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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Changes coming — or more of the same?

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Scott: Breaking news, my good man. John Cena just had surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow and will be recovering for four to six weeks. When is the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, you ask? Five and a half weeks. So how will this be handled — a brand new story for CM Punk, or will they try to buy time and still get Cena involved in the next big main event?

• • •

David: I just saw the same story, and I’m not sure what it means. The first thing I wondered is, “Why now?” It didn’t appear anything out of the ordinary happened on Raw Sept. 17 to cause injury to his elbow. However, if they were using “John Cena’s having surgery” for storyline purposes only, why not make it his ankle, since he stated on Twitter and during Raw that he messed it up during the Night of the Champions match against CM Punk?

As for where Punk goes from here, I’m not sure. I feel like the ending of NoC and following Raw’s main event gave us clues they’re going to tell a story revolving around referees and CM Punk’s relationship with them. Maybe they don’t need Cena for that story, and they can use it as a distraction if he’s not going to be around.

• • •

Scott: After the first report of six weeks, there was a window when everyone was saying Cena would only be on the shelf for two to three weeks, leaving him plenty of time to get ready for Hell in a Cell. Then we went back to the original window. But no matter the duration, logically he has to be the challenger — the only other people in the WWE Title picture for several months since WrestleMania have been Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan and The Big Show, the former two being otherwise occupied and the latter being off the grid since SummerSlam until this week’s Raw. Unless someone like Mark Henry is ready to come back, I think all bets are on Cena.

The bigger issue is WWE’s seeming inability to tell the story they want to tell with Punk. Some of the issue is a long-term challenge of fans cheering guys the writers would like to see booed. But it also stems from WWE’s established history of being a place where good guys reign. If Punk were a Yokozuna-grade monster, they could just feed him heroes every week. But even in his matches against Cena he’s the plucky underdog, and a certain part of the audience will always gravitate in that direction.

• • •

David: I think the writers realize that, and I think that’s why Paul Heyman has entered the CM Punk picture. I’m not the first person to note this, but it seemed very clear to me that during the Triple H/Brock Lesnar rivalry this summer, Heyman was, so to speak, the straw that stirred the drink. Lesnar is not somebody I want to hear talk, and the WWE, with Heyman’s help, did a great job of making sure we didn’t have to hear him.

Now, does Punk need a “voice of the voice of the voiceless”? Of course not. CM Punk doesn’t need a mouthpiece, as he’s brilliant at speaking for himself. However, with the original pipe bomb in Las Vegas last year, Punk changed the way the crowd thought of him. While some people may complain about Punk’s character and its lack of development over the last year, we still think of him differently than we did when he was running the Straight Edge Society or the New Nexus. I’m trying to imagine the CM Punk of the past year doing what he did during the 2010 Royal Rumble, when he stood alone in the middle of the ring, proclaiming that being straight edge made him better than everyone else. It gained him a lot of heat then, but it doesn’t ring true with this version of CM Punk. It’s a gimmick he doesn’t need. He certainly could do it, and I’m sure he would get some boos out of it, but he might get an awful lot of indifference, which is the worst possible outcome for a wrestler.

So, instead of returning to the Straight Edge Superstar persona, and engendering that indifference from the crowd, he has joined Heyman and flipped the script, in a manner of speaking. In letting Heyman speak for him, Punk has decided to show his indifference for the WWE Universe. The brilliance of this move is it allows actions to speak, as they usually do, louder than words. When he jumped off the apron during his impromptu tag team match with Dolph Ziggler, Randy Orton and Jerry Lawler and started talking to Heyman about Montreal’s lack of fine dining, I thought it was a brilliant move. Give the crowd the opposite of what they want, and, even in this day of “smart” fans, you’ll get boos.

Look at Daniel Bryan. The crowd was strongly behind him earlier this year, and made the “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chant a huge part of the show. In order to get boos, he started literally shouting the opposite. If the crowd chants “Yes!”, he screams “No!” So, if the crowd likes to watch Punk wrestle, the best thing he can do in this role is to not wrestle. It’s a great tactic, and makes it that much better when he does invest himself in a match like he did at Night of Champions.

Speaking of Daniel Bryan, are you enjoying the pairing of our new WWE Tag Team Champions: Team Friendship Hell No?

• • •

Scott: I’m excited for anyone to be so thrilled about being a champion. If we’re going to have titles, the wrestlers who hold them need to be proud of being on top. Kane and Bryan, Antonio Cesaro and Punk all routinely remind the wrestling world how important it is for them to be champions. Miz tries this to some extent. Of the current champions, Sheamus probably is the least successful in this regard, though that’s nowhere near the top of the list of things I don’t like about Sheamus.

I don’t watch any TNA — can you tell me how the wrestlers treat the titles on Thursday night?

• • •

David: K. Sawyer Paul from the International Object podcast has written and spoken quite a bit about the fact TNA seems to be written as a sort of noir version of a wrestling show. The TNA Heavyweight Championship is a pretty big part of that. The interesting thing about that title is it doesn’t seem to be an end. For the last couple of years, each TNA champion has talked about the “power” that comes with being champion, which seems to be why most people seek it.

What’s interesting is the way that “power” manifests itself. In Austin Aries’ case, it seems like he’s become sort of an assistant to General Manager Hulk Hogan. A couple weeks after Aries defeated Bobby Roode at Destination X to become the new champion, I turned on Impact to find him having a meeting in the back with several X Division wrestlers to discuss who was going to get a match with new X Division champion Zema Ion. So, apparently, if you win the title, you get to take a lot of meetings. Not exactly something I’d be clamoring for, but if that’s what you’re looking for, I guess it’s a good reason to want the title.

It does seem to be something people want, though, which is good.

• • •

Scott: Obviously CM Punk has been trying to make the WWE Title, at least since Raw 1000, something that bestows respect upon its holder. He’s even gone so far as to publicly state the World Heavyweight Championship is not on the same level as his own title, though history would show the “top” title in the company can vary depending on who has which belt and what show they’re on most often.

When Punk eventually loses the belt, it will be interesting to see if (and how) he still demands respect on the same level. Miz is still barking about beating Cena at WrestleMania 18 months ago — though to be fair, it was somewhat remarkable at the time.

Your description of the top TNA title is interesting as well. To me the most important thing is for guys to have a reason to want the gold. If winning (title matches or otherwise) is meaningful to the competitors, and the importance is conveyed well as part of the storytelling, it’s that much easier for fans to get invested. After all, we never really did get an explanation of why all these guys are traveling around the country punching each other in their underwear.

• • •

David: Well, why do baseball players travel around the country to hit a ball with a stick while wearing really tight pants?

During my freshman year at the hallowed grounds of Coe College, I took a beginning acting class, as it was required by my major at the time. One of the things we studied within our studies of Stanislavsky’s “Method” was the fact that in every play, each character has a “super-objective.” This is, essentially, each character’s goal, why they do what they do and say what they say. In baseball, one could say that the “play” is equivalent to a full season, and each player’s super-objective for the season is “to win the World Series.”

Wrestling is never ending. There are no seasons. There is no conclusion. I think this causes problems with story-telling, because it’s hard to tell what the super-objective is for wrestlers. Is the super-objective to make enough money to retire? Is it to marry the boss’s daughter and become an executive in “this business*”? Even more difficult is to try to tell what the super-objective is within the wrestling narrative. How do you write for these characters, if you don’t really know what these characters want in the long run?

*Of course, that super-objective only really works once.

• • •

Scott: You ever wonder what would have happened if maybe Trish Stratus wound up married to Shane McMahon? Maybe that’s a diversion for another day.

I was really interested in the Mick Foley segment on the Sept. 24 Raw. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he had to say about Punk and Heyman, and it fed my suspicion that maybe this is all a big Heyman ruse paving the way for him to bring back Lesnar to destroy Punk. I thought I saw a few seconds of doubt creep into Punk’s face, until order was restored and he decided to keep drinking the Heyman Kool-Aid.

However, I also think Foley’s comments about his own career were incredibly telling. He revealed his super-objective: creating memorable moments. We could spend hours going over Foley’s career, what it meant at the time and how it shaped the business. But these remarks didn’t sit all that well with me in that they completely shattered, more than usual, the conceit of the entire enterprise. If we’re going to pretend this is a fake sport, then let’s have everyone involved be concerned about winning. If we’re going to acknowledge it’s theater, then let’s not have the actors discussing their personal career goals in the middle of a scene.

In the end, as much as I did enjoy a large part of the Foley-Punk interaction, I’m not sure it hit all the right notes. I also don’t think the “bad guy” stuff we saw Punk carry out Monday is up to the level of his abilities, which is more of a writing issue as well as the effect of some of the points we discussed earlier. (Note: I highly recommend this piece by Chris Sims breaking down the issues WWE Creative has with using Punk and Sheamus.)

This is a weird time for the WWE right now. It’s not quite clear if the next mega-stars are on the roster, yet there’s a lot of talented guys putting in great matches. It reminds me a lot of 20 years ago in the wake of SummerSlam 1992. Hogan had been gone for a few months, Ultimate Warrior suddenly left the company (big shocker), Savage dropped the belt to Flair in a nothing match and Flair lost it to Bret Hart at a house show in Saskatoon. The Survivor Series 1992 card bore so little resemblance to the SummerSlam show of just a few months prior, and everything would be upside down again come WrestleMania. Are we headed for another winter of mass chaos?

• • •

David: Well, I can think of three SummerSlam 2012 competitors who are unlikely to be at Survivor Series: Brock Lesnar, HHH and Chris Jericho. Does that mean we’re in for a complete shakeup in the roster between now and then? I’m not so sure of that, but I do think when we get to WrestleMania XXIX the card will be quite different from XXVIII.

I think talent like Antonio Cesaro, Damien Sandow and Brodus Clay, who weren’t featured as wrestlers at this year’s WrestleMania, will be featured next year. I think there’s also a possibility that we could see some NXT talent brought up between now and April, which could add some wrinkles to the roster.

I don’t , however, see the top of the card changing. It seems likely that the main event stars like Cena, Punk, Del Rio and Sheamus will still be in those same relative positions in March and April.

• • •

Scott: I wouldn’t rule out Lesnar at Survivor Series just yet. We’re still more than seven weeks away from that show, and an awful lot can happen between now and then. I was hoping we’d have seen some advance references to that show, as we did with SummerSlam and even the Royal Rumble already, to help cement its position as one of the biggest shows of the year. Maybe there’s still hope.

I do think we’re in for some changes. Putting so much stock into the tag division these days — and for the purposes of chasing the titles, not just joining guys in order to break them up later — is really freshening up both the roster and the weekly TV, while having the added benefit of elevating the guys left in the singles realm. For example, they could have thrown Ziggler and Orton into a team a la Rhodes and Sandow, but it’s important to keep a class of performers outside that fray for the time being.

I think we’ve put a good cap on this discussion, but I’m excited to see what the next few weeks offer. I’m sure I’ll be unable to avoid Survivor Series nostalgia, and there might be some fun things to debate in the world of The Ryback. Until next time…

• • •

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

Night of, wait, who are the champions?

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Scott: WWE’s Night of Champions is on the horizon, and that makes me think it’s time for a discussion about the various titles to be contested on the show. It’s not too hard to find folks clamoring for a unification between the WWE Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship, or those who want the U.S. Title dropped altogether. Where do you stand on the current WWE title picture? Too many titles, too few? Defended too often or not enough?

• • •

David: In professional wrestling, what exactly do titles mean? We’ve discussed this before, as have various other wrestling blogs, podcasts and websites. There has, historically, been a need for multiple titles in any wrestling organization. Sometimes they represent tiers of achievement the promotion wants their fans to recognize. Sometimes they differentiate weight classes or styles of wrestling. When the brand extension came into play, it seemed logical that Raw and Smackdown each have its own titles, both a “World” championship and a lower-tier championship. As the importance of the brand extension has decreased, has the WWE’s need for two of each type of championship gone away?

I guess that depends on how you feel about the WWE’s roster, and how they could best use the television time they have. They’ve got a solid roster, with some depth, which on its surface seems to favor two sets of titles. However, there’s one title that is very rarely defended, and has very few solid challengers: the tag team titles. Unfortunately for fans of tag team wrestling, Vince McMahon seems to see tag team wrestling as an old-fashioned, outdated proposition. If someone were to take charge who enjoyed tag team wrestling as an art form (how does Triple H feel about tag teams?) and condensed the title picture down to a “big” title and a “mid-card” title, could we see a healthy tag team division form from the roster that remains?

• • •

Scott: I feel like this is one of those questions that goes beyond what we see on TV. It’s easy for me to think of, say Royal Rumble 1992, which featured three tag-team matches on a four-match undercard — that wasn’t even all the teams on the roster — and bemoan the state of today’s tag team scene. (It’s also pretty easy to argue the NWA/WCW had a far stronger tag team heritage than the WWF, which may be a topic for another day.) But so much is different about the way the WWF product goes together today than 20 years ago there may be plenty of solid business reasons to de-emphasize the tag division.

Likewise, as much as the brand split has devolved on television, it’s still an important part of the touring schedule. When we started this chat, many WWE stars were touring in Australia while stars like Dolph Ziggler and Natalya Neidhart were tweeting pre-show photos from Des Moines. You can bet the home office wouldn’t be running dual tours if the company was bleeding red ink.

All that said, I don’t think it would be all that difficult to restore the tag division. As I’ve noted before, all it would take to regenerate interest in any given title is to carve out a space on Raw (say the first match after the initial 20-minute speechifying) each week for the titles to be defended. They could even let fans vote on the challenger each episode.

The easiest way to encourage fans to care about a given title is to make the person who holds it proud to be the champion. If a fan favorite exhibits such behavior, the crowd will cheer when he retains. If a hated performer crows about his dominance, the crowd will anticipate his comeuppance. After week upon week of a tag champion wrestling in a singles match, or the Intercontinental champion losing a non-title contest, it’s no wonder the title changes generate little buzz. I’m not suggesting every title needs to be defended on every show. But take a look at the Sheamus-Alberto Del Rio feud and tell me, couldn’t they have just as much heat — or lack thereof — without the World Heavyweight Championship being involved?

• • •

David: Absolutely. Their feud has not been about the title at all, but about doing vile things to each other. Just like the Antonio Cesaro/Santino Marella feud wasn’t really been about the US Championship either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely happy about Cesaro’s reign, but if he’s really only being used to put over the importance of Santino’s green sock, then how important is it, really? I’m looking forward to Cesaro moving on to feuds with wrestlers who aren’t saddled with gimmicks the way Santino is. I will say this for Cesaro, though… so far in his reign as US Champion, he has fulfilled your goal of being proud of the title. I don’t think a day goes by when he doesn’t tweet about being United States’ favorite son. It’s so awesome, and as much as I like him, it’s going to feel pretty sweet when someone beats him for the title. Hopefully, that won’t be very soon.

Moving to the Intercontinental Title, why does it seem as if there are few contenders for the Miz’s belt? We haven’t seen Christian since he lost the rematch on the Smackdown after Raw 1000. Since then, I can only remember the Miz defending the title once, at SummerSlam against Rey Mysterio. There are a lot of interesting stories that they could tell with a loudmouth like The Miz holding the belt. He’s one of those guys I could see everyone on the roster disliking, and wanting a shot at, but I don’t really see them building anything for him. Am I missing or forgetting something?

• • •

Scott: No, you’re not missing anything. Christian absolutely disappeared. We’re days away from Night of Champions, and there’s was hardly any building to championship matches, especially in terms of anything original. While the Cena-Punk story feels fresh compared to Sheamus-Del Rio, it’s not like these guys aren’t used to each other by now. I bristle when I read comments indicating the WWE roster is shallow, because I think there’s a lot of upper midcard talent, by which I mean I could quickly list 10 guys who could challenge Miz at the next big show without folks batting an eye (which perhaps is why he’s in a four-way encounter). I just don’t think there’s a lot of thought going into how to best use the available talent, or maybe the problem is there’s too many guys who are too similar to each other.

I hate to totally shift gears, but here’s a thought I had recently while listening to an old Jason Mann Wrestlespective podcast with his guest Black Cat of the Old School Wrestling Podcast. One of the thrills of the Monday Night Wars was the element of surprise. You watched four or five hours of live (or somewhat live) wrestling on one night with the idea that anything could happen. The unpredictability — and the fact that the surprises usually paid off with great TV — fueled the era as much as the attitude.

I get the sense the WWE producers still think surprises sell. And to a large degree, they’re right. But the kind of surprise is important. Why are we left in the dark so often about the matches for each week’s Raw? Are the fans really on the edge of their seat wondering if this is the week we get to see Cody Rhodes and Tensai in a tag match with Sin Cara and Rey Mysterio?

Perhaps knowing about that match wouldn’t make a huge difference, though it would give the guys involved something to tweet and Tout about. Or maybe they could tell us on Smackdown what the match is and let us vote all weekend for a stipulation. The bigger point is this: none of your three-hour live show is sprinkled with a few moments of unpredictability (think the backstage segments on Raw 1000), fans will feel like they can’t miss a minute. But if your entire show seems to be written on the fly, people will watch Monday Night Football and catch up on Raw via YouTube.

• • •

David: As someone who does typically watch Raw the day after it airs, I can attest to that fact. For the most part, I don’t feel it’s a necessity to watch the show live. I do miss out on tweeting about it, but the show itself is pretty much the same… until something like the ending of the Labor Day Raw happens. When I watched the Labor Day Raw Tuesday morning, and Paul Heyman stuck his head out the car window, revealing himself as CM Punk’s “getaway driver,” I thought it was awesome. I also started kicking myself for not having watched it live. For the WWE right now, that was a capital-M “Moment,” and it would’ve been great to be a part of the Twitter-verse during it. I’m going to try to make sure not to miss something like that again.

I think what it boils down to is this: in this age of time-shifting and YouTube, the WWE needs to do a better job of making me worry about spoilers. If I find out who is wrestling whom on Raw before I watch it, that’s not a spoiler. That’s an advertisement of the card. But if I find out Paul Heyman and CM Punk are aligning themselves… wow! If I had found out about that before I watched the show, I would’ve been bummed. Those moments need to be sprinkled throughout the show, not just placed neatly at the end.

Speaking of the ending of Raw, it’s probably a little early for predictions, but where does this CM Punk/Paul Heyman story go? Is this just a payoff for Punk’s proclamation that he’s a “Heyman guy” in last year’s pipe bomb promo? Does Lesnar feature in this story?

• • •

Scott: The reason this moment worked so well is because it prompts all fans to ask the question you just asked me: what happens next? Would we tune in next Monday to see the show open with Punk and Heyman sauntering to the ring and delivering face-melting speeches? Would there be an entire episode built around questions about their relationship? Will Heyman form a 21st-century Dangerous Alliance? Will Lesnar even be mentioned, or will they continue to sell his “quitting” by ignoring him altogether? Is Punk lining up “insurance” for his defense against Cena? Could we some day see a Lesnar/Punk vs. Cena/Rock tag team encounter headline a pay-per-view?

Perhaps, in a theory I floated briefly on Twitter, what’s really happening is Heyman is setting a trap for Punk. By letting the champ thinks Heyman is in his corner, he can “protect” Punk and, more importantly, his WWE Title, as a setup for Heyman to turn, allowing Lesnar to destroy Punk and become champion. Perhaps then Rock-Lesnar becomes your Royal Rumble main event, although that’s probably a more fitting WrestleMania card topper.

The good news is someone at Titan Towers saw what Heyman did during the Lesnar-HHH feud and realized how much the man brings to the weekly TV show and the company in general. Hopefully we can let HHH and his short hair fade into the background for a while without losing the chance to see Heyman, if not Lesnar, continue to be a main event player.

Of course the cynic might say aligning Punk with Heyman was the last-ditch effort to cement his heel turn for as many fans as possible — especially in his beloved hometown. But those of us who love good drama are thrilled either way. Punk has become infinitely more interesting since Raw 1000, and this new development only adds to the intrigue.

• • •

David: Your idea of Heyman just being there to get Punk some boos is an interesting one. While I don’t think Punk clotheslining the Rock on Raw 1000 was necessarily what made him a bad guy, it has seemed pretty clear over the past two or three weeks the WWE wants us to think of him as a bad guy. Obviously that hasn’t really been happening… especially in Chicago.

This brings up something I’ve been pondering for a while now. Most forms of entertainment require some suspension of disbelief, but even more so, suspension of reality. If I’m watching a movie like “The Avengers,” and while I’m watching it, I spend a lot of time thinking about how great the performances are, or how great the effects are, are they really that great? If the movie isn’t causing me to suspend that reality and immerse myself in the action, how good can it really be, right?

Do wrestling fans suspend reality enough? Has the social media era caused us to analyze wrestling too much as it happens? Are “smart” fans breaking wrestling by not really caring about who are the good guys and bad guys?

• • •

Scott: That’s a great question, and I know several folks have tried to find a definitive answer (I am thinking specifically of a mid-July discussion on the International Object podcast). The problems with wrestling, as it relates to other entertainment, are twofold.

First, fans become heavily invested in seeing their favorite performers succeed in “the business” and not just in the ring. So even when someone you love loses brilliantly, you want to find a way to salute the performance. The problem is exacerbated for fans who follow wrestlers’ careers as they progress from smaller promotions to the main stage. This is, in large part, why CM Punk is so popular in Chicago. It’s not just that he’s a native son, it’s that he built his career in front of many of those same fans. They’re not just cheering CM Punk, they’re cheering the idea of CM Punk as a mainstream success.

The second component is wrestling exists explicitly in the moment, live and in color. In your movie example, the studios want your money. They want everyone’s money, sure. But all they really need to do is get you in the theater. They don’t care if you laugh or cry or suspend your disbelief. The actors won’t hear or see your reaction. That’s different in live theater, an area you have lots of expertise. But with theater we only have to suspend our disbelief between the curtains — once the cast comes out for bows, we can heartily cheer the person who portrayed the villain, presuming they gave a worthy performance. (The TV/movie equivalent may be reacting to the actors as they make the rounds to Letterman, Kimmel, etc.)

With wrestling, there are no bows. We’ve been conditioned to believe everything is part of the show. The Attitude Era delivered scores of characters who were simply amplified versions of themselves instead of contrived bits (Steve Austin is a real redneck, I don’t believe Brutus Beefcake attended any accredited barber college). Now that we can follow wrestlers on Twitter, it makes it even harder to determine where the character ends and the real person begins. I bristle when I see tweets from Jericho or Cena just a few hours after a show that let me know they’re back in “real life” mode. I think I prefer to be worked 24/7. Or at least I prefer to support guys like Punk and Ziggler, who carry their ring personality everywhere to some extent.

The other problem with wrestling is that, unlike most other forms of entertainment, it utilizes the fourth wall as part of the show on a regular basis, yet never openly (canonically) admitting everything is a show. Sometimes we’re not entirely sure what we’re watching, and the promoters seem to like it that way. So what might be broken, to some extent, is not our ability to suspend disbelief or reality, rather it’s the show’s refusal to simply be a show.

When I went to my first live event, SummerSlam 1994, I was a newly minted 15-year-old, and I knew everything was an act. But since the entirety of it was presented as real, I allowed myself to get caught up in the show, rather than worry about what might or might not be a truer shade of reel. I didn’t care if Bret and Owen Hart went backstage after their iconic cage match and talked about how great a show they put on. I came for the scripted drama, and I was not disappointed.

• • •

David: Unfortunately, the scripted drama isn’t the only type of drama you get in wrestling. We were reminded of that this past Monday night when Jerry “The King” Lawler had a heart attack during the live television broadcast. I’m sure I speak for you when I say we’re glad everything seems to be okay, and we hope he recovers quickly and fully.

Enjoy Night of Champions this weekend, and let us know via email or Twitter if there’s any specific topic you’d like to see us talk about.

• • •

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

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