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Monthly Archives: July 2012

1000…and counting

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David: So, we’ve come through Money in the Bank and Raw mostly unscathed and unchanged. Sheamus and CM Punk are still our champions, both having won their matches at the pay-per-view. John Cena won the Money in the Bank Ladder Match for a WWE Championship Contract, and announced on Raw that he would cash it in vs CM Punk at Raw 1000. It seems to me that they’re setting us up for John Cena to not win the title due to interference from the Big Show. He will become the first person not to cash in the briefcase for the title, and will continue his feud with the Big Show heading into SummerSlam. That what it seems like they’re setting us up for, but I’m starting to second guess myself, because it almost seems too obvious.

Daniel Bryan and AJ have transitioned out of their love triangle story line with CM Punk, and now they’re getting married on Raw 1000. Based on what I saw on Twitter Monday and Tuesday, I think I’m in minority, but I love wrestling weddings, and I’m looking forward to this. I’m sure that some third party is going to get involved, and, based on Raw 999, my guess is that it’s going to be The Miz (who you correctly predicted would insert himself in the WWE Championship Money in the Bank match). His reaction to AJ drop kicking him off the apron during the mixed tag team match was awesome, and it seems like we’re primed for a potential revisiting of the Pro/Rookie relationship from the first season of NXT. Of course, there are other people who could get involved. After all, Kane has recent history with both AJ and Bryan, while Eve has also been getting involved in their story as of late.

Wedding Crasher? ©WWE.com

Are you looking forward to the AJ and Daniel’s nuptials, or am I alone in my affinity for wrestling weddings? Will the marriage license just say AJ, or will they remind us that she actually has a last name? Will DX get involved? After all, we’ve been promised that they’ll show up…and HHH does have a history of interfering with weddings.

• • •

Scott: Last thing first — I’m assuming the DX appearance is pretty much all about setting up the Triple H-Brock Lesnar showdown at SummerSlam. Brandon Stroud did a pretty good job of predicting how that will play out during his most recent Best & Worst of Raw column, and I’d be hard pressed to develop an alternative theory.

As for the other things you brought up — specifically the WWE Title picture and what happens with Cena, I also would second-guess your theory based on its obviousness. I guess the main question is whether Punk gets pulled into the Show-Cena world for a three-way match at SummerSlam or if he remains involved in the Bryan feud. Randy Orton is due back any day now, but revisiting that feud seems unlikely given other current events.

There seems to be a lot of support for a story in which Punk somehow plays the underdog champion, putting him back in the position of having to prove himself against the establishment. That seems like a story that would work well given the way he’s been presented over the last several months. It also would be a nice theme to play up leading into his DVD release (also the cynic’s reason for believing he’ll be champ at least up to SummerSlam, if not longer).

And while Cena is a natural foil for that plot, the guy who can say “the champ is here” even while not wearing the belt, I would not rule out an even bigger name to play the part: The People’s Champ. A Punk-Rock story (you see what I did there?) has all sorts of potential. I remain unsure if there’s any chance Rock would wrestle before WrestleMania, and with Lesnar, Triple H and the Undertaker all still on the fringe, Rock has no shortage of natural opponents.

All of this discussion and we’ve not gotten around to the very real likelihood Dolph Ziggler will finally get a legitimate run with a top title, or the potential excitement of the Mysterio-Del Rio program. I know there’s a good chance for things to drop off dramatically between SummerSlam and Survivor Series, but I really think the WWE creative team, as well as the in-ring talent, deserve a lot of credit for advancing so many different interesting stories that should pay off in dramatic matches. Maybe it would be a different story without Raw 1000 as a point of interest that happened to fall in this part of the calendar, but I’m not as concerned with why it’s happening as I am excited to see it all play out.

As for the Bryan-AJ wedding, I am looking forward to seeing how it affects the storyline. It’s a wonderful wrestling convention because it’s used enough to be familiar yet not beaten to death (like the “you’re fired” trope) and also not forced into the calendar just because (Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber, etc.). This particular wedding is obviously set up for the story potential, which was not the case with Randy Savage-Miss Elizabeth wedding from SummerSlam 1991.

But enough about weddings — others have done and will do a far better job chronicling the history there. There’s so many balls in the air right now I’m not exactly sure which to purse, so I’m going to go big picture on you. What are your favorite Monday Night Raw memories? I’m purposely being as vague as possible with my question, so feel free to think as far outside the box as you’d like.

• • •

David: One of the bad things about Raw getting to 1000 episodes is how long it takes to get there. This show has been on the air almost every Monday night for almost 20 years, so sometimes it’s hard to remember what has happened on the show. Some moments stick out, but when an entire episode sticks out, it’s even more special.

The most memorable full episode of Raw is probably “Raw is Owen” from May 24, 1999. The tribute episode the night after Owen’s death is extremely bittersweet, but also one of the most touching things the WWF/E has ever done. I remember reading the spoilers for Over the Edge, and being heart broken about Owen’s death, but I was just as intrigued about how Vince and company would handle the following evening’s Raw. Say what you will about how Owen’s death was handled overall, that episode of Raw was, in my eyes, about the best it could’ve possibly been.

One of the most memorable episodes in the history of Raw.

The only other full episode that even comes close to that, is the March 26, 2001 episode. That was the final night of the Monday Night Wars, and the final episode of Monday Nitro. I wasn’t watching wrestling regularly at the time, but I had heard rumors that WCW would be closing, and Nitro would be going off the air. I hadn’t read any information about who had bought WCW, so I was quite surprised to see Vince McMahon on TNT, saying that he had purchased WCW.

Those are probably the two most memorable for me. What sticks out for you?

• • •

Scott: I hadn’t considered it recently, but your mention of the Owen Hart episode brings to mind the Chris Benoit tribute episode. That tragedy came about shortly after I’d really started getting back into the WWE after several years away. I moved a state away, ahead of my wife and kid by a few months, and was loaded with free time. There were a few years I’d been out of the game almost entirely, so I printed out title and PPV histories from websites, started recording Raw, Smackdown and ECW again and trying to re-immerse myself in the environment.

When that Benoit episode aired — literally at the same time the horrendous details were coming to light, though I would not learn them until I got online the next morning — I was actually pretty interested in the chance to catch up on my history. Obviously now we realize what a bad idea it was to air that show that night, but it’s a reminder of how crazy things were in the immediate moment.

As I’m sure you know, I did not have cable at home as a kid. So when Raw debuted in 1993, I was a little upset with how much of the narrative was moving away from my staples, Superstars, Challenge and Saturday Night’s Main Event. I did not get to watch Raw regularly until you and I started watching it with our college crew in the fall of 1997 — even trekking through Iowa winters to get to the basement of the library for free cable. That’s when I discovered the joy of watching wrestling as a community instead of just alone in my basement on a Saturday morning.

Coe College’s Stewart Memorial Library, where we used to watch Raw and Nitro in the late 90s. (cheap nostalgia)

There are countless Raw moments that stick in my mind, and so many of them have to do with where I watched the show, or who I was with, as much as what actually happened. Even now I regret I am unable to fully engage with the Twitterverse when the show is happening because I effectively watch on a one- or two-hour delay since the show airs right when I’m supposed to be putting the kids to bed. That problem will only get worse as the show expands to three hours, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.

Speaking of that expansion, there’s been a lot of online chatter about the new general manager, including the very popular theory that fans will be the new GM by way of letting votes affect match pairings. That’s something I hinted at when I wrote about the new show format in June, though not to the extent others are theorizing at present. Here’s my comments:

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).

As much as I bristle at the integration of Tout and Twitter and other such things, I do think there is a lot of potential in using WWE.com as a way to incorporate fan votes into what happens on the show. Clearly the company realizes how much of its audience watches the show while also surfing the Web and/or tweeting, and they’re committed to making the experience as interactive as possible. I know some folks don’t like this, but to me, it’s genius.

We live in an on demand world. I don’t listen to live radio, but I do listen to the podcast versions of the shows I enjoy. I follow several TV shows, all of which I watch on my own time thanks to my DVR. The only time I watch real-time television (with the exception of when the kids have it on) is for live sports. And even then, since my favorite teams rarely play meaningful games, I’m usually recording and watching at least 30 minutes late, trying to catch up, skip the replays and stoppages, etc. For other folks, big-ticket awards shows fall into the same category. And while I want to watch Raw as close to live as possible so I keep up with Twitter, it rarely works out. With pay-per-views, I have no choice. If I can’t watch the show live, I probably don’t watch it at all, or at least not until several weeks later when I can find highlights on YouTube.

The big point here is that live programming remains the most reliable channel for television advertising. That’s why the NFL is the king of broadcast television. Everyone knows how many people watch NFL games, how it’s a communal experience and how folks are more or less beholden to the one or two games on free TV at any given time. Which means they are beholden to all the commercials thait air during those games. Sure, you can pay for the Sunday Ticket package, but that’s another revenue stream. And when you’re into the unopposed national broadcasts — Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights — you know you’ve got undivided attention from your audience, and you can charge more for your ads.

I’m sure you see where I’m going, but I’ll spell it out anyway. The move to the three-hour show, paired with an intense push to make it seem more essential to watch said show live, is a calculated business move to make the product more appealing to the network, cable providers and advertisers. It is a push to separate Raw from most other forms of television — from a business standpoint — and position it more like live sports in terms of how viewers respond.

In that sense, I love the move. My favorite aspect of the Monday Night Wars was the two companies pulling out all the stops to make each live show as special as possible. If viewers thought anything could happen at any moment, they’d never change the channel. The vibe going into this week’s Raw reminds me of the Georgia Dome Nitro where Goldberg finally got to Hogan. There was PPV-level buzz for a free TV show.

Obviously you can’t (and shouldn’t) do that every week. But if you can tweak the formula to make sure the viewers you do have are committed to watching live and to interacting with the show at the same time, you’re going to make money, and lots of it.

That was kind of a long stream of thought there. Do you have any thoughts on how the new Raw might look going forward — either playing off what I write in June or something I may have overlooked? There’s a lot of buzz for Raw 1000, but I’m guessing Raw 1001 will look way different from Raw 999, I’m just not quite sure what that means yet.

• • •

David:I’m hopeful that we’ll be getting a bit of a visual change either for Raw 1000, or for Raw 1001. I’d love to see a new set design, a new graphic style, maybe even a new color scheme. I’m also hopeful that we’ll get a new belt, as I’m tired of the spinner design. I’m not sure it’ll happen this week or next, but I do feel like it might be coming.

This is something that I didn’t see a lot of people talking about after Raw 999 on Monday. When the Big Show was trying to convince Cena to cash in his briefcase, he made mention of the fact that the belt that Punk holds is the one that John Cena designed. Could that be foreshadowing? There’s been so much talk lately of Punk’s lengthy reign as champion, it makes one wonder about the possibilities for an even more extended run. If Punk makes it past a certain milestone, does he get to design his own version of the belt?

• • •

Scott: That’s an issue I’d heard about a few weeks ago and then forgot once all the other Raw 1000 plot points developed. I know Punk has hinted at wanting a new design and I think I once saw a rumored prototype. It would seem a natural at some point — again as a tie-in to his DVD or, as you pointed out, the duration of his reign. As we know, when something is mentioned on TV (and especially when it’s repeated often) the writers want you to take notice and account for that as you process plot developments.

It would seem simple to revert to the winged eagle design most folks seem to pine for, much like the way they simply restored the classic look of the InterContinental belt. Like most folks bent on nostalgia, I wish they’d never changed it. The visual continuity of the same belt helps sell the actual continuity of people holding the same title. Think about how much Punk idolizes Randy Savage and how great it would be if they could wear the same actual belt design.

Also, good call on the set design (I swear, we’re going to disagree on something one of these days). I know K Sawyer Paul of International Object tweeted something to the same effect recently. I know what I said about commercials earlier, but I really do wish one of the features of the three-hour Raw was a guaranteed uninterrupted match every week. What if they created a TV title (I know, like we need another belt — perhaps they could just convert the U.S. Title) and it were defended weekly with a 30-minute time limit? Pick a company to sponsor the match, and heck, have their logo in a running clock. Who wouldn’t be excited for that 30 minutes every week, maybe right after the initial segment?

Since we’re moving outside the box, do you have any other ideas for tweaks? My favorite of recent memory is from Jason Mann of Wrestlespective, who once suggested the WWE should run one retro pay-per-view each year. Red, white and blue ropes, old school ring aprons and banners, perhaps even put Vince on play-by-play. He suggested Survivor Series would be a natural fit, and I couldn’t agree more. What would you do if the WWE were your sandbox?

• • •

David: I saw that you asked a similar question on Twitter, which Tom Holzerman answered on The Wrestling Blog. His idea was to have at least one story where the traditional ideas of alignment don’t matter, where he gets to make up his mind who to root for without the influence of the Almighty WWE. He uses the example of a potential Dolph Ziggler vs Chris Jericho feud as a possible jumping off point, and I think it’s a fine idea. As I’ve mentioned in the past, Ziggler is almost too skilled at wrestling to hate. In fact, I would argue that if he didn’t have the WWE’s biggest villain, Vickie Guerrero, as his manager, the fans would cheer him more than they already do. Jericho has spent a large portion of his career in a similar boat. He has to work really hard to make you hate him, as his re-emergence at the beginning of this year showed. It would make for a great storyline, and would really give the fans something to debate and talk about, and maybe we’ll get a clearer picture of where they’re going with Ziggler/Jericho tonight on Raw.

Tonight on Raw, we also get a scheduled cash-in of John Cena’s Money in the Bank briefcase. I’m on record as saying that I think John Cena will be the first person to cash in and lose, but I’m not convinced it will happen tonight. I’m wondering if Big Show will interfere before the bell rings, thus not allowing Cena to cash in his chance. If so, I could certainly see the match move to SummerSlam. However, if the WWE were my fantasy booking sandbox, so to speak, I would use tonight to start an overhaul of Cena’s character.

I like John Cena. I think that, for the most part, he is someone who uses his fame in the best possible ways. His work with the Make A Wish Foundation is well documented, but even so, I’m not sure he gets enough credit. I think that the idea of hustle, loyalty and respect means a lot to the kids that he meets, and I think that John means a lot to the kids he meets. I don’t think you can turn him into a bad guy without jeopardizing that, and I wouldn’t. I just want John Cena to be human. I want him to have self doubt. I want him to hurt and to show it.

“Hustle, Loyalty and Respect” is a decent catchphrase, but “Super Cena,” as some have dubbed him, doesn’t really have to hustle. He doesn’t really inspire loyalty or respect, because how can loyalty be proven, and what does respect mean to someone who really doesn’t go through trials? John Cena should’ve become really introspective after losing to the Rock at Wrestlemania. That doubt should’ve showed on his face leading up to his match with Brock Lesnar, and when Lesnar brought the fight to Cena, and he needed a chain to win, that should’ve been a low point in John Cena’s career. That should’ve been when we started to see what John Cena was made of.

All for naught?

If I could take over the WWE tonight, I would make his match with CM Punk the beginning of the lowest point in his career. CM Punk would get a clean victory, and then Big Show would come down and point out how John Cena just can’t get the job done anymore. This would be a trend that would repeat itself over the next 4 months or so. He loses repeatedly to the WWE’s big names, and maybe even some flukey wins against up and comers. Every time, Big Show comes down and berates him. There could really be some emotional story telling in this scenario, all leading up to Cena beating the giant at Tables Ladders and Chairs in December. I’d then have Cena enter the Royal Rumble at number one, and be the last man eliminated…falling just short of the prize. I’d have him take Wrestlemania season off. I don’t think you need him if you have the Rock and Lesnar at Mania. He could reappear the night after WM XXIX on Raw, and start a winning streak that goes into next year’s Money in the Bank show, where he would win the briefcase for the second year in a row. I would have CM Punk hold the belt for the entirety of the year, until Cena cashes in the briefcase not just to try and win the title, but to try and erase the scars of what began on July 23, 2012. Breaking a man down to build him up is a great story if played the right way, and it may be the best thing that could happen to John Cena. It probably won’t… but a guy can hope, right?

Enjoy tonight’s Raw 1000, and join us in our little corner of the web again next week for more dignified wrestling discussion.

• • •

Thanks for reading — please feel free to contact us via Twitter or the comments section. Your feedback is appreciated!

Wrestlespective Episode 151

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David was fortunate enough to be a guest on the latest edition of Jason Mann’s Wrestlespective podcast. He and Jason discuss the main event of SuperBrawl 1991, Ric Flair vs Tatsumi Fujinami.

Go here to download the podcast, and leave a review of the podcast in iTunes.

Ric Flair vs Tatsumi Fujinami

Wrestlespective Podcast 151 featuring the Irrestistible Force

Looking ahead to Money In The Bank

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David: Since there’s a big WWE pay per view this weekend, I thought it might be a good idea, as you suggested at the end of the last piece, to start a discussion that will go up on Friday.

Tweet us your predictions for Sunday’s Money In The Bank!

We’ll get to our predictions on Money in the Bank, but first I wanted to discuss a piece of news that came out Monday. There was some cautious optimism and some outright pessimism online when it was announced WWE signed the “Queen of Wrestling” Sara Del Rey to a developmental contract. I’m not an expert on her work, but I’ve seen a few things here and there, and I think she’s a hugely talented wrestler.

Note that I didn’t say “a hugely talented female wrestler.” She’s a talented wrestler. Period. There is no need to put a modifier in there. But her skill set is so different from most of the women in WWE, it brings up a lot of questions. Will she just be another Diva? Will her look completely change? Will she just be part of the mid-show filler? How will her style, which is extremely physical, play in the land of the Divas? Will she be allowed to utilize her excellent striking ability (something not a lot of the current Divas ever do)? Will she be allowed to use moves like the Royal Butterfly, or her version of the LeBell Lock? I think there are a lot of people who are skeptical that WWE’s answers to these questions will make them happy.

The optimism I’ve seen comes from the hope that Del Rey’s signing is a bright swath of paint in the beige landscape women’s wrestling has been for the last few years in WWE. There was a similar hope last year when Kharma debuted in WWE. Unfortunately, she’s been in and out for various reasons, and her promise hasn’t been realized… yet. There is some potential female talent in FCW as well, with Paige and Raquel Diaz (the daughter of Eddie and Vickie Guerrero) being the two most prominent. But with the signing of Del Rey, is WWE signaling a sea change in the women’s division?

• • •

Can Sara Del Rey change the fate of women’s wrestling in WWE?

Scott: Lord, I hope so. Look, I have a lot of respect for anyone who decides to pursue professional wrestling as a career. But there is a clear distinction between people who actually want to be wrestlers and people who more or less fall into the business. Say what you will about Hulk Hogan or The Rock chasing Hollywood stardom, but no one can deny both guys paid their dues in the ring. Most of the current female stars WWE promotes haven’t done much to shake their reputation as models first and wrestlers second.

You know, it wasn’t all that long ago when the WWE had both types of women on the same show. Take WrestleMania XX, which had both a Playboy Evening Gown match and also a legitimate women’s title match presented as a straight wrestling encounter (and yeah, it was a hair vs. title match and Molly Holly went insane, but you get my larger point, I hope).

I won’t believe anything until I see it on Raw, but past evidence (and I’m including the recent Beth Phoenix-Tamina pay-per-view match) suggests fans will enjoy a good match regardless of if it’s men or women in the ring. If Sara Del Rey can have a good match with Kharma, or if it’s Paige and Diaz, eventually people will be interested. One of my favorite things about AJ’s current run is how she was never really a high level Diva, so I don’t see her that way. To me she’s just a female character getting involved in a main event storyline. In contrast, Eve getting drawn in to the Cena/Zack Ryder/Kane cluster just reeked of lazy writing.

To me, wrestling boils down to this: I want to know why the wrestlers are there. I want to know why they are fighting each other. I want to be unsure of who will win. And I want the match itself to be compelling, including elements of my first three wants. If women can deliver that — if the writers help and the producers grant them enough time to do good work — then I will be interested.

But am I the exception or the rule?

• • •

David: I don’t think you’re the exception at all. I think a lot of wrestling fans could enjoy a good match between two women, as long as they’re given a reason to, which is where your list of wants comes in. I think those wants are pretty universal, and they apply to every match, regardless of the participants’ genders. Unfortunately, I think over the past 15 years, WWE has made it very difficult to take women seriously as wrestlers, and they’ve distracted fans from focusing on what makes a good match. Even the women who were good in the ring, like Victoria, Trish or Lita, were involved in storylines that took focus from their in-ring ability. The average male WWE fan has been conditioned to see women in their wrestling garb, shout “Puppies!” or some other inane Lawler-ism, and drool. In my opinion, it’s a stumbling block for people who want to see them as athletes.

One thing I’ve noticed, and appreciated, about watching Ms. Del Rey’s matches is that her wrestling gear tends to be far more conservative than most of WWE’s Divas. She removes that stumbling block so fans aren’t distracted from what she wants to get across most: her immense amount of talent and skill. Now, I’m not saying Sara Del Rey or any other female wrestler shouldn’t be able to wear whatever they want. In an ideal world, wrestling fans would focus on a woman’s athletic talent more than her body no matter what she wears. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. In this particular case, we live in the WWE Universe, where we’ve been conditioned to see women as, to borrow a phrase from Tom Holzerman, sexy cattle. Because of that, it might take someone dressed more conservatively to get fans to refocus their attention.

Speaking of the way WWE focuses on women, we had some interesting, if confusing developments in the CM Punk/AJ/Daniel Bryan love triangle story line on this week’s Raw. We saw AJ propose to Punk, and then Daniel propose to AJ… then at the end of the night, she slapped them both, prompting all sorts of speculation about the WWE title match at Money in the Bank. What are your predictions for this weekend’s pay-per-view extravaganza?

• • •

Scott: I will get to my MITB thoughts in a few seconds, but first I want to hit a few other notes. One is something I should have brought up in my last response: the SummerSlam 1994 WWF Women’s Title match between Alundra Blayze and Bull Nakano. This match sticks in my mind because I was there live, but it’s worth discussing regardless. This was during a time (albeit very brief) where the WWF tried to revive its women’s division with complete legitimacy. The women were just wrestlers, they did not interact with men for story purposes and the title was important. This match delivered as simply a great match between great performers. At the time, the crowd was plenty into it based on the theories I laid out earlier.

Getting more contemporary, I’m going to do something rare here and stick up for the WWE writers. You are right that in the last 15 years even the good in-ring female performers have been involved in storylines that took focus from their wrestling ability. And you are right that women’s wrestling attire can be visually distracting. But if we’re being honest, we have to allow that both things are true for male competitors as well. Show me a wrestler that hasn’t been involved in at least one stupid backstage story and I’ll show you a guy who can’t buy TV time. Likewise, show me a heterosexual female wrestling fan who isn’t at least aware of the borderline impossible physiques of your Randy Ortons, John Cenas and Dolph Zigglers.

Obviously the vast majority of WWE fans are male (and presumably the vast majority of the male fans are straight males), but this shoe does go on the other foot to some extent. Before you point it out, I will admit your top-level male stars are not presented as sex objects first and wrestlers second (which often (always?) is the case with the Divas), but suffice it to say WWE has never said, “These men are athletes, not sex symbols, don’t objectify them, ladies.” The WWE will sell whatever it can to whomever will pay, and we can’t ever forget that.

Now you asked me for my MITB predictions. One of my favorite things online of late is K. Sawyer Paul’s approach to predicting PPV shows on International Object. He doesn’t look at who will win the match, but whether or not a story will continue, which to me is much more interesting. And that’s what I’ve had the hardest time figuring out here.

On one hand, I feel the Punk-Bryan-AJ story is pretty hot right now. Not Cena-Punk MITB 2011 hot, but hot enough where my first reaction is to presume Sunday won’t be the final chapter and we’ll see at least two, if not three of these folks still working together on the road to SummerSlam.

However, as we discussed last time, there is the very pesky issue of what to do with the MITB match winner as it relates to SummerSlam. Obviously there has to be a WWE Title match at SummerSlam. It’s a near certainty Punk or Bryan will be in said match. So either they’ll keep working together (my one working theory is Punk loses the match Sunday then gets himself put in the ladder match and wins, setting up the SummerSlam rematch) or one of them will split off and there will be a clean MITB winner and SummerSlam falls into place.

If we look back to last July and August, what with the confusion of two champions and Del Rio lurking with his briefcase, I get the sense WWE is not afraid to tell a jumbled up story the next few weeks. But the way they have built the main MITB match this year is leading us to think whoever wins won’t pull the classic cash-in on a defenseless champion.

The best thing about this show, and about MITB more so even than the Royal Rumble, is that the possibilities and permutations evolve as each match plays out. The Road to SummerSlam is not as storied as the Road to WrestleMania, but MITB in the last few years is doing as good a job building to the year’s second-biggest (so we’re told) show as it is carving its own niche in the calendar.

Looks like I answered your question without really answering it. So the tables are turning back your way. Does Monday’s lead-in to the PPV give us the idea AJ is going to be a fair referee? Will she decide before Sunday who she prefers and help that man win? Or will she somehow be “crazy” and really screw up the match ending? What are we being told — or are we just being set up for a surprise?

• • •

David: Of course you’re right that male WWE Superstars are sex symbols whether they’re painted that way or not. The WWE is in the business of making money, and they’ll do it any way they can. I just can’t help but feel their sexuality isn’t shoved down our throat the same way it is with the women. I can only hope we are, in fact, seeing the early stages of a huge change in that department.

International Object, one of the best sites going for wrestling writing and alternative thought.

When it comes to Money in the Bank, it seems pretty clear that AJ, Punk and Bryan are the stars going into the show, with AJ being the headliner. Unfortunately, with the nature of a special referee, it seems pretty clear she’s going to have a hand in the finish of the match. However, they’ve left the story pretty open ended, and I could see her helping Punk or Bryan, or completely going into business for herself. As you’ve said, this doesn’t feel like the ending of this story. There seems to be at least one more chapter, and it’ll be interesting to see how they get there.

Predicting this show in KSP’s manner is a bit difficult in my opinion, because I’m not really sure what story lines we have going right now. Is John Cena currently feuding with Big Show or Chris Jericho? Is Kane really feuding with anyone? Once he dropped out of the Punk/AJ/Bryan story, his inclusion in Money in the Bank seemed somewhat extraneous. Plus, there’s an x-factor: John Laurinaitis. While we haven’t seen Johnny Ace on television in almost a month, I have some friends who were in attendance at Raw on Monday night, and they told me that during the commercial break after the Cena/Kane vs Jeri-Show tag team match, the former Dynamic Dude came out of the crowd and attacked Cena, only to be sent packing. It didn’t happen on TV, which, in the WWE, usually means it’s not part of the narrative, but could it be a precursor to Money in the Bank? We’ll see.

What do you see happening with Sheamus and Del Rio? Is this the one-off match we think it will be, or is it the start of a longer story for the two of them? Are you still of the opinion Del Rio is going to win the championship?

• • •

Scott: Well, I guess Del Rio might win. I mostly don’t care because Sheamus as champion does nothing for me. I think I would enjoy Del Rio getting a nice long run as a heel champion, but I don’t think they’re going to let anyone go six or seven months with any title because they’re trying to make Punk’s current extended run something of a novelty. And, of course, we have the eight-man Money in the Bank match to ostensibly line up a future champion for that strap.

What’s been lost in the shuffle, to me, at least, is the likelihood that whoever wins that match probably will cash in the contract in the traditional fashion. I’ve been so lock in to thinking the winner of the other MITB match will simply challenge at SummerSlam I’ve forgotten someone (there seems to be a lot of buzz behind Tyson Kidd these days) is going to win another briefcase and perhaps not just ask for a match but linger around and wait for a prime opportunity. Again, this could happen at any time, even as soon as Sunday night.

The escalated brutality of the Sheamus-Del Rio program, with the attack involving the car, makes me think either Sunday’s match will break boundaries, or perhaps they’ll get involved in a SummerSlam match with some sort of no DQ or falls count anywhere stipulation (what a nice tie-in for the new DVD…) and a match of that nature is a natural setup for a briefcase cash-in.

On the surface, I enjoy the unpredictability of Money in the Bank matches. When I dig a bit deeper, even with the eight-man match, I start coming up with reasons why certain competitors have no viable chance. As I’ve said repeatedly, the match order of this show is what really will establish the possibilities for the night’s events. For example, if Sheamus and Del Rio go on first, and Del Rio wins clean, I expect someone like Kidd or Christian to win the briefcase later in the show. If Sheamus wins, I expect Ziggler to get the case. But if the Smackdown MITB match opens, I would not be surprised to see the briefcase winner leave the building with the gold, too.

That said, it’s probably the least likely outcome because if Cena wins the briefcase, he’ll just ask for a title match. If the other winner cashes in Sunday night,  the writers won’t have the crutch of a character showing up with a briefcase week after week until finally making his move. See how easy it is for me to second-guess myself?

Speaking of second-guessing, here’s something I’ve totally overlooked. The entire time we’ve been discussing MITB and how it might relate to SummerSlam, I’ve ignored the fact that outside the Triple H-Lesnar story, the writers are pretty much ignoring SummerSlam altogether. But you know what we can’t get away from? The 1,000th episode of Raw. Of all the predictions I’ve made in recent weeks, I feel most strongly about the one I’ll make next: there will be at least one title change on the July 23 Raw. Now the question is whose title, and to whom will they lose it?

• • •

David: Interesting thought. The upcoming 1,000th episode of Raw is a unique animal. I think you’re right we’re going to have a major development beyond the naming of a permanent General Manger, but I have no idea what to expect.

Raw 1000: More important than SummerSlam? (At least for now…)

In a way, the idea of this show feels almost as momentous as WrestleMania. It certainly feels like they’ve been talking about it as long as they talk about The Road to WrestleMania. It really is a unique achievement in the annals of prime time television, and I could certainly see a title change taking place. It seems especially apt that it follows Money in the Bank. I could certainly see The Show Off, should Ziggler win the briefcase, take advantage of the exposure that comes along with the 1,000th episode of Raw and cash in his briefcase to win the World Heavyweight Championship. It’s a perfect stage for a character like that.

Unfortunately, we do have a pay-per-view between now and that episode of Raw, and we can never really know what’s going to change by the end of Sunday night. Those changes will most likely inform the action that will take place on the July 23 Raw, so I think it’s best if we come back to that topic on a more in-depth level next week.

• • •

Scott: You’re absolutely right. It’s impossible to know what the July 23 Raw will look like until we get past Money In The Bank. Frankly, the way the shows are produced these days, we need to get through MITB and the July 16 Raw and July 20 Smackdown before the 1,000th Raw comes into focus, and even then we might not have a good idea. One of the things I still love (and hate) about Raw is the excitement of live TV and the idea that anything can happen. There are many reasons to be skeptical of Raw going three hours every week, and especially with the latest news offering more details about how they plan to fully integrate social media (I’m guessing fans will vote on at least one match each week, if not more), but the large majority of people who claim to be dreading the expansion will keep tuning in every week because they are hooked on the unpredictability that only live TV can deliver.

I still feel a little silly for not realizing the likelihood of MITB serving as something of a commercial for Raw 1,000. I was still assuming the PPV schedule trumps all and buying into my own preference for smaller PPVs to build to bigger ones. With that all in mind, I’m going to say Del Rio goes over Sheamus Sunday, Sheamus gets his rematch at Raw 1,000 in a stipulation heavy match and the briefcase winner cashes in that night as well. Or maybe a returning Randy Orton butts in. Or maybe both. Either way, I don’t see any of the major stories being fully resolved at MITB. It’s simply not the time of year where the writers tend to neatly conclude major programs.

Any final thoughts? As I’ve hinted, I’ll be traveling Sunday — flying form Chicago to Pacific time, landing around 6 p.m. local and being busy until at least 8 p.m. So unless anyone has a great idea for me to catch a replay of the show, I’ll be logging on to Twitter after dinner and following the action through my timeline. Will you be able to see the show in any capacity?

• • •

David: Sundays are huge family nights in my house, as it’s pretty much the only night everyone is all together in one place, so I very rarely get to see pay-per-views as a live occurrence. Hopefully I’ll be able to watch an official online stream sometime Monday, and likely will be staying away from Twitter until I finish the show. Because it’s one of the most unpredictable shows on the WWE calendar, it’s also one of the most easily damaged by spoilers. I hope that’s the case this year, as meaningful spoilers usually signify something interesting has happened… which, of course, means we’ll have something interesting to talk about next week.

• • •

Thanks for reading — please feel free to contact us via Twitter or the comments section. Your feedback is appreciated!

Novel and interesting

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Scott: Time to get rolling on our third post, and while I do intend to discuss the various ways Money In The Bank could play out, I’m going to hit the ground running with a question from on of our readers on Twitter — @el_spriggs asks, in a conversation about the World Heavyweight Championship, “Who do you think could do something novel and interesting with the belt if given a chance?” Since it stumped me (perhaps because it was close to 1 a.m.), I put the question to you: Who’s your guy and what could he do?

• • •

David: On Sept. 17, 1981, Ric Flair beat Dusty Rhodes for the NWA Heavyweight Championship. From that date until he left WCW in 1991, Ric Flair held that belt for a total of 3,040 days (per Wikipedia). When I was growing up, I watched a lot of NWA programming on the Superstation. I enjoyed hating Ric Flair, and I enjoyed seeing him take a beating. That happened pretty often, but Flair always had a trick up his sleeve. He always found a way to win… and if he couldn’t he found a way to lose so he kept the title.

My initial reaction to the question of who could do something interesting with the belt was Dolph Ziggler. He strikes me as someone who would make a very good Flair-style champion. He’s great to watch getting beat up, and he’s just underhanded enough to be capable of purposely drawing a disqualification just to keep the belt… especially when facing guys who have him at a physical disadvantage. However, he has come along at an inopportune time for real, down and dirty bad guys. Ziggler is a victim of the openness that exists in wrestling, because he’s too likable and too hard a worker for anyone to truly hate him. Before “sports entertainment”, Ziggler would’ve been the type of guy to really get under people’s skin to the point where they didn’t care about how good he was in the ring. In today’s environment people might find him too good to let him get under their skin.

Dolph Ziggler

Great in the ring. Great on the mic. Great with the World Title? We’ll see.

Even so, I stand by that answer — Ziggler is the guy I’d like to see get a solid run with a major championship to see what he could do with it. The only problem is I’m not sure any wrestler can do enough on their own to affect perceptions of the title or the way the title is viewed. As I was thinking about this, I started thinking about how wrestling has changed in my lifetime. The obsolescence of the territory system is frequently blamed for the way stars are developed in wrestling today… and I’m not going to argue that point. I’d like to point out it’s not only wrestlers who aren’t being developed in today’s WWE-centric wrestling landscape.

It’s my opinion that more than the wrestlers themselves, it’s wrestling minds that were lost by the demise of the territories. With the shrinking of territories, the number of people who were actively creating interesting wrestling story lines decreased. As far as I know, this isn’t something you can go to school for, even a wrestling school. So, where do they learn?

While I’m not David Lagana’s biggest fan, I was a fan of the “Formerly Creative” podcast he was producing last year that featured him talking to former members of the WWE Creative Team. It seemed like most of those individuals had no background in wrestling, but had written in other venues. Think about that: the most influential wrestling product on the planet is being created by people who have all been taught by Vince how to write wrestling. That’s a scary thought, and it says a lot about the state of professional wrestling.

Do you think the Mike Quackenbushes and Gabe Sapolskys of the world, guys I think are very creative, can overcome the prejudices that come with the “Indy Wrestling” tag, and maybe start a new lineage of creative thought in pro wrestling?

Could this man change the future of wrestling?

Scott: It’s an interesting question, and I go back and forth on my answer. While the way content is distributed is rapidly evolving, such that fans can closely follow promotions far from home via YouTube, online pay-per-views, DVD sales — not to mention Twitter interactions with fans and even talent — I’ve yet to be convinced anything will happen that can chip away at the notion of WWE as the major leagues.

I don’t mean to denigrate smaller promotions. I enjoy what certain writers, such as Brandon Stroud and Tom Holzerman, who champion the cause of wrestling fandom as a big-picture proposition and frequently remind people the WWE is far from the only game in town. That said, I am in my early 30s, have been following pro wrestling since roughly 1986-87, and I have little to no desire to try to broaden my horizons.

Perhaps that’s a function of my own use of time. Three young sons and a full- and part-time job (plus writing for free) keep me plenty busy. I watch a lot of Raw on fast-forward. If I want to watch any TV, wrestling or otherwise, in real time, I generally have to leave the house. I’d like to thank the Cubs for being in a rebuilding phase this year (and next, probably) because I simply could not make time for baseball if I wanted to. But I digress.

The point is, there is a lot of spectacular stuff happening with smaller promotions and there are fantastic people behind the scenes making it all work. But there’s only one company that can book 30,000-seat basketball arenas week by week. And its production values are beyond compare. Perhaps that stuff shouldn’t matter, but there’s no denying it’s a key factor.

I’ve been thinking about the initial question — who could do something novel and interesting with the belt? — and I think we can apply it to any belt. As we’ve discussed, what each title means is intentionally left undefined. One thing I’d like to see, which I think would pass for novel, is a guy — Ziggler would be perfect — simply vow to defend the title on TV every week and then follow through. A different singles opponent, every week, perhaps even mixing in some of the legends, as has been done with Heath Slater of late, would be interesting. They need not be Ryback- or Brodus Clay-type squash matches, and certainly there would be a need for a variety of finishes to keep things fresh. But after three or four months, with the champ announcing each week the number of days he’s held the gold, or something similar, would add a lot of credence to the title and the champion.

But maybe that’s a horrible idea. It wouldn’t be my first one. Speaking of horrible ideas, I have seen some pushback online to the WWE Title contract Money in the Bank Match, in part because regardless of who wins it will feel like a retread and in part because of fears the four announced participants will not be able to deliver a compelling ladder match. So to bring this discussion back to the present, I’m interested in your thoughts in both MITB contract matches and what might happen during or after the show that could add some new wrinkles to an exciting concept show.

Your next Money in the Bank briefcase winner?

David: I like the concept they’ve got for this year’s obnoxiously named “WWE Championship Contract Money in the Bank Ladder Match.” The past few Money in the Bank events have each featured two great, but similar, MITB matches. There are typically some amazing spots in these matches, but it’s like music: dynamics are what make a song truly special. There have been few dynamics to Money in the Bank over the years. That could go a long way to making this year’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view interesting or special.

The idea of John Cena, Chris Jericho, Kane and Big Show being in a ladder match is fascinating to me, and when I try to think about what this match is going to look like, I’m somewhat mystified. Maybe I shouldn’t be. It could very well be extremely slow, plodding and pedestrian. On the other hand, it could be extremely hard hitting and brutal. That’s the thing that has me intrigued. I’m also having a hard time figuring out who’s going to win that match, which is awesome. I can’t wait to find out who wins, but even more, I can’t wait to see what kind of match these four veterans put together. I think the outcome of this match also holds interest in terms of what happens with the briefcase. Any one of these guys could fail to successfully cash in the briefcase and not have it hurt their careers.

In the other match, I like that Smackdown is giving us an interesting group of wrestlers that will compete in what will probably be an outstanding, if somewhat typical, Money in the Bank ladder match. We all know Ziggler, Cody Rhodes and Christian can go. Santino will most likely be there for a few comedic moments, and I’m sure that will be enjoyable. Damien Sandow and Tyson Kidd are great up-and-coming wrestlers, and I’m glad they’re getting a shot to display their talent on a pretty big stage. The wild card here is Tensai. He’s sort of playing the Kane role from Money in the Bank 2010, and I could see him beating a bunch of smaller wrestlers to claim the briefcase.

I’m not sure where you go from there, but I think a Tensai/Sheamus feud could be interesting. A Tensai/Del Rio feud could also be interesting, but would be difficult with them both being bad guys. There are a few interesting feuds that could be built on Smackdown with this Money in the Bank match. When it comes to Raw, though, I’ve got a very specific way I’d like to see that match turn out.

I am rooting for a John Cena victory at Money in the Bank, but not because I want to see him with the WWE title again. Frankly, I’d love to see John Cena be the first guy to not cash in the briefcase. I want him to be “honorable” instead of opportunistic. I want him to challenge Punk or Bryan to a match at SummerSlam… and fail. No run-ins. No chicanery. Just John Cena coming up short. I think it could be a watershed moment for both WWE and John Cena, and could lead to some interesting stories. This begs the question… could losing in this manner be beneficial to John Cena’s career?

• • •

Scott: Here’s the thing: John Cena lost to The Rock at WrestleMania and it could have been a watershed moment. And though he won his match with Brock Lesnar at Extreme Rules, he effectively lost when you consider the beating he took and the fact he had to resort to a foreign object to emerge victorious. I suppose that was within the rules of the match, but still, the point is clear — Rock beat Cena cleanly and Brock obliterated him… but here he goes, happily plowing through Big Show and getting John Laurinaitis fired as if none of that soul-searching ever happened. They had plenty of chances to deepened Cena’s character and have blushed at every chance.

But is anyone else a logical winner? Jericho and Kane have just finished extended runs with Punk, so I don’t see them returning to that well. Kane also finished a run with Daniel Bryan, so even if the WWE Title changes hands at MITB, I don’t think a Kane-Bryan SummerSlam co-main event is in the cards. Though given what’s going on with AJ, I could see the writers trying to drag this one out.

There were flashes of brilliance in the Bryan-Jericho dynamic last week on Raw, but it just doesn’t seem like a logical direction for a title program. As a nontitle grudge match at SummerSlam, it might well steal the show. I think if Bryan and Cena emerge victorious at MITB, we’d be treated to riotous, split crowds reminiscent of last year’s Punk-Cena program. But the writers seem bent on continuing to elevate AJ’s prominence, and somehow I see that holding Bryan back a bit for now. Obviously I hope I’m wrong.

We could get some surprise entrants in the match, a la The Miz or Rey Mysterio. But if either of them shows up, I presume it would just be for the purposes of taking bumps. Some have speculated The Rock could appear given he is one of the few men eligible, but I don’t think WWE would use him as a PPV surprise — they’d prefer to have him be part of the show build and jack up the buyrate.

One option is to have Del Rio lose to Sheamus earlier in the show and then interject himself in the WWE Title MITB match, since he is eligible. And while I’d appreciate that novelty, I think he’s got a good chance to beat Sheamus at MITB and, even if he doesn’t, they seem committed to using him in the Word Heavyweight Title picture. Conversely, Punk could lose to Bryan and then join the MITB match. These myriad possibilities make the simple act of announcing which match is first on the card an event, thus setting the wheels in motion for the remainder of the show. I’m pretty bummed I’ll be traveling to the West Coast and may not be able to see anything live that night.

All of this discussion brings to mind a larger point. I often see folks on Twitter complain how thin the WWE roster is, and I couldn’t disagree more. Heck, look at the battle royal from this week’s Smackdown. Even without Sheamus, the ring was packed with what passes for A-listers these days. Maybe you can’t build a WrestleMania around those 20 (of course, as we learned this year, you don’t need to), but you can have one heck of a SummerSlam. So in that vein, I pose a question to you: What’s the most common wrestling criticism you come across that you find to be completely unfounded?

• • •

David: I’m a big fan of paying attention to the history of wrestling. I especially enjoy podcasts and websites like Wrestlespective, the Old School Wrestling Podcast or Kentucky Fried Rasslin’ that remember and analyze the events of the past. There also are people out there who would prefer to complain about it. This is especially true when talking about the dismantling of the territory system. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that in the 1980s, Vince McMahon ruined the “good ol’ days” and wrestling was forever changed… for the worse.

I don’t see it as a matter of better or worse. I simply see it as a change that was probably inevitable. If Vince hadn’t specifically tried to create a national promotion, it would’ve happened eventually anyway. With the advent and explosion of cable television, there was going to be a shift in the business of professional wrestling. Most likely, the talent would’ve gravitated toward whichever promotions/territories had television programs with the farthest reach. Those promotions would have become national powers, and the rest probably would’ve closed. Those people who prefer the territory system can blame Vince if they want to, but in my opinion, cable television was the impetus behind this shift. If those people would prefer that cable was never invented, more power to them, but I can’t help but disagree.

• • •

Scott: People who tend to complain about such things tend to forget wrestling evolved the same time as other sports were extending their reach nationally. If you look specifically at the evolution of college football and college basketball in the 1980s and 1990s — concurrent with the rapid popularity spike of ESPN and its multiple platforms — you can see a lot of parallels to pro wrestling. I grew up in the Chicago area without cable in the 1980s and 1990s. Practically all the college football we watched was Big Ten teams and Notre Dame. In 2012, with my Dish Network package, it’s almost unheard of for me to not have access to a marquee game or extensive coverage of most Heisman Trophy favorites. I could go on, but I think I’ve offered enough evidence to support your point — wrestling was going to go national, and Vince McMahon was not alone in that pursuit. He was just the best in the business.

What is worth lamenting to some extent is how the death of the territories robbed the WWF and WCW of the ability to pluck hot talents and turn them into national superstars. We saw in the late 1990s how the WCW Power Plant turned out dozens of wrestlers indistinguishable from each other and utterly devoid of charisma, and I understand there’s a legitimate fear the current WWE developmental model is going down the same road. But I don’t pretend to know nearly enough about how that side of the business works; I’m far more concerned with what I see on Sunday and Monday nights.

This article will be posted Monday a few hours before Raw — the “go home” show leading into Money In The Bank. As we wrap up our discussion, I’m curious in your thoughts about what could or should be done on this last week of TV heading into the pay-per-view. The purpose of these shows in general warrants a larger discussion, so I’m looking for specifics as it relates to the build for this show in particular. Whaddya got?

The Pepsi Center in downtown Denver. What will this building provide as a prelude to Money in the Bank?

David: Raw is in my own backyard, so to speak, at the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver. A few friends of mine are going, and I’m hoping some interesting things will happen tonight, if only for their sake. Maybe we’ll find out tonight if there is going to be an additional entrant in the WWE Title MITB match. As you already mentioned, it could be a returning Miz or Rey Mysterio, or they could put a Legend in there… maybe a five-time, five-time, five-time champion. It’s unlikely, but I think having Booker T in a Money in the Bank match would be very interesting.

I’m pretty sure we’re going to get AJ doing something crazy tonight, but I’m not sure how they’re going to follow up on having her tease putting herself through a table, only to kiss Punk and put both he and Bryan through a table instead. Hopefully we’ll get some kind of idea of who she’s going to favor as the special guest referee on Sunday. Although, if they do tip their hand in one direction or the other, I’ll probably take it as meaning the opposite. That seems to be standard swerve WWE would throw in. This also could affect your earlier point about where Daniel Bryan is headed after this storyline with AJ. There is a possibility that if Bryan wins the WWE title, and AJ is directly involved, he could move out of this storyline, as her story would pretty much be only with Punk at that point. That would open up possibilities for a Jericho/Bryan feud or a Cena/Bryan feud.

Frankly, I’d also like to see a couple more mid-card matches added to the pay-per-view, as there are only four matches currently. I assume we’ll get a Divas match, but I’d also like to see a tag team match of some kind added for Sunday. Maybe a multi-team match with Truth and Kofi, the Prime Time Players and Primo and Epico. I’m still holding out hope that at some point, tag team wrestling will make a comeback in the WWE, and maybe these three teams can help make that happen with a good tag team match on a fairly big pay per view.

What am I thinking? That’ll never happen.

• • •

Scott: You know what would be great fun? A tag-team ladder match on Raw (or Smackdown, I guess) with the winning team getting a title shot Sunday. I can’t think of a better way to build excitement for the show — at least the parts of the show that aren’t the main event. And frankly, those angles are already pretty well established. Although I would say it might be nice to get the participants in the (effectively) Smackdown MITB match onto both shows this week for some extra buzz.

I think we’ve covered everything we can until the paradigm shifts again tonight on Raw. I know there’s a lot of Internet buzz today about Austin Aries winning the big prize in TNA Sunday night, but I am the last person who should be weighing in on such a development. We’ll plan to be back next Monday — or maybe even late Friday — with a whole new discussion.

• • •

Thanks for reading — please feel free to contact us via Twitter or the comments section. Your feedback is appreciated!

Royal Rumble 1989

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Heads up: Scott appears on the latest edition of the Wrestlespective podcast. He and Jason Mann discuss the 1989 Royal Rumble.

Check it out at Wrestlespective.com.

Guest spots and the meanings of titles

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One of our favorite podcasts.


Scott: All right, now it’s time to get the ball rolling on our second post. I asked you to watch King of the Ring 1996 because I’m a guest on a recent episode of What A Maneuverwhere we discussed that show. Also we are finally getting some movement on Raw and Smackdown leading into the Money in the Bank show, which is just a few weeks away. Which of those is more at top of mind for you — a sneaky-good mid-90s WWF pay-per-view or one of the last two-hour Raw episodes ever?

• • •

David: King of the Ring, definitely. I’m writing this on Tuesday, so while last night’s Raw is fresh in my mind, it really didn’t do much for me, including the announcement of the competitors in the Money in the Bank match relating to the WWE Title. Kane, Cena, Jericho and Big Show in a ladder match does not excite me in the least. So, while we do have movement toward the next Money in the Bank, I’m not sure it was movement forward.

However, forward movement was a big part of that King of the Ring 1996 pay-per-view. As history shows, they made a big star that night. What’s interesting is they did it in a completely atypical way. Atypical for the mid-90s WWF, anyway. When I think of the WWF from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, it was a place where the good guys won the big prizes. They had their setbacks along the way, but when push came to shove the virtuous were the ones who came out on top.

The confusing poster for WWF King of the Ring 1996

The story being told in the King of the Ring tournament seems to be heading that way for the most part. Jake “The Snake” Roberts is the hero who has overcome his personal demons, and is trying to make good with what might be his last chance. Standing in his way first is the Mastodon, Big Van Vader, who is defeated, but damages our hero’s chances. In a fairy tale or even in mythology, the hero would, of course, overcome the setback that is Jake’s rib injury. The way the final match with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin unfolds, you could be forgiven for thinking the storytelling was a bit “paint by numbers.” Of course, Austin spends most of the match in control, even prompting President Gorilla Monsoon to come to the ring to give Jake a chance to quit. But as any hero would, Roberts forges ahead, even taking control for a brief period. Somewhat surprisingly, Jake doesn’t keep control for very long, and ends up succumbing to the Stone Cold Stunner, which leads to the famous “Austin 3:16” promo Austin delivers.

When people think about King of the Ring 1996, two things generally come to mind: the persistent rumor Triple H was supposed to win until the “Curtain Call”, and the Austin 3:16 promo. If you asked the average wrestling fan who the main character of the King of the Ring tournament was, most would probably say it was Austin. But I submit it was Roberts who was the main character, and that the story was far more about his failure to overcome than it was about Austin becoming King of the Ring.

What do you think? If Jake was a literary-style hero, do you think his King of the Ring defeat was supposed to serve merely as a setback, with another opportunity for redemption coming later?

• • •

Scott: You’re very right — the story of the night, at least in terms of the tournament itself, is very much the idea of a Jake Roberts redemption and his (somewhat, in retrospect) surprising failure to do so. As you pointed out, WWF fans of the era would have been conditioned to expect a conquering hero. Instead they get a broken man coming up short in his last grasp for glory.

To be perfectly honest, I’d forgotten Roberts got to hang around for the rest of 1996 and into early 1997. He was on the same Survivor Series team as Rocky Maivia and got tossed from the ‘97 Royal Rumble by Austin. And while there were countless good reasons to not elevate him past his spot, it is somewhat odd to consider he failed to win the tournament despite the buildup. That said, in playing to your point about WWF/E being a place “where the good guys won the big prizes,” it’s notable that Austin’s coronation was not the end of the show — that spot was reserved for a really great Shawn Michaels-Davey Boy Smith WWF Title Match.

Conversely, at the 1993 King of the Ring, good guy Hulk Hogan lost the WWF Title to Yokozuna in the middle of the show so it could end with good guy Bret Hart winning the crown. The same happened at Survivor Series 1991, when Hogan lost his title to the Undertaker yet the show ended with the Legion of Doom raising their hands in victory. The vast majority of the major WWF/E pay-per-views going back to 1985 end with heroic triumph. I’m not a great historian of the 2000s, and I’m sure there’s examples in that decade of the converse proving true, but not so many as to signal a shift in storytelling theory, at least not one with any staying power.

In many ways this isn’t terribly surprising. After all, boiling the major plot down to “good guy overcomes odds” is probably true for the large bulk of American television and movies, too. People love happy endings. They might like to be challenged on the way there, or to be convinced the desired outcome is impossible, but in general, they want to go home smiling.

This idea of the hero warding off great challenges, of course, is in stark contrast to the NWA approach of Ric Flair essentially controlling the belt for ages. Sure, he lost the belt every now and again. But you can’t escape the difference in the way the promotions approached their top stars. I understand TNA is a very different place than WWE in this regard as well, though I’m not informed enough to make any educated statements.

Changing course completely — unless you have more to add — we’re starting to learn more about who will be in the secondary Money in the Bank match. The notion of the brand split is slowly dissolving for a variety of reasons, and the way WWE is approaching the two MITB matches to me says a lot about the way it views the two titles. Long positioned as effectively the Raw and Smackdown championships, and for a good run completely equal in terms of importance (as titles would switch shows on and off), now it seems we’re finally getting an acknowledgement, albeit unspoken, of the lower-tier presentation of the World Heavyweight Championship. Is this a good thing?

• • •

David: I’m writing this on Thursday, having read the spoilers for this week’s Smackdown, and I think I’m starting to understand (as much as I can) the way the WWE looks at its two shows. Raw is a big name show (did you know it’s been on for almost 1000 episodes?) for big name wrestlers. That’s why the Raw Money in the Bank match will only feature former WWE champions who will be fighting for the chance to recapture a title they used to hold. Over on Smackdown, though, they’re having qualifying matches to see who will be in their Money in the Bank match. Of the five men who have qualified so far, only one of them has held a world title. It strikes me that Smackdown is becoming a show for “up and coming” wrestlers and lower-tier established talent. If they stick with this approach, and use Smackdown to give solid air time to the Damien Sandows, Antonio Cesaros, Zack Ryders and Tyson Kidds of the world, I would be all for it.

Changes are afoot for what is quickly becoming one of the best WWE events of the year.

How does that relate to your question? Well, if the World Heavyweight Championship is the title of the up-and-comers in the WWE, then it certainly makes sense for it to be seen as a lesser title than the WWE Championship. As much as I like him, Sheamus is not CM Punk, John Cena, Chris Jericho or the Big Show. In terms of stardom, he’s a tier or two below them, and his title reflects that. The discrepancy between the two titles gives the World Heavyweight Champion something more to aspire to, even if it’s not until he’s lost the title and sees he can go after bigger things.

Daniel Bryan is a great example of this in action. After losing the World title at WrestleMania, Bryan had one more pay-per-view match against Sheamus, the fantastic two-out-of-three falls match at Extreme Rules. The next night, he was entered in the “Beat the Clock Challenge” to find a No. 1 contender to CM Punk’s WWE Championship. Ever since then, he has been firmly ensconced in the chase for that title. It’s almost as if he decided that the World Heavyweight Championship was no longer worth his time, and he wanted to chase the top prize. It seems like he has quickly made the leap to a tier above Sheamus.

But, if the World Heavyweight Championship is the secondary title in WWE, what does it mean for the US Championship and the Intercontinental Championship? In the 80s, the IC title was the secondary title, and looked at by some as the title held by the better wrestlers. At times it acted as a gateway to the main event in a way. When Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart were transitioning out of tag team wrestling, they each won the Intercontinental Title on their way to being multiple-time WWF Champions. The US title served a similar purpose in the NWA/WCW. But, if the World Heavyweight Championship is that same sort of gateway title, where does that leave the Intercontinental Championship and the US Championship? Who is chasing those titles, and why? On the latest International Object podcast, K Sawyer Paul and Richard Thomas discussed the idea the WWE has never fully defined what their titles mean for a reason. They want the audience to decide what the titles mean for themselves. If that’s the case, then the WWE is currently failing to help me understand what these titles mean.

I pose the question to you, Scott: what do the WWE’s assortment of singles titles mean to you?

• • •

Scott: First off, since you brought up the International Podcast, I want to give a hat tip to Rich Thomas and his idea for reinventing MITB. He wants to see a contract for every WWE title at stake on the show, yet only one contract would be available via the classic MITB ladder match. He also suggests the current champs be on commentary as their challenger ascends. I think that’s an amazing idea that would make for an incredibly solid build to SummerSlam (or Night of Champions, if MITB got moved to September). But we’re not here to fantasy book the WWE PPV schedule. At least not yet…

I don’t have a great way to answer your question. KSP is right — the titles are open-ended on purpose. It allows them to mean different things depending on who has them. Even recently, when Punk and Bryan held the top two belts they had meaningful champion vs. champion matches on Raw and Smackdown. But if we’re a month away from Tyson Kidd wearing the big gold belt, well, as much as I respect Tyson Kidd, that’s not going to have the same gravitas.

Going back a few years, there have been times where the promotion’s top star had the World Heavyweight Championship instead of the WWE belt. To me, it was more of a function of who they wanted on Raw at a given time. The only thing WWE will do is continue to present both — so long as they both exist — as “world titles” in order to preserve their historical continuity of who had the most reigns.

One thing possibly getting lost in the shuffle here is what’s being lost from MITB, that being the notion you could win the briefcase — Raw or Smackdown — and challenge for any belt. It was never implicit (in my recollection) that a Smackdown winner could only vie for titles linked to the Smackdown brand. I always envisioned a scenario where both briefcase winners raced out to try to cash in simultaneously — that would have been a fun spot.

If you take a traditional view of where each belt ranks, it’s something of a crime Sheamus has a more prestigious title than Christian. And belt or no belt, Cena is the company’s top star by an order of magnitude. Until Monday, at least, he (and now Triple H and presumably Brock Lesnar) exist in an orbit outside the title picture, which I have enjoyed. It allows me to be interested in his story while also getting to see my other favorite guys involved in one of the main ongoing narratives.

A classic feud: Rick Rude and Jake Roberts.

To try to give you a direct answer, the titles to me are used to give wrestlers something to fight over because the writers don’t have a great idea of what else to have guys fight over. In the days of our youth, a good hot personality feud (say Rick Rude and Jake Roberts) could be a great TV, PPV and house show draw with no sniff of gold. It just doesn’t work like that now for a variety of reasons. No one expects to see titles change hand at a house show, I guess, but perhaps they idea they’ll be defended adds some heft to the proceedings?

To me, the best title matches are those in which it’s clearly demonstrated what the belt means to each combatant. And even if for one of them it’s not so much having the gold as it is taking it away from a rival, that still means something. I think WWE especially struggles to tell ongoing stories without a title as a prop. Do you agree?

• • •

David: It’s not that they don’t try to tell stories that don’t revolve around a title. Every Cena storyline for the past eight months has had nothing to do with the title. Punk/Jericho wasn’t really about the title as much as it was about what the title represented: the right to call yourself the “best in the world.” Even Big Show’s current story isn’t really about the title. It’s about the lack of respect he’s felt over a long period of time. The big problem is that the writing team doesn’t seem capable of telling these stories very well.

Lately, the WWE has reminded me of a fourth-grader who’s given an assignment to write a story. He comes up with a concept for the story, but when he starts telling the story, he struggles to come up with plot points. He forces some action into the narrative, and then has to come up with some kind of conclusion. He forces a conclusion, and, voila! He has a story.

Actually, I can’t even just put this solely on the WWE. The recent TNA angle with AJ Styles, Kazarian, Christopher Daniels and Dixie Carter is a great example. The creative team came up with this idea that Kaz and Daniels could start hinting that AJ and Dixie are having an affair. That’s an interesting idea, but the execution has been shoddy… at best. I was on Twitter during the June 21 episode of Impact where it was revealed they weren’t having an affair, but were helping a young mother-to-be who is a recovering addict. The reactions ranged from confused to outraged, but I didn’t see a single positive reaction to the way this story was unfolding.

It’s so frustrating to see a story start with promise, only to devolve into a muddled mess. It not only frustrates the audience, but can really cause a performer to regress in the eyes of the crowd. With a good story, everyone wins. The performer looks great, the writing team looks great and the fans have an enjoyable product to watch. With a poorly told story, everyone loses.

• • •

Scott: I feel like Cena is the exception to the rule. As I stated, he and a select few others (mostly the part-time megastars) exist in their own universe. The knock WWE takes for an inability to develop new stars, while largely unfair, I think has much more to do with an inability to give fans reasons to get invested in performers beyond the initial attraction. Many characters lack any semblance of depth. I mean, I’ve been back following Raw consistently since 2007, and I have no idea what makes Kofi Kingston tick. He’s far from the only one.

But that’s a common topic many folks have run into the ground. I often agree, but I don’t want to rehash. What I would like to do is try to give WWE a bit of slack in this regard, because I think most critics fail to at least acknowledge some of the particular difficulties of trying to tell stories in this crazy world. For starters, should the stories exist to get people to tune in every Monday and Friday? Or should they get people to buy arena tickets? Or are the TV shows and the arena business all about building pay-per-view buys?

WWE obviously is theater presented through the spectrum of a sporting event, and we’re all OK with that. The storytelling might be vastly improved if the shows were taped in advance like the top-rated cable dramas that get all the real buzz online. But again, it’s a fake sport, and no one wants to watch the NFC title game on tape delay, they want the thrill of sharing the live experience. Likewise, the “Mad Men” creative team probably doesn’t worry too much about Jon Hamm blowing out an elbow while acting in a crucial scene.

To me, those are just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, performing in front a live audience is challenging enough. But the “Saturday Night Live” folks are in the same studio for every episode, and the crowds generally have the same demeanor. A pro wrestling crowd in one city for Raw can be entirely different from the crowd for the next night’s Smackdown. Again, I’m not breaking new ground here, but it should be taken into consideration when we levy criticisms.

I think we’re getting to the point where we can wrap up for this week, but I want to plant some seeds for next week. With Money In The Bank approaching, as well as the changes in approach we’ve discussed earlier, there’s a lot of online discussion about this year’s show and people projecting outcomes and what plots might develop going forward. Next week I want to put on the fantasy booker hats and go WCW/nWo Hog Wild thinking about all the options WWE creative might be able to pursue. And also discuss ways the way WWE shows might be produced differently in an effort to freshen the experience.

• • •

Thanks for reading — please feel free to contact us via Twitter or the comments section. Your feedback is appreciated!

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