Star of Savage

Allegedly insightful commentary on pro wrestling of present and yore.

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Fair to Flair: Royal Rumble 1991: Highly American

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!

fairtoflair:

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,…

(Source: fairtoflair)

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Is John Cena a victim of his own success?

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.

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Re-thinking the WWE Calendar

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.

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Well, I Still Think The Miz Is Awesome

TH:

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.)

Furthermore, Miz reminds me of what Brandon Stroud wrote about CM Punk this week:

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.

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The Wrestling Blog: The Rock/Cena Dynamic

grapplekingdom:

TH:
[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.

(Source: completeshot)

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Personal and Artistic Dividing Lines

internationalobject:

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?

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Completing the WrestleMania XXVIII card

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?

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Time to end the brand split

Kick-Out!! Wrestling (Razor):

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.

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[SoS]: Elimination Chamber 2012 review

internationalobject:

sugarazor:

Match order is important.

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.

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The OTHER problem with the Elimination Chamber

EC2012posterI 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.)