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.
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.)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
I was thrilled to make my first appearance on the Wrestlespective podcast. The topic was in my wheelhouse: Early 1990s WWF, my favorite era, and a Royal Rumble, my favorite match. No big shock we talked for almost two hours. Enjoy — and let me know what you think!
The 1991 Royal Rumble match is discussed by Jason Mann and Scott T. Holland of Star of Savage in this marathon show. They discuss what was going on with many of the cast of characters in the Rumble, including “The Model” Rick Martel, Mr. Perfect, Earthquake, Bret Hart, Saba Simba, Jake Roberts,…
John Cena needs to go away — for his own good. I made this argument in a Fair to Flair guest piece way back at the end of November, and while we clearly missed the boat for a pre-WrestleMania absence, I think the sooner Cena takes an extended vacation the better.
The idea of a wrestling star using absence to make the fans’ hearts grow fonder is by no means new. In the old days (pre-Internet) you could simply fake an injury. My personal favorite example is the Earthquake-Hulk Hogan Brother Love Show rib-squashing incident that gave the Hulkster time to film “Suburban Commando.” I was about 10 when that happened, and I’m pretty sure I was still buying everything the WWF was selling. I never sent Hulk a get-well card like all the other little Hulkamaniacs, but I was fairly well convinced the man’s life was in danger.
In the modern era, plenty of stars miss significant time for legitimate injuries. If we don’t see the injuries happen on live TV (Sin Cara, Wade Barrett), the house show reports quickly make the rounds (Ted DiBiase). WWE is part of this process, letting people know when stars will be out of action for medical reasons. That’s fine, as it is important to let people know these performers are actual athletes putting their lives in jeopardy for our entertainment. But it also takes the fake injury out of the writers’ toolbox.
For one thing, it’s in pretty bad form to stage a serious injury (Zack Ryder) for dramatic effect when there are legitimate, life-threatening circumstances at play. Perhaps this could be mitigated by doing away with referees using the “X” sign for fake injuries. The Chris Jericho concussion angle at Elimination Chamber is a good example of going a hair too far in selling a worked injury.
Another problem is the fact you can’t keep a star off TV, especially one like Cena, for the purposes of story. Not only would Internet “news” sites be abuzz with exposing the injury as a “work,” but you’d have to manage the whole thing differently in 2012. If a guy, especially Smiling Superman Cena, is healthy enough to do Make-A-Wish or Jay Leno or whatever, he has to be in the ring competing. He has to be on Raw, has to be at every pay-per-view.
In his Twitter war with the Rock, and during his in-ring promos, Cena has blatantly stated he’s never going to leave the WWE. And he’s proven that to be true. With one notable exception, Cena has avoided the kind of serious injury that has shelved many other top stars for extended periods during his run at the top. That, as much as any booking strategy, is what contributes to the perception he is being “forced” on fans.
But really, what are the writers to do? He’s a huge star. If he’s healthy, he’s in the title picture. Sure, you can put him in the center of the Nexus story, but none of those individuals could match his star power. You can run him with Kane, and then the fans who claim to love the Attitude Era remember how absolutely ludicrous some of the stories from that period proved to be.
His story with The Rock should be a breath of fresh air for the anti-Cena crowd. It’s given CM Punk room to breathe for a WWE Title feud with Chris Jericho. The only reason it works for Cena (as compared to the Kane story) is there is no one on the active roster who is on the same star level as Cena. Not Randy Orton, not Punk, not anyone. Cena transcends, as does the Rock.
(The list of transcendent, bigger-than-the-business stars is very, very small. It also includes Austin, Hogan, Savage, Flair and Andre the Giant. And I put Cena at the very bottom of that list, based on this criteria: find 10 random people, and ask them, “Who is John Cena?” Find any other 10 people, and use the other five names I listed, and see which name gets you a better success ratio.)
The larger point is we can’t miss Cena if he won’t go away. And with no other natural foils, all we’re going to get is the same stories we’ve already seen, albeit with different wrestlers filling the role of the litany of Cena opponents (physical beast, scheming cheater, authority figure, mind games, etc.). He will deliver great matches. He may offer impassioned speeches. He probably will find his way back to the title picture again — what could be more inevitable? But because he’s proven so durable, so willing to be on TV no matter what, he’s simply going to grow stale.
Maybe the kids don’t see it that way. I sure wasn’t ready for Hulk Hogan to walk away after WrestleMania VIII, though revisionist history says we were all tired of his shtick by then. You could argue Ric Flair had a similarly remarkable streak of good health, allowing him to remain at the top of the card far longer than many peers, but he also had the option of switching promotions, not to mention the game-changing shift in the way wrestling was presented in the late 1990s.
What has changed about the way we take in wrestling during Cena’s run? Is the TV and pay-per-view schedule from 2012 as different from 2002 as 2002 was from 1992?
I’ve long argued against a conventional heel turn for Cena. And I don’t wish for him to suffer a legitimate injury. But the more I listen to him promise to never leave, the more it seems like staying around is the worst thing for his character.
One of my favorite thing about amateurs who write about pro wrestling online is how quick we all are to say we don’t want to get into fantasy booking, only to be followed with a paragraph on this one great idea we have for how a certain story should play out or what ought to be done with a given character. (My current contribution is hoping The Miz, currently on a noticeable slide, will bottom out, adjusts his priorities and once again ascend to the top the mountain, only this time with the fans in his corner).
In a similar vein, there has been much discussion of late regarding the WWE calendar (and yes, I have contributed). Specifically the issue has been both the right number of pay-per-view shows and the themes of those shows, but also the role of the promised WWE Network (and the current YouTube channel). A Wrestlespective Twitter conversation today about favorite “free” TV (network and cable) matches sparked lots of great feedback, including nostalgia for Saturday Night’s Main Event and the legendary Clash of Champions series.
Also informing my thoughts are the recent International Object podcast, which included a discussion on the relative value of wrestlers to their company, seating capacities of large arenas and a few awkward but informative comparisons to the NFL and NBA.
With all that in mind, I’m going to ask a question with an obvious answer, but it makes discussing the topic no less fun. Why doesn’t the WWE (no other company is relevant to this conversation) take its “lesser” pay-per-view events and shift them to “free” television? While WWE has the Saturday Night’s Main Event legacy, what I’m really talking about is reviving the Clash. SNME, after all, came from an era where weekly free TV amounted to squash matches and recorded interviews promoting either the next pay-per-view or the next house show at, in my case, the Rosemont Horizon.
SNME was a jobber-free environment, but title changes were rare. Viewed now in retrospect, they are an essential link in the story arcs of the era. Remember, this is a time when there was no big show between WrestleMania and SummerSlam. Even the months between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania were a huge gap compared to what we have now with Raw and Smackdown every week, not to mention Elimination Chamber.
The Clash series, on the other hand, were rife with cards similar to NWA/WCW pay-per-view shows. In fact, the event started as part of the pay-per-view war between Vince McMahon and Jim Crockett. Why couldn’t the WWE take a leap of faith on putting a lower-tier pay-per-view show, such as Extreme Rules, set for four weeks after WrestleMania, and air it Sunday night on USA? (That show, by the way, comes to you live from the building we used to call the Rosemont Horizon.) Take the same card, same three hours, and just sell commercials. (You know, more commercials than you see on a pay-per-view, formerly a commercial-free viewing experience.) The live gate, merchandise and concessions would presumably be identical.
As I wrote earlier, the answer is obvious. Someone at Titan Towers has done the math, and the buyrate for a show like Extreme Rules, while paling in comparison to WrestleMania, must bring in more revenue for the company than an ad-supported cable special. Though what kind of ratings such a show might generate can only be speculation, since the concept hasn’t been tried for years, it’s obvious the pay-per-view method remains more profitable. Think about it — when have you known a McMahon to take a pass on a money-making idea?
Now, will the advent of the WWE Network change the game? Will people not otherwise inclined to pay a subscriber fee for such a channel be tempted to do so if it gives access to six or seven shows that at present cost about $50 to order via PPV? WWE has been loath to offer anything that would jeopardize PPV buy rates. That’s why the web stream costs the same as the TV broadcast, why there is no audio-only option online and why the replays cost the same as the live show. Again, the current pay-per-view model (12 to 14 shows a year) must be profitable, because otherwise the company would shift directions. There is no direct competitor — not TNA, not UFC, nothing. WWE could consider these moves without losing any of its fan base market share. But presumably such shifts would come with a loss of revenue. That, as we all know, is the real bottom line, which is why we’re unlikely to see major changes unless entertainment industry evolution forces the issue.
Regardless of what anyone says, I still think Miz has it as a performer for me. He’s still awesome. Yeah, missing Truth on that dive was bad. And yeah, I honestly know that Miz is not everyone’s cup of tea. Regardless, I still look forward to his presence on the show, whether he’s got something to do or not.
I definitely agree with TH on this one. As an avid fan of the Real World/Road Rules challenges, and to a lesser extent “The Real World” itself, I’ve been following Mike Mizanin on TV since 2001. So when I see him living his dream — be it in the main event of WrestleMania or absolutely killing on Conan — I’m just happy for the guy. I bet one of the biggest thrills of his life was taking the Rock Bottom in the middle of the ring during Survivor Series at MSG.
(Let’s put it this way — you could have offered 8-year-old me the chance to grow up and be a wrestler and take even one flying elbow from the Macho Man or a Hulk Hogan legdrop and I would have emptied my piggy bank right there on the spot.)
I may have figured it out — Punk’s character only works for me when I feel like he’s in the right. When he tells Vince McMahon that he’s out of touch with his audience, I understand and agree. When he’s chastising Jeff The Slack-Jawed Yokel or yelling at Raven for pissing away his opportunities with drugs and alcohol, I’m like “yeah tell ‘em Punk you ARE a monster!” When he’s telling John Laurinaitis to take his balls out of his purse or taunting Alberto Del Rio for being Mexican by saying “you’re mexican” over and over, not so much.
But I agree with him here. Jericho’s claims are of the “I’m Glacier and I invented the standing side kick! Nuh uh, I’m Perry Saturn and that’s MY move!” variety and he should be called on it. That can allow Jericho to make Doggy Ate My Owse-Cweam face, and pro wrestling matches can occur. Best in the World vs. Best in the World in a ring at Mania, with their Twitter beef long ago lost in the ether.
When Miz comes out and says it’s BS he won the WrestleMania main event last year and can’t even sniff the card in 2012, he has a fantastic point. Not only do I like it when the show acknowledges even its recent past, I appreciate a guy with clear motivations. Miz wants to fight for his spot in the company. He is a moth for the TV cameras and yearns for relevancy. It’s not Dostoyevsky or anything, but at least it’s logical.
(Another obvious example at the moment: Big Show wants to win at WrestleMania. We’re acknowledging his horrible track record, going so far as to beat fans over the head with it — not that I disagree with how it’s being played out. Point is, no matter how his match at that show ends, the fans will be heavily invested in the outcome. A story is being told, and isn’t that the point?)
Is Miz that much different from Zack Ryder, at least in terms of motivation? Yes, Miz has been to the mountaintop and is looking to re-ascend, while Ryder was trying to break through, but the message is the same: I belong here with all these other guys. I deserve a shot. Where’s mine?
Maybe I’m just longing for a Shawn-Michaels-at-WrestleMania XII-type moment for Miz, where he has both fan support and the spotlight he craves. I know it’s easy for any moron to say “face turn!” or “heel turn!” as the solution for everything, which is not my point. But where others look at Miz’s current place and see irrelevance or burial or just a casualty of too many guys and not enough TV time, I see a character evolving, the building of layers and the potential for a big payoff if ever his number is called.
Plus, the guy is living his dream. And while that doesn’t make him unique, my knowledge (filtered by reality TV) of him when he was just a dreamer is part of the reason I remain invested in seeing him succeed.
[Cena is] the guy who stayed, and that contrast against the movie star is more important than worrying who the one who gets to nominally be called “the babyface” is. If that character gets booed out of the building? Then so be it. At least people are reacting to him. I think WWE sees this, and it’s not a mistake that Cena’s tone has gotten more and more homespun, authentic, charitable and kid-friendly than Rock’s almost insular counterpart videos. They each reinforce the image of coolness in the fans’ heads. Cena is trying too hard to get people to like him, and no matter what, he comes off as lame. Rocky doesn’t need anyone to tell him he’s cool, so his videos can be about his family or just showing him filming on the set of his next movie. They each inform the roles the specific characters are going to play in Miami.
Cena’s bragging vis-a-vis his time in WWE also comes off as arrogant, as if fans should automatically respect Cena for showing up and disrespect Rock for not coming back until now — but given WWE’s cloudy creative direction regarding Cena (and his status as de facto heel in this feud), it’s hard to tell if this is intentional or not.
If you are a Rock fan, you probably see Cena’s speech Monday as sour grapes. The Rock went on to Hollywood and got famous; Cena made some crappy movies. He’s not “always here” because he puts wrestling above all else, it’s because that’s his ceiling. He craves the love The Rock gets so effortlessly. He is hurt personally when fans turn on him to shower The Rock with adulation.
If you are a Cena fan, of course, you buy in to his logic that The Rock abandoned his fans, that Cena is to be revered for his persistence and perseverance. You love when he calls The Rock “Dwayne” because it brings the prima donna down to Earth. You love Cena because he loves the WWE as much as you do.
Like most, I much prefer Cena in this type of program, which reflects the ongoing reality era, instead of his horror movie saga with Kane, which called for both characters to ignore reality and play to cartoonish archetypes, the kind of angle fans were fed regularly years ago but are loathe to accept today.
We know wrestlers are portraying characters. But characters that are an extension of reality carry an air of believability and aid the audience in suspending its disbelief. Ziggler is a showoff, Miz is a glory hound and so on. No one believes Ron Jacobs is insane, that Glen Jacobs is mentally disturbed, etc. And then we have guys like Kofi Kingston, who is undefinable because he simply has no character, save smiling and jumping high. I’m not going to break down the whole roster, but you get the picture.
Long story short, it is good to have Cena back in “reality.” I’m no more inclined to cheer him than I was last week, but I do appreciate his character having layers and texture that allow him to interact logically with the other characters.
The biggest example is, as we all should figure, Chris Benoit, a man who exists with two absolute parallel truths: he was perhaps one of the greatest wrestling performers in history, and he murdered his wife and son. Your stance on how much you compartmentalize those two truths is an interesting thing to discuss, because it forces you to take a stand on personal morality, the importance of cultural output, and how well or poorly we treat and are treated by the people who are paid to entertain us.
It’s agreed Benoit is Exhibit A in this discussion. But what can’t be overlooked is the cause-effect relationship, in that many of the very things that led to his (justifiable) reputation as “one of the greatest wrestling performers in history” are very likely the same things that robbed him of his sanity/normal brain operation and led to his unspeakable crime.
You take a guy like Scott Hall, whose peak performances rank with anyone, but clearly the guy has made a mess of his life and is in no way a role model. But with Benoit, you go back and watch his matches — see the bumps, the chair shots, etc., — and with each one you wonder about the concussions, the rise of CTE and the gradual wasting of his brain until he reached the ultimate abyss. And we cheered for those performances, we ALL did.
He was a hell of a wrestler, and you can (and, I would argue, should in most cases) appreciate the art without beatifying the artist. But what happens when the pursuit of that art is what led to the artist’s destruction?
Alberto Del Rio, Big Show, Camacho, Christian, Cody Rhodes, David Otunga, Dolph Ziggler, Epico, Great Khali, Hunico, Jack Swagger, Jey Uso, Jimmy Uso, Jinder Mahal, Justin Gabriel, Kane, Kofi Kingston, Mark Henry, The Miz, Primo, R-Truth, Randy Orton, Santino Marella, Ted DiBiase.
That’s a list of the (ostensibly) healthy male WWE talent regularly appearing on Raw and Smackdown who currently are not booked for WrestleMania. The official card, as it stands, is just four matches (Rock/Cena, Punk/Jericho, Bryan/Sheamus, Undertaker/HHH). There has been no word (or hint) of matches for the Intercontinental, US or Tag Team champsionships (nor the Divas belt, essentially, though at least that title is defended regularly on pay-per-view).
There are, as Jericho pointed out on Twitter, 40 days until WrestleMania. There are lots of hours of TV in which to set up new matches. Last year’s show had eight matches, including am eight-man tag, a six-person tag (with Snooki) and a match featuring Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole. So the card could just fill up with crap. But the hope here is that fans soon (perhaps as soon as tonight) get a legitimate indication as to what is going to happen on the year’s biggest show.
It’s de rigueur to pine for PPV matches where the lesser titles are at stake. We can assume certain stars who have appeared more prominently of late (Ziggler, Kingston, even Santino) will have something to do, but it would be nice to know exactly what. I don’t buy the argument the roster is thin; rather I think there is a bloated midcard that leaves writers unable to give everyone just a click or two below the legit stars (Cena, then Punk and Orton, then everyone else) the proper time/stories to fully develop.
It would be easy to sit here and fantasy book the rest of the card, and I will try like hell to avoid that. Likewise, there is no great desire to return to the likes of, say, WrestleMania VI, which was a nearly one-match show that somehow had 14 matches on the card, half of which did not get a full five minutes (including legitimate feud blowoffs like the Big Boss Man-Akeem encounter (a 1:49 Boss Man squash).
So what is the happy medium? And how do we discuss this online without coming off like only-slightly-more-matured version of our 10-year-old selves?
I always thought merging the belts and unifying the rosters would lead to too many guys losing their gig and their card placement, but after watching the last two WWE PPVs, I just don’t see the need for it anymore.
The thing that bugs me most about the brand split is the incongruity of us being told, on one hand, the WWE Title and World Heavyweight Title are equal, yet being shown time and again they are not equal. At least when it was just one WWF Title and one IC Title, there was a clear hierarchy. Now we’re supposed to assume a World title reign means as much as a WWE title reign, when the context of the way those champions (and, perhaps more importantly) championship matches are presented clearly communicates which is valued more.
Yes, the belts have jumped shows from time to time, but over the last few years it seems pretty clear where the lines are drawn. On the flip side, I’ve long felt the writers are keeping a unification program in the closet as a last resort/silver bullet. Whenever they roll it out, it could be spectacular. But it’s also something you can only use once, and then you are left to deal with the consequences.
Those four words sum up Elimination Chamber 2012 better than any full review.
I can’t disagree — the Ambulance Match was not the strongest way to end the show, unless they used the last 15 minutes for a Rock cameo to point to WrestleMania. But the Cena/Kane feud is so different from anything else on the show (it seems to come from a different era of storytelling) it almost had to be separated on the card from the other matches. Even the women’s match had a more 2012 feel (It’s amazing what happens when you just let women wrestle as wrestlers).
You wouldn’t put Cena-Kane on first, so last made more sense. I guess it’s a lesser of two evils thing. Their Rumble match interrupted the rest of that show, though even the WWE wouldn’t have the Rumble itself be anything but the show closer, so I suppose it’s not the best example.
Still, I hold out hope there will be very little mention of the angle on Raw starting tonight. Cena needs to move full force into the Rock program, which, if nothing else, is at least in line with the rest of the ongoing stories in terms of how and why it is told. We were already told not to expect the Ambulance Match loser on TV tonight, so that’s a good start.
I wrote earlier this week about my desire to see the Elimination Chamber show moved somewhere else on the WWE calendar. I am quite all right with a February PPV, I just wish it did not have such high-concept matches that (to me) interrupt the flow of world title build between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania.
But I came across a different problem this week. I live about an hour south of Milwaukee (where this year’s show will take place Sunday) and my weekend schedule just opened up dramatically. For about a day I seriously considered buying a seat and driving up for the show. Tickets (still available on Ticketmaster) range from $33.25 to $268.25 (including fees, not including a $20 parking pass); most of what I saw on StubHub and similar sites started at $50.
Despite just spending $1,100 fixing brakes on a car Thursday, I still entertained this goofy notion. After all, the proximity of the show and the schedule freedom seemed to be a pretty good coincidence. But then a Twitter pal underscored something I hadn’t given enough weight: isn’t the chamber itself something better to watch at home than inside the arena? Sure, there’s the huge TitanTron, but if I’m going to pay to watch it on a screen, well, maybe I should do so where the bathroom lines won’t be as long.
Then I read David Shoemaker’s show preview on Grantland, an excellent analysis of what’s going on with Kane and John Cena. But it also pointed out how (and why) much of this feud has played out backstage, and specifically how the payoff Sunday, an ambulance match, certainly would not be confined to the ring.
With only one other announced match so far — a who-cares Divas Title match between Beth Phoenix and Tamina (I am presuming I will care when, after Phoenix wins, Kharma comes out to initiate a feud leading to WrestleMania), I’m starting to wonder why anyone paid to get into this show, outside of the people who can afford to spend nearly $300 to sit close to ringside.
So my focus shifted to finding a bar or Buffalo Wild Wings or whatever airing the show in my area (Chicago’s north suburbs), and if anyone has suggestions I’d love to hear them. Of course, that would mean missing out on the live tweeting experience (no, I do not have a smart phone or tablet) that enhanced my appreciation of the Royal Rumble and any other show I’ve been able to follow in real time over the past several months.
I may just settle for putting the show on in the background and getting some other work done while keeping an eye (or two) on Twitter. It might not be the ultimate fan experience, but it will be far friendlier to my wallet.
(Also, it still bothers me Sheamus is on the poster but he’s not on the card. That seems strikingly dumb.)
Simply put, the show’s place between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania is just illogical. As KSP wrote on the International Object blog, “because a date has been set for this kind of match, any story is going to feel shoehorned into it.” He was referring also to Money in the Bank and Hell in a Cell, and that has some validity, but he is most correct when referring to the Chamber.
Think about it. The WrestleMania sign hangs in the rafters during the Rumble and every subsequent TV show. We are beat over the head with the idea of being “on the road to WrestleMania.” So why, then, does this road have the world’s largest truck stop just seemingly just a few miles in?
It’s more than just the obvious flaw, illustrated this year by the Sheamus scenario. Ideally, the Rumble winner shows up on the next night’s Raw and declares who he will challenge at WrestleMania. Boom, the match is set and we have weeks of buildup to enjoy. Instead, the guy we just saw built up through a Rumble win now sits out the next major show? He’s on the show’s poster, and for what?
Another major flaw was illustrated with Chris Jericho’s speech on Raw last week. He has legitimate beef with CM Punk and The Miz —maybe Ziggler — but even he couldn’t adequately explain why he needs to be in the ring with R-Truth and Kofi Kingston. These matches we’re supposed to get excited for — in one week, mind you — are the epitome of shoehorned. The secondary side effect is giving us less time to ramp up to WrestleMania, though at least there is a large gap this year from show to show.
The Chamber makes sense when you have either six guys all wrapped up in one major angle, or you have a champion the authority figure wants to punish by putting his title at risk in such an unpredictable environment. Likewise, Hell in a Cell is (was?) the natural endpoint when a feud could not be settled in conventional encounters. It is effective as a quasi-surprise, less so when the writing is on the wall for months in advance.
On a different note, it seems part of the problem here is the company has created too many stars. There’s not enough for all of them to do on every major show unless they’re put in high-concept, multi-entrant matches, nor is there enough time to tell textured stories, despite the multiple hours of programming (and count me in the “they don’t expect you to watch every second” camp). Probably an issue for another day.
I always wonder how much energy to expend writing about how I think the WWE “should do” things. I’m not inclined to worry about week-to-week stuff or even the way a pay-per-view plays out, because I’m willing to apply a broader view and wait for a story to play out to decide if I like it or not. But any time the talk turns to the company’s schedule, I can’t avoid having a strong opinion.
Specifically this week, I’m reminded how little I care for the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view and its spot between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. Without going into too much detail, I just don’t think it’s the most natural way to build from the Rumble, nor do I think it’s the best spot on the calendar for the chamber.
My philosophy is simple: I like when weekly TV builds logically to a pay-per-view, and when one pay-per-view builds to a bigger pay-per-view. The simplest example is when guys have to fight to get a spot in the Royal Rumble, because we all know if you win the Rumble you earn a title match at WrestleMania.
Why not expand on that? Why not have the Money in the Bank winners earn title shots at SummerSlam? The weekly TV leading to MITB could involve qualifying for the MITB matches. Likewise the Elimination Chamber matches could take place in October in order to earn title matches at Survivor Series. Then TV in September and October could be all about earning those spots in the chamber.
I also think the King of the Ring tournament could come back the same way. Qualify on weekly TV, fight it out on the pay-per-view. The winner could get — again — a title shot. Maybe the KOTR could lead to the US or Intercontinental titles.
Perhaps I’m oversimplifying the issue, but it seems if the fans and wrestlers were all aware of the next opportunity, it would be very easy to understand why guys are fighting each other. A common understanding of what’s at stake and why is a key component of the “show don’t tell” philosophy.
And really, would it be worse than the status quo?
After re-reading the three-man discussion on John Cena with myself, Jason Mann and Joe Drilling posted Tuesday on Fair to Flair, I find myself still thinking about Cena, how he’s booked, how he’s received and what the future holds.
Conventional wisdom is there are two camps on John Cena: “Let’s Go Cena” and “Cena Sucks.” Yet obviously even his character is not that black and white. We’re all pretty much in agreement on the essence of “Let’s Go Cena” crowd — though we likely overstate the percentage of which are small children— and I think most intelligent pro wrestling fans understand it’s quite all right for that demographic to exist (i.e., we would all be flummoxed if there was similar widespread love for, say, Santino).
The “Cena Sucks” movement, however, is far more nuanced. (Disclosure: I am not breaking ground with this analysis). There certainly are fans who boo Cena because they do not like his character, the same way his supporters boo people like Kane or Dolph Ziggler. But because that group exists (and loudly so), there has been almost a backlash of support among people who aren’t exactly Cena fans, but they feel they must quantify their respect for him as a performer.
Using myself as a test case, I want The Rock to beat Cena at WrestleMania. I just like The Rock more, and it has everything to do with nostalgia and nothing to do with how this particular angle has been presented. So I don’t claim to be logical in this preference. But I also realize this match would not happen without Cena’s presence. It required a star of his magnitude to balance The Rock to make his return justified. (Sure, Rock-Undertaker might be fun, but it would not be as organic an angle). Furthermore, the entire thing would just not be as much fun without the “Let’s Go Cena” crowd.
This is the thing about being a seasoned wrestling fan. You really don’t want the entire crowd to see things the way you do, because there wouldn’t be any fun in all that. I am not alone in really liking what I see in Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan these days. Specifically, I am enjoying watching their characters deepen and seeing how they use words to get reactions. But in order for that to play out for my personal enjoyment, there have to be people in the crowd who boo because they don’t like them.
In simpler terms: when I was a kid, I hated Ted DiBiase. I hated Mr. Perfect. I hated Rick Rude. I hated Andre the Giant. I did not realize I respected them, nor did I understand the necessity of their presence. I just wanted my heroes to vanquish them. It took a long time and the benefit of perspective to appreciate the quality of their work and their overall value to the entire production.
Taking all this into account, and in hopes of quantifying a less-than-clear stance on Cena, the reason I’m so opposed to a formal Cena heel turn is because I want him to have fans. I want to see those little kids who look up to him the way I idolized Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior. And I want those little kids to boo Dolph Ziggler and The Miz and Chris Jericho and The Rock. When I say “Cena Sucks,” (which I do not, but still), it’s because I don’t like his poo jokes and his hypocrisy. It not because I think he’s a bad performer or because I am tired of his smile or because I want him to make those children cry.
The only thing I really wanted out of Cena over the last six months is for him to step away from the WWE Championship picture, and that has been accomplished. The one problem I see with him going forward is a lack of opponents on his level. Anyone who could be considered his equal has either already been in one or more programs with him or is not presently in the company. I could write at length about his “I will never leave” ethos as the underpinnings of his heel side, but suffice it to say I hope John takes a few months off. His absence could lead to yet another summer of experimenting, and his return, done right, could make SummerSlam a marquee event. He doesn’t need to be involved with the title for that to be true. Rock, Undertaker and even Triple H have shown a good grudge match can be the fodder for the best match of any show.
Maybe I’ve said all this without saying anything at all. I’d love to be told why my arguments are dumb and how I’m a moron. But I will leave it at this: Be careful what you wish for with Cena. And remember who you’re trusting to manage his future.
Is there a reason Randy Orton was brought back in a heavily promoted spot on “Smackdown” as opposed to being a surprise Rumble entrant in his hometown? Maybe it would have been hard to keep his return a secret, maybe they felt it would have damaged him to get the big surprise pop and then not win, maybe (though I doubt it) they thought his advertised presence would help the buy rate. Still, it seemed so obvious an option I was surprised by not being surprised.
Why did Dolph Ziggler and Big Show enter the Rumble but Mark Henry did not? In the case of Show-Henry, was the point to tell fans Show is moving on from the Bryan-Henry angle, but Henry is not?
I’m not sure the Miz, Cody Rhodes and Dolph Ziggler appearances accomplished what was intended. It was clear from the outset Miz (especially) and Rhodes would be in the ring for quite some time, and it’s become expected to see Ziggler wrestle twice in one night. Having them all miss the final four keeps them in a class below bigger stars like Orton, Big Show and Jericho (and, I suppose, Sheamus). But the way the match is constructed, with entrants being either A-list, B-list, “Superstars” talent and legends, neither of them had a breakthrough performance into the A-list category. This is especially troubling for Miz given his place in the company 12 months ago. It could be said WWE is trying to carve out an elevated status for the B-list talent, but it seems the way that’s really being accomplished is by driving some mid-card talent down to the “Superstars” realm and not by building up guys like Miz and Rhodes — at least not viewed through the small sample size of one Royal Rumble.
On Saturday night I watched the 2011 Rumble for the first time (thanks to International Object for that nudge) and it was amusing how the entire night the commentary focused on the idea of the winner getting to be in the main event at WrestleMania — using specifically those terms, and not just a title match. It was amusing on one level because the winner ended up in the opening match, and also because it clearly would not be the case in 2012. Yet when Sheamus won, up went a graphic promoting his place in the main event of WrestleMania — a graphic that quickly came down, it should be noted. It’s clear the Rumble winner has to win something. And I strongly support setting a WrestleMania main event way in advance. But the convolution of the Elimination Chamber (and the “anyone can enter, and we’re only confirming a fraction of the participants” set up of this year’s Rumble) have dramatically reduced the importance of winning the Rumble in the overall scope of the year.
I thought 40 entrants in 2011 was too many, but I could have stood more guys in last night’s match. That would allow getting more regular roster guys in — even the lower-rung talent — without sacrificing the Jim Duggans and Road Doggs of the world. Every “novelty” entrant costs a regular character a spot.
On a related note, I’m pretty bummed there was only one pre-Rumble match on Raw or Smackdown with any Rumble stipulations. What better way to make your shows interesting between pay-per-view shows while also adding heft to the match itself? If Raw can have a “loser goes in #1 match,” couldn’t Smackdown have a “loser goes in #2” match? Why not have a battle royal with the winner guaranteed a spot between 25 and 30? Why not have a guy of the Zack Ryder level fight over two or three weeks just to earn a spot?
All that said (and probably more I’m leaving on the table, including any Jericho-related thoughts) I was highly entertained by the match last night. Please don’t mistake these comments as fuel on a “the Royal Rumble sucked” fire. Last night did nothing to diminish the match or the show and its place among the top shows of the year.
I realize this will not be well read, but nonetheless it seems fair to establish some ground rules, at least to give myself a sense of direction.
More specifically, it seems proper to point out it is possible to offer commentary without being critical — at least in the way critical has come be to defined. Criticism is really just a synonym for analysis and is not inherently negative. A fair critical analysis (a redundancy, obviously) incorporates an honest assessment of that seen as good, bad and otherwise. The ground rule, then, is to make sure to be neither too positive nor too negative. Opinions that are exceedingly effusive or relentlessly negative have no ability to persuade; at best they simply attract those of a like-minded sort who already are concrete in their own position.
Specific to the subject of professional wrestling, I’m looking to determine what it is I actually want to do here. My favorite wrestling era is now 20 years in the past. If you conceived a child the day Ric Flair won the WWF Title at the Royal Rumble, that child now would be old enough to vote or serve in the military. I was 12 at the time, and I would have bet money Flair would be lucky to be walking upright by the time I was 32.
I have a sizable collection of Coliseum Video releases from 1985 to 1995, supplemented with a few WCW shows, some things recorded off pay-per-view once I got to college and found enough friends to pool resources, a handful of treasured “Saturday Night’s Main Event” episodes recorded from TV and even a few DVDs from this millennium. So naturally, I would prefer to write primarily about events from that era, but I also realize there’s a limited market for such musings. Plus, what’s the point of being a wrestling fan on Twitter, Tumblr and what have you if you’re not going to have an opinion on the current product?
Twitter and podcasts and sites like Fair to Flair have drawn me back into wrestling over the last year in a way I would not have imagined. After graduating college and getting a job (2001) and specifically getting married (2002), I was unable to follow wrestling as closely as I had for the 15 years prior. It was not until a career change and move in 2007 that I finally had time again to record “Monday Night Raw” and follow along on a fairly regular basis. For benchmark purposes, that means I got back into the saddle right before the Chris Benoit tragedy. But isolated from the college friends I gathered with every Monday and Thursday night (in some cases, we were friends only because of a mutual love of wrestling), I still followed along pretty much alone.
But when Randy Savage died in early 2011, my insatiable appetite for news and reflections on my all-time favorite performer opened a new world to me, and I once again feel like I have friends with whom to watch, discuss and simply enjoy wrestling. Sure, I’ve not met them in person, but it’s clear how much we have in common based on consuming the same form of entertainment for more than two decades. To end this personal reflection and bring it back to something relevant, I am at a point now where I was not just excited to watch Sunday’s Royal Rumble, I was excited to watch it with Twitter open so we all could watch “together,” in a way.
All that said, I was happy the Diva tag match and Cena-Kane encounter went on back-to-back, especially since it was the time of night I needed to give kids baths and put them in bed. Sincere thanks to whomever orchestrated the show along those lines.
So if you’ve read this far, you’re starting to get a feel for what you’ll get from me here. Too many words to make a basic point, a strong desire to wax nostalgic, an urge to consume the present and a reminder that I have a wife and kids and a few jobs and probably should spend more time with them than thinking about pro wrestling. But I just can’t quit Vince McMahon, no matter how hard I try. So here we are. Enjoy.