Star of Savage

Allegedly insightful commentary on pro wrestling of present and yore.

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professionalwrestling:

The third issue of my fanzine, The Atomic Elbow, is now available.
Click here for more information.

I urge you to click this link, which will give you a chance to see the first two pages of my submission for this issue. I’m very proud of this one, and give full credit to the men who gave their time to be interviewed. If you like the kind of thing I like, I think you’ll enjoy this one.

professionalwrestling:

The third issue of my fanzine, The Atomic Elbow, is now available.

Click here for more information.

I urge you to click this link, which will give you a chance to see the first two pages of my submission for this issue. I’m very proud of this one, and give full credit to the men who gave their time to be interviewed. If you like the kind of thing I like, I think you’ll enjoy this one.

(Source: )

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Always thrilled to get a chance to do a guest spot on one of my favorite podcasts. Would love to get your feedback on this one.
wrestlespective:

Podcast No. 149: The Royal Rumble 1989 match is discussed by Jason Mann and Scott T. Holland of Star of Savage and the new blog Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object. They talk about the continuing saga and soon-to-be breakup of Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan, bask in the wonderful battle of DEMOLITION, ponder what would have been if Terry Taylor and Curt Hennig had switched characters, and analyze the seemingly odd choice of Big John Studd as the first Rumble winner. Download this episode of Wrestlespective.

Always thrilled to get a chance to do a guest spot on one of my favorite podcasts. Would love to get your feedback on this one.

wrestlespective:

Podcast No. 149: The Royal Rumble 1989 match is discussed by Jason Mann and Scott T. Holland of Star of Savage and the new blog Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object. They talk about the continuing saga and soon-to-be breakup of Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan, bask in the wonderful battle of DEMOLITION, ponder what would have been if Terry Taylor and Curt Hennig had switched characters, and analyze the seemingly odd choice of Big John Studd as the first Rumble winner. Download this episode of Wrestlespective.

(Source: wrestlespective)

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Reliving King of the Ring 1996 and more

I was thrilled to be a guest on one of my favorite new wrestling podcasts, “What A Maneuver,” in which the hosts go week-by-week through 1996, watching every episode of Raw and Nitro and all the pay-per-view shows. Since I was in attendance for King of the Ring on June 23, 1996, co-host Joe Drilling invited me onto the show.

As you’ll hear early on, I did not have cable at home way back then, so reliving the beginnings of the Monday Night Wars through this podcast has been, for me, a captivating walk through pro wrestling history. Any entry-level wrestling historian can tell you the most memorable event of King of the Ring 1996, but it’s a sneaky-good show for the era. (The Raw from the next night, however, is pretty terrible.) And though it should be easy to remember, it’s worth noting KOTR is just two short weeks before WCW Bash At The Beach 1996, and we all know what happened that day.

Anyway, click the link up top to find the show page and enjoy more than two hours of Joe and I breaking down some really great and really awful wrestling from 16 years ago this week.

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A new project

I have mentioned this on Twitter a few times, but not here formally, so consider this my announcement that I have started a new wrestling writing project, Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object, a two-headed blog type thing where a college friend and I hash out wrestling debates (current and steeped in nostalgia) in our own easily imitable way. The first post is a pretty good microcosm of what I think we hope to do with the site, which should update at least weekly. Your feedback is most welcome.

(And though it perhaps goes without saying but, because I am Tumblr-dumb, perhaps does not, click the words “A new project” above to be taken to our first post.)

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Whither John Cena?

John Cena observers — love him, hate him or love to hate him — have to be asking one thing at this precise moment: now what?

After WrestleMania, when we thought we might get a complex story about Cena searching his soul in the wake of his loss to The Rock, we instead got his brief feud with Brock Lesnar. And after Extreme Rules, when we thought we might get a complex story about Cena being physically dominated and resorting to the underhanded tactics he used to capture his first major singles title, we instead got Cena cast as the employee in the thoroughly exhausted “domineering boss” storyline.

That of course took about two months and somehow worked in The Big Show. As a side note, it would have been nice if Show referenced Cena’s use of his chain to defeat Lesnar was the exact same technique employed in Cena’s U.S. Title win over Show at WrestleMania XX, but I’m guessing it’s only weirdos like me who remember that kind of thing. Regardless, Cena vanquished his boss oppressor (I guess that’s what we should believe?) last Sunday at No Way Out, humiliated him again Monday on Raw and got in a few more shots for good measure after the Smackdown tapings Tuesday.

So the question arises again: now what?

The only new story coming out of Monday’s Raw, and really, it started at No Way Out, is the HHH-Lesnar encounter at SummerSlam. CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Kane seem to be continuing their WWE Title story with AJ. The Big Show stated he’s done with Cena for now, though we’re not sure what’s next for him, either. And that’s all there is to say — no one else on the active roster is on his level.

I see only two possibilities, and I assume one of them, or something else, will begin to develop as soon as Monday.

  1. Chris Jericho returns to Raw (we know he’s coming back) to start a program with Cena leading to SummerSlam. This is probably my favorite idea because I would love to see Jericho use Cena’s Rock and Lesnar stories into Cena’s ongoing narrative. Jericho could really help Cena’s character develop (for the first time in ages) and also tell the story between the ropes.
  2. The new general manager also wages war against Cena. While I think this is more likely than a Jericho feud because this story seems to be the go-to for the creative team, it couldn’t start this week because we’ve already been told there will be a series of former GMs returning on the lead-up to Raw’s reinvention July 23.

Perhaps a hybrid option is that whoever is the guest GM Monday also will begin a program with Cena that takes us through the next few weeks. Perhaps we’ll get stuck with something far less exciting, such as a Cena-Tensai program that will have a hard time gaining momentum because it’s already played out on Raw this spring. What I’d actually love is to see Cena forced to compete in a qualifying match to get into the Raw Money in the Bank match, and then see him fail to capture the briefcase. All those guys who came out to the ring during the No Way Out cage match were there in opposition of Big Show, not support of Cena. The man has no real friends, nor should he.

(This also is where I point out my dream of one day seeing a wrestler, perhaps Dolph Ziggler, win both MITB cases in the same night. That would be a unique twist on an accepted format, kind of like the first time two men won the Royal Rumble.)

The real problem with Cena, as I’ve written before, is his lack of peers. While no one is on his level as an employee in terms of transcendence, it’s true that few characters are on his level in the ring — that’s the downside of his years-long run as borderline invincible. Any character who might be a legitimate foe is either out of the company or would represent yet another retread story, which is not something the fans are likely to relish.

And while in the past it seemed the time was right for Cena to take some time off, the business side of things now won’t allow it. Randy Orton is suspended, Rey Mysterio is hurt, Sheamus is nowhere near the draw Cena is, HHH and Lesnar are part-timers — Cena has to be on TV each week and headline the house shows, which means creative better have something for him, and they better have it my Monday. But what?

Your guess is as good as mine.

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The fear of the three-hour ‘Raw’

Two facts out of the gate, both of which you probably know but bear stating for the purposes of this piece.

1.     Tonight’s episode of “Monday Night Raw” will be three hours (and change) instead of two.

2.     As of July 23, “Raw” will move to three hours on a permanent basis.

As I write this, I am already prepared for tonight’s Twitter news feed onslaught of people complaining about how bad the three-hour show is and predicting how it will be permanently bad in a few weeks. When the three-hour move was announced in May, it was almost universally panned by fans who for some reason don’t want more of their favorite wrestling show.

Yes, we all remember some really bad stuff from the three-hour “Nitro” era. Factor in the hours of “Thunder” each week (as well as “Raw” and “Smackdown” and roughly 30 pay-per-view events a year) and there was an ungodly amount of wrestling to watch on TV each week, most of it live, and very little of it produced by great wrestling minds. But why do we all have bad memories of those shows? Because we watched them anyway.

The landscape is vastly different from more than a decade ago — and not just the wrestling landscape. The entertainment media has evolved so much in such a short period of time — with no end in sight — it’s tough to get a handle on what actually matters (read: makes money to keep Titan Towers running). If you’re super into this type of thing, I suggest a quick read of this Phil Rosenthal column from Sunday’s Chicago Tribune looking at all the data content providers try to sort through.

But aside from all the business debates (my quick stance: adding a third hour is a sign business is good because there must be ad revenue to justify more TV time) and using the simple standpoint of a person who likes to watch a WWE show each Monday night (off the DVR while folding laundry after the kids are in bed), I’m already tired of people complaining about the three-hour “Raw” and we’ve not even seen the show yet.

In order to hold this view, you must suspend some disbelief. Since we’re all wrestling fans, we ought to be comfortable doing just that. Much of the “three-hour ‘Raw’ will suck” backlash comes from bad experiences watching show’s like we expect tonight’s to be — essentially a bloated version of a regular episode where usually the only stuff that gets more screen time is a part of the show we don’t usually care for in the first place. But that’s not exactly what we’re being sold here. WWE has hinted (sometimes overtly) that Raw as of July 23 will actually be something it hasn’t for literally years: different.

This could mean anything. It could mean the first hour of the show is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, then the regular “Raw” begins at 8 p.m. (Central time, fools). It could mean the entire show format is re-invented, perhaps the runover dies and the show actually ends promptly at 10 p.m. We can assume the arena setup won’t change, but what’s to stop them from introducing a studio show — a la the NFL or NBA pregame and halftime crews regular sports fans consider an essential part of the fan experience — or perhaps a more formal backstage interview process?

Maybe the opposite will happen and WWE will move away from the “art through the metaphor of sport” approach and find a way to just be art. Maybe there once again will be no authority figure as a regular TV character, and we’ll have some new understanding for why all these guys (and girls) are in a new city every week just to fight each other.

Maybe there will be an entire 30-minute (or longer) segment each week that is merely sponsored with on-screen graphics, like with soccer, so there’s no need to interrupt a match for a commercial break. Maybe there will be a promise for a title match of some sort every week on the show, and meaningful title changes will happen (but not too many, of course, because no one likes that.

As much as WWE (and it is not alone here) seems to love social media, it seems likely we’ll get some sort of interactive component to the show — perhaps the fans will decide who faces off in one match each week, or somehow they’ll find a way to make trending topics affect what happens on camera (I really, really hope they do not).

Detract if you will. There is abundant evidence of fans, myself included, trying to give the WWE a chance to turn something that at first seems sketchy into greatness, only to find the end result to be the worst-case scenario. And really, though the possibilities for re-inventing “Raw” are limitless (I only scratched the surface of my ideas), the truth is we’re more likely to get a few tweaks here and there, because the risk of a dramatic overhaul alienating the core fan base probably is not worth the reward.

I don’t want to rob anyone of their right to complain. If it gets to be too much for me, I could always just watch wrestling and ignore Twitter. I’d like to see a lot less “this is gonna suck” and a lot more reasoned criticism. It may well suck. As long as wrestling has been on TV, there has been bad wrestling on TV. And certainly if you are a wrestling fan and not just a WWE fan, there are plenty of other outlets for you to pursue.

In the end, my stance is this: “Monday Night Raw” has been a highlight of my week for a long, long time. It will continue to be so. I have always enjoyed some parts of the show and disliked other parts. That’s going to continue as well. There’s a chance “Raw” gets a nice polish and the show gets more enjoyable week in and week out. There’s a chance no one in Stamford has done a great job planning for the new schedule and the show will actually get worse. But when I think of all of the absolutely horrible things (either scripted stuff or offstage ugliness) that have happened since I started watching in 1987 and I’m still here, 25 years later, I’m hard pressed to think an extra hour of TV each week is going to ruin the WWE for me.

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The future of WrestleMania?

Much has been made about the possibility of WWE following the Rock-Cena blueprint and establishing the WrestleMania XXIX main event up to a year in advance — you know, sometime between now and the end of Monday’s Raw. With Twitter being what it is, plus the excitement of former WWE stars arriving in Miami to be a part of WrestleMania weekend, there’s rampant speculation about which stars could be named within the next three days to headline the most risky WrestleMania in recent memory.

One popular option is a CM Punk-Steve Austin showdown, which could follow essentially the same blueprint as Rock-Cena, in terms of one half the match being a regularly active superstar and one a retired legend who would only make scattered appearances throughout the year with little actual wrestling.

Another possibility is Cena-Undertaker, something that would only make sense if Undertaker extends his streak Sunday. However, this is a lot less similar to Rock-Cena than it might appear on the surface. Rock has been on WWE TV far more than Undertaker this year — and actually wrestled a pay-per-view match. I’m not sure I object to Undertaker only showing up once a year to fight at WrestleMania, though it would be harder to suspend disbelief about the sanctity of his streak with each passing year. As much as I love the guy, I’m hoping for a win Sunday to run the record to 20-0, a retirement ceremony and a Hall of Fame induction in 2013.

Yet another option is doing something with a returning megastar, with the hot name du jour being Brock Lesnar. (Yes, Batista is confirmed to be in Miami. But why should we think that’s for anything other than to hang with Ric Flair during his second Hall of Fame induction? Also, if you think Batista is anywhere near the star Brock Lesnar is — think big picture here — then take off your Titan Tower blinders.)

If Lesnar comes back, it would seemingly be to rejoin the active roster, which makes setting a match a year in advance much more complicated — unless of course Brock takes over the Cena role in the Cena-Rock feud. I’m pretty sure Brock vs. Rock at MetLife Stadium is exactly the kind of showdown Vince McMahon could use to print money.

Failing that, what’s to stop Lesnar from pulling a Jericho — coming back at the turn of the year to get involved with the Rumble and the Road to WrestleMania? Jericho, with no clear end date on his current run (unlike Rock, whom we know will be back to Hollywood by mid-April, and we’re OK with that) is free to perform at the top of his game as he pleases. Of course, he’s earned that right far more than Lesnar, from a WWE standpoint. And Lesnar has the kind of transcendent star power befitting a year-long build.

What if, as Geno Mrosko speculated on Cageside Seats, WWE writers are able to put together a card with Rock, Austin, Lesnar, Cena and Punk, not to mention working in Triple H, Undertaker and perhaps Shawn Michaels? Doesn’t leave a lot of room for Dolph Ziggler, Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan and the like, although there will be World and WWE title matches on the WrestleMania card regardless of legend involvement.

While some have said they prefer the main event to be reserved for two guys who deliver in the ring every week, it’s starting to feel like WrestleMania is simply moving in a different direction. Frankly, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that.

WrestleMania XXVII is more or less utterly forgettable. As much as I love The Miz, his main event title match with Cena seems barely worth of a SummerSlam, let alone WrestleMania. It’s the kind of match you expect to see at Backlash or Vengeance. It’s not Miz’s fault (and the fact he pinned Cena at Mania will serve his career well, from a storytelling standpoint, for the foreseeable future). Even those who said CM Punk was rushed back this summer can’t say they’d prefer Punk-Cena this Sunday when we’re on the brink at the alternative.

Simply put, WrestleMania needs to stand apart from the rest of the WWE calendar. While a lot of that is structure — giant stadium, a four-hour show, Axxess and the Hall of Fame ceremony — we need only to look one year in the past to see what happens when a show is layered with decent matches with passable talent yet devoid of anything other than one seemingly epic encounter. The stage is so much grander than every other WWE event of the year, it simply cries out for star power.

While WrestleMania events in the past have been fairly derided for relying too heavily on celebrity, the good news is with Rock-Cena that WWE has stumbled upon (or carefully devised) a new plan: the celebrity main eventer who is actually a wrestler. Rock is the prototype. Lesnar, with all his mixed-martial arts success, is a workable facsimile. There may not be another clear-cut option as of yet, but if the WWE can find a hook for WrestleMania XXIX a year out, it can somewhat rely on WrestleMania XXX being a must-see event based largely on nostalgia.

Projecting as far out as WrestleMania XXXI in 2015, who’s to say what stars might be possible headliners. That’s far enough in the future that John Cena could have been gone long enough to “come back” for a main event showdown with some current talent who has made the A list by then.

Regardless of the major players, count me firmly in favor of having WrestleMania be the one show each year where a major match is established far in advance. Such a convention will continue to set the event apart and give the active roster all that much more reason to fight like hell for a place on the show. I want guys like Bryan, Ziggler, Miz and so on to make “the leap” as much as anyone. But they have a long, long way to go to be transcendent stars on the order of Austin, Rock, Lesnar, et al. But rather than complain about legends taking the spotlight, we should be happy those legends are willing to come back around and put on another show — hoping that some of their time back in the fold is spent showing the stars of tomorrow the path to glory.

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Atomic Elbow Issue 1

Please take some time, if you haven’t already, to look over Issue One of The Atomic Elbow, a professional wrestling fanzine, since it includes a lengthy piece, by me, in defense of WrestleMania IX. One thing I did not notice until after I submitted the article — that show is the first WrestleMania to include match that could be considered a gimmick match of any kind. Anyhow, please follow the link and consider ordering the ‘zine!