippy little weasel!” and “Prestige!”, as well as numerous boos. I’d like to make it clear that I think Richards is a good wrestler but I’ve never been able to get passed him taking himself far too seriously (even by ROH standards) during his ROH world title reign. He, like John Cena, is someone I feel I have to heckle. It doesn’t reflect on them as people, just them as a wrestling persona.

The match was dead for the first half. The crowd seemed keen to back Sabre Jr which should have encouraged Davey to play heel. He teased it a couple of times, most notably when he refused to perform his Rick Rude style gyrations, but he never went all the way with it. Had he done so the crowd would have been drawn into the match and it would have been a more entertaining affair. I suspect part of the problem is that Richards is not especially adept at reading crowds. Or perhaps he was simply unwilling to play the bad guy because he’d been told it as to be face versus face.

Things picked up considerably in the last five minutes. The pace went from methodical to lightning quick as the two exchanged signature spots, near falls and submission holds. I was surprised when it finished with Richards tapping out to an arm bar. That’s not something you see often from ‘The American Wolf’.

The evening’s penultimate match was prefaced by a pre-match promo from ├╝ber heel Andy Boy Simmonz (formerly the Duke of Danger’s butler Simmons). He mentioned that Davey Boy Smith’s daughter, Georgia, was in the crowd and “reminded” us that he’d beaten her brother back in the summer. He invited her into the ring so he could do the same to her.
 
The posture of a heel

Simmonz’ tirade was interrupted by Grado, a cross between Santino Marella and the Crankies (Google them). After dancing to the ring to Madonna’s Like A Prayer he got assaulted by Simmonz and Rampage Brown. Naturally his tag partner for the evening Colt Cabana dashed out (after a suitably suspenseful delay) to make the save, kicking off the evening’s dose of comedy. This included an assisted walk-walking spot from Grado and several minutes of backside slapping. Neither outdid Grado’s simple comment of “You’re a very good referee” to the ref.

It was a good match, although as with Williams v Samuels it may have gone on for a minute or three too long. Grado was kept isolated in order to set up a burning hot tag to Cabana. The faces seemed on track to winning until Simmonz hit Cabana with Cabana’s British heavyweight title belt which allowed Rampage to haul Cabana up for a piledriver and the three count. No that move’s not banned in Revolution Pro.
 
They may have lost but Grado still seems happy enough

After that we got a Bret Hart promo. It was about as good as you’d expect. Bret reminisced about “all the incredible matches” he’d had in Britain (without actually specifying any) and informed us that we’re amongst the best fans in the world. The standard stuff you get in these situations really. After repeating himself a few times Hart finally mentioned his match at Wembley with The British Bulldog (which I’d expected him to open with) and put over the locker room as the future of the business. No, he didn’t call them the present. That was telling. He finished by putting over IPW. No idea who they are: this was an RPW show.

‘The Hitman’ stayed down at ringside for the main event, which pit “the star of ITV’s Take Me Out” Marty Scurll against New Japan’s top worker Hiroshi Tanahashi. Paddy’s pal got a ton of heat as he swaggered out to the ring while Tanahashi and his air guitar were met with almost deafening cheers and a chant of “Best in the world!” That’s certainly an arguable moniker, but I don’t think there can ever be a clear “best” in wrestling.
 
Hiroshi Tanahashi, making an appearance in, of all places, Bethnal Green!

The match was a little slow to get going thanks to ‘Party’ Marty’s incessant heat seeking but once it was under way it was very good. There were one or two awkward moments stemming from miscommunications but that’s to be expected when two guys without a language in common face each other in a lengthy match. For the most part their exchanges were slick and engaging.

Tanahashi went over with the High Fly Flow at around the twenty minute mark. Following the match Bret Hart entered the ring to raise the victor’s hand only to be confronted by an angry Scurll. The heel got decked and slapped in the Sharpshooter, a move he’d applied to Tanahashi as a way of taunting Hart during the match. Hart raised Tanahashi’s hand again before leaving the New Japan ace to pose in the ring to end the show.

The show was a very enjoyable experience. There wasn’t a single duff match, every wrestler seeming pleased to be there and intent on giving the best performance possible. The crowd deserve credit too: they were hot all night and improved the show as a result. This, as with most indy shows I’ve been to, was far better than any WWE house show, and cost a fraction of the price. Based on Uprising I’d recommend a Revolution Pro show to anyone considering going to one.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 11



As Jim Ross and Triple H are fond of saying, there is no more important part of the current WWE system than developmental. It’s there that all of the future stars of the company can be found. The next John Cena, if there is to be a next John Cena, is either there now or will go through there on his journey to the main roster. It’s WWE’s tool for moulding wrestlers into superstars and ensuring its future as a company. For all the output of WWE Studios or big deals struck with names like The Rock and Brock Lesnar its NXT on which the future of WWE hinges.

Tyler Breeze: a good-looking man
 
And it’s NXT which is under scrutiny in the latest episode of That Wrestling Podcast. We talk about guys we like there, the approach taken with the booking of the group, and potential gimmicks for people stationed there.

Plus a little bit of Kevin Nash, and his thoughts on big men, and Ezekiel Jackson. It’s a hefty, and unwieldy, instalment.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Future of North American Wrestling

The current North American wrestling scene is on the cusp of some pretty drastic changes. There are rumours that New Japan is gearing up to attempt some pretty big expansions, which could lead to some shows, perhaps regular ones, in the United States. Meanwhile TNA is floundering. The promotion has already downsized its roster. It’s not impossible we’ll see further cuts from them. Particularly notable is the departure of Hulk Hogan. His paycheque can go into the savings kitty and it’s entirely possible he won’t ever be back.

On the surface Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and Dragon Gate USA seems unaffected by what's happening to the big boys. That's true for now, but if some or all of the above happens it could have an impact on them. It could possibly even affect the pool of even smaller indies on offer.

For starters NJPW running shows in the US could see attendance at indigenous shows drop. If New Japan do promote shows in the US I imagine they'll focus on the east coast, because that's where they'll be able to draw best. PWG, who only promote shows at one venue in Northern California, may not see much competition. They rely on a regular audience who are unlikely to desert them for the glitz and glamour of NJPW. I could imagine New Japan putting on shows in California because they could probably get a decent crowd and it's convenient for them logistically. It's just unlikely to affect PWG in any meaningful way.
 
Could Hiroshi Tanahashi lead New Japan to success in North America?
 
Very few people who follow wrestling are able to attend wrestling shows regularly. If New Japan's offering better matches, and chances are they will be, the fans could be faced with choosing between where to spend their dollars. Scheduling conflicts could also be used to affect attendance.

Many US indies may find themselves looking for a new niche if New Japan takes an interest in the country. The last ten years have seen the Japanese style heavily influencing the majority of these companies, both in terms of promotion as well as the presentation of storylines and particularly matches. Perhaps more importantly these influences are also beginning to be felt in WWE, but that's another topic for another time. The point here is that the various indy feds who have relied on this style attracting an audience could soon find themselves in competition with the originators. No matter how good they are a Japanese promotion and its performers will outperform them in these areas with ease.

It's not all bad news. If TNA closes its doors (still bad news for TNA employees admittedly) almost an entire roster of big-by-indy-standards names will become available. It may not even take TNA ceasing to exist for this to happen. They've already parted ways with numerous mid-card talent this year. Anyone coming off of Impact Wrestling will have a little extra cache on the indies, at least for a while.

ROH would be best placed to benefit from this. As the biggest wrestling operation in North America after WWE and TNA they'll be the company most financially capable of bringing in former TNA guys. They've gotten back onto their feet this year after a few years of drifting and they have a presence on television. Nobody else would be able to offer wrestlers that combo. It's unlikely ROH would want (or be able to afford) to scoop up all available talent from whatever TNA failures are heading our way. PWG and Gabe Sapolsky's outfits will probably get a signing or two each if the worst happens.

There’s also the chance that New Japan would sign up numerous guys in the event that TNA collapses. I’m sure they’d go for Styles and men like Samoa Joe, Kurt Angle, Chris Daniels, Bobby Roode and Austin Aries could find themselves with offers too. But even after NJPW had swept up their top picks from a TNA collapse there would be plenty left for North American based companies to hire.

All of which would transform the North American wrestling business. We could potentially see ROH or New Japan become the continent s secondary promotion. A gap is always going to exist between whoever's in this spot and WWE but it's possible the gap could be a little less wide in a couple of years. PWG and DG USA could strengthen their rosters and feasibly be doing better for themselves too. Maybe we could even see some form of collaboration between Sapolsky and New Japan. He's very much a puro guy, I'm sure it's something that'd interest him. It would benefit New Japan by giving them access to an experienced local promoter.

There are other possibilities, of course. As unlikely as I think it is TNA could survive. Or someone with a lot of money and their own TV channel could put together a roster of superb wrestlers and big name free agents. Don't sneer. Ted Turner did it.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Bound For Blory 2013 preview

Somebody in TNA has finally taken notice of the fans. Free of the constraints of Hulk Hogan's contract AJ Styles is at last getting the opportunity he deserves to headline a pay-per-view for the world title, and to step up and be ‘The Man’. It’s what they’ve needed to do all along!

I'm being facetious of course. Styles has had chances to be the megastar TNA has always needed many times before. This latest shove, modelled on WWE's use of CM Punk in 2011, is simply the latest in a long line of attempts to turn Styles into something special. It won't work. I know this because it's never worked before and AJ has not changed significantly since the last time. If he had it in him to be that guy he'd have done it by now.

Yet a Styles push is something fans constantly call for. Make Impact the AJ Styles show, give him the championship and let him show his wrestling ability and the ratings will pour in, or so the logic goes. I won't argue that having Styles in a more prominent spot than he's typically been in for the last two years, and wrestling lengthy matches, would be the best use of him but it's not enough to save TNA. Styles has been used as well as a company like TNA can use him at various times in the past. It didn't make TNA into a global juggernaut or worthwhile number two wrestling promotion then. It won't do so now.

Pitting Styles against lead bad guy Bully Ray should result in a very good match. Styles' strength, as noted, is wrestling longer than average and exciting matches. Ray has been enjoying one of the best periods of his career over the last few months, easily the greatest portion of his career as far as his singles endeavours go. I don't doubt they'll produce a worthwhile match, but it won't be the sort of thing that encourages fresh eyes to TNA. Ultimately that's what TNA should be striving for with every show they put on, especially PPVs.

I can see one of two things happening with this match. Either Bischoff and co will continue to ape the Summer of Punk II plot and have AJ win the title while supposedly working without a contract or Dixie will further cement her ill-advised heel turn by costing the fans' golden boy a victory. The second option is almost as unappealing as the first but that it wouldn't be such a blatant rip off of a relatively recent opposition plot, and that it wouldn't result in 'The Phenomenal One' getting his umpteenth, inevitably doomed chance to prove he's 'The Man', makes me think it would be preferable.

I hope Bully Ray wins because he, in a roundabout and stunted way, stands for a fresher approach than AJ Styles does1. Bully is also a more rounded performer than Styles thanks to his strength with promos, which makes me think he deserves the championship and the top spot that comes with it more.

Why has this been allowed to happen?

The problem of how TNA stars are perceived is not one exclusively linked to AJ Styles. Nobody in the company is seen as a genuinely big star. Even people who have been big names elsewhere, such as Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Jeff Hardy, lose lustre and credibility in TNA. There are dozens of reasons for this, a relatively minor one being how TNA handles its world title. Specifically I'm talking about former world champions going back to hold mid-card singles titles. The tag team championships are different because they can contribute to storylines in interesting ways and, more importantly, don't feel like a step backwards. The logic should be that once a wrestler has won the world title no other singles championship can satisfy them2. At the moment it feels like TNA is in danger of making their world title look like a secondary title.

I bring this up because four of the five men in the Ultimate X match are former world champions. How is a world title meant to look important when pretty much everyone on the roster gets a turn to hold it? As with the main event I'm sure the match will be good, although there's a chance this one could get a little too spot heavy. A gimmick match becoming too reliant on big spots? Well, yes. If incredible, death-defying leaps are being rolled out at the three minute mark how is an audience meant to care (and react) when spots just as ludicrous are appearing twelve minutes into the match? Pacing is the key, and some of the guys in this match have had trouble in that area in the past.

The participants, for the record, are Jeff Hardy, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Chris Sabin, and Kenny King, with the latter being the one never to have held a world title. Reasons could be found for all of them to win. Hardy would be winning a title he's never held before3. 'A Double' and Joe would be getting something to do. Kenny King would be solidifying himself as a mid-card stalwart (which is even more meaningless in TNA than it is in WWE). Sabin would be getting something to brag and boast about, enhancing his wearisome heel act.

I'd like to see King win. I don't think it's going to happen. I suspect Sabin will leave with the gold.

In order to combat the slenderness of their roster TNA have granted considerable time to two of their middle card matches: Sting v Magnus and Kurt Angle v Bobby Roode. It was the smart thing to do. In theory it should create interesting matches with understandable reasons to be taking place. That’s what a show like this needs.

In practice it’s not worked out quite as well as could have been hoped. Acting is not the strength of either Magnus or Sting, which is unfortunate as they’re teammates breaking up which has meant their reasons for clashing have been entirely verbal (as opposed to the more conventional random run-ins and beatdowns). Their exchanges have been awkward and have frequently made me cringe.

That said it’s nice that TNA appears to be planning on doing something worthwhile with ‘The Mag Daddy’. He’s got the look, size and promo ability that are rare in wrestling these days, and he’s also one of the few people that has managed to continually shrug of any nonsense thrown his way by the writing team. Used right he could be someone that helps TNA grow. A split from and feud with the Main Event Mafia would be a good starting point, and it looks like that may be what we’re getting.

I’d like to say TNA will do the smart thing and put Magnus over clean. I can’t see that happening. I think he’ll win via underhanded tactics to further demonstrate that he’s making a turn. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sting simply won clean. That would sum up the company’s approach to preparing fresh storylines and building new stars perfectly.

Angle versus Roode hasn’t been mishandled. Announcing Angle’s return for the biggest show of the year makes sense: it helps it to feel like a worthwhile event and may possibly encourage a few more people to tune in. The trouble with it lies in the fact that we’ve seen the two men clash many times over the last several years. It was at BFG two years ago that Roode’s headline elevation started with an unsuccessful challenge against Angle. They won’t have a bad match, but it will be very hard for them to have a fresh one.

As far as a winner goes it would make sense for it to be Angle. A loss wouldn’t harm Roode while a win for Angle would reintroduce him in the right way and provide the crowd with something to cheer for. I think it helps if big shows (and Bound For Glory is the biggest in TNA Land, remember) can provide more face wins than heel wins whenever possible.

Elsewhere on the card ODB defends the once prestigious but now mostly forgotten Knockouts championship in a three-way match against Brooke (Tessmacher, not Hogan) and Gail Kim. Again I find myself thinking that the match should be fine but I’ll be surprised if it amounts to much more. I will say that it’s a shame Taryn Terrell’s not involved in the product at the moment (she’s pregnant) because she was looking very promising as a wrestler.

The final match will see tag champs Gunner and James Storm defend against the winners of a gauntlet match. Involved in that are Eric Young and Joseph Park, Chavo Guerrero and Hernandez, Bad Influence, and The BroMans. Of those four Bad Influence are my preferred unit but we’ve seen a lot of them over the last year. Robbie E and Jesse Godderz are a promising tandem that TNA management were smart to pair up. They deserve to make it to the pay-per-view and wrestle for the titles. Whoever goes through I’m not going to predict a title change, but anything could happen in a company as haphazard and desperate as TNA.

The last thing to mention is potential returns and debuts. Mr Anderson, Mickie James and Hulk Hogan have all left TNA recently. In each case it’s been due to contract negotiations. In theory any or all of them could show up at Bound For Glory. In practice Hogan and James are unlikely to appear.

James seems content to pursue her musical career for the time being. There seems to be interest in her in that regard so she clearly doesn’t need TNA. ‘The Hulkster’ could return if he got a similarly cushy deal to the one he’s had over the last few years: limited dates in exchange for creative influence and what we should assume is a considerable chunk of cash. But I think he’ll see if WWE has interest in using him at WrestleMania XXX before he commits to TNA. Which they might.

Anderson strikes me as someone who will return to TNA. It’s hard for me to imagine him trailing around the US indy scene and WWE appear to have no interest in him. In TNA he’d be guaranteed an upper mid-card spot at least, plus a regular paycheque. He was written off TV as part of a rivalry with Bully Ray, which would make his reappearance during the main event natural.

The last man to mention is potential debutant Ethan Carter III. Formerly NXT’s Derrick Bateman the real life Michael Hutter has signed with TNA as part of rumoured influx of new talent. The character has apparently been inspired by a football player called Robert Griffin III. He goes by RG3 and Ethan will go by EC3. It doesn’t sound the most thrilling of ideas, but introducing the character at a pay-per-view would provide it as good a start as possible.

Bound For Glory's problem is that it just doesn't feel like a must-see event. It's a card filled with the same faces we've been seeing for years. There are no matches that have the aura that they can't be missed. It's allegedly the company's biggest and best show of the year but it has unfortunately rolled around at a time when TNA are simply incapable of living up to the hype that entails.

Predictions summary:
Bully Ray to defeat AJ Styles
Chris Sabin to win Ultimate X
Magnus to defeat Sting
Kurt Angle to defeat Bobby Roode
ODB to defeat Gail Kim and Brooke
James Storm and Gunner to retain the tag team championship

***

1 Which is a fairly depressing thought.

2 I've written this before but it bears repeating every once in a while.

3 This seems to be becoming increasingly important in wrestling. It's an excuse to put guys into feuds. It's linked to the former world champs winning mid-card titles problem, the "I've never won that belt before" shtick being the excuse to get the wrestler in question competing for a title clearly below their station.