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.
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?
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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?
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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?
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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?
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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.
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?
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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?
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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.
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.
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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?
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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.
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