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On the Road Again…

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TLC 2013 poster

TLC 2013 – copyright WWE

Scott: David, old friend, it’s been far too long since we’ve conversed in this forum. But now, heading toward the on ramp for the Road to WrestleMania XXX, we need to get back to what we do best. Or at least what we do best when life doesn’t get in the way. Perhaps a wiser man would start somewhere else, but I’m going right for the top: Cena. Orton. TLC match. Both the World Wrestling Entertainment and World Heavyweight Championship on the line. I know there’s been some murkiness about whether this is an actual unification match or something of a ruse, but let’s agree at some point there will only be one top title in the world’s most notable promotion. Is this best for business?

• • •

David: Is a title unification best for business? I’m not sure it is, but I’m probably in the minority. The reason I have doubts is because I’m not sure what problems title unification solves. A lot of people on Twitter complain the World Heavyweight Championship, the Intercontinental Title and US Title mean very little because of the way they’ve been treated. They point to the number as being the problem. While I agree that sometimes the number of titles causes them to get lost in the shuffle, I think there is a much deeper problem.

If you read certain wrestling blogs (or Wrestling Blogs), there are a couple of problems consistently featured in the way the WWE creative teams write their stories. First, it seems as if champions (especially the IC and US Champions) can only win matches during title defenses. They lose non-title matches with an alarming frequency, which causes some people to perceive those wrestlers as “weak.” Outside of the title pictures, there seems to be a 50/50 philosophy, where two wrestlers will wrestle a series of matches where they trade wins back and forth. In my mind, neither of these writing styles creates strong or memorable good guy or bad guy characters.

So, if they reduce the number of titles, does that mean that they’ll get away from these two booking philosophies? I doubt it. It seems like they are ingrained in the company at this point, and I think it would take more than a title unification to change it.

Of course, that whole scenario is about us agreeing there will be one top title in the near future. But that’s not what this blog is about, so let’s dig a little deeper. You specified at the top you think title unification will happen at some point, but not necessarily at TLC. Do you think Dec. 15, 2013, in Houston, Texas, will be a date remembered for the unification of the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships?

• • •

Scott: Based on what I saw on Raw Monday and read online in the days following, my answer would be no — I expect Cena and Orton to each grab the other’s belt simultaneously in order to drag the story out a little more. But then I caught what Triple H said during his regular sit-down with Michael Cole for the WWE website, and he made it clear there will at some point be only one “top” title. I am not entirely sure that means the TLC main event will be a unification match, or that unification will be the result. After all, Daniel Bryan won the WWE Title fairly convincingly in early September, and that lasted all of 21 hours. I certainly think we won’t get past WrestleMania XXX with two main titles. Some folks are insistent it needs to happen in December so the Royal Rumble, Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania stories are cleaner. Others contend unification is such a major event it should only happen on the biggest stage. What say you?

• • •

David: Title unification is a huge step, and I probably would be in the camp that says it should happen at WrestleMania… except it does cause a problem. If we still have two champions on Dec. 16, presumably we still would have two champions at the Royal Rumble. How, then, can we have a unification match at WrestleMania if the Royal Rumble winner is guaranteed a WrestleMania title shot? Fear not, for I have two scenarios, although I’m sure one of them will be distasteful to a lot of people.

A lot of criticism surrounds the Survivor Series, and, to a lesser extent, the Royal Rumble, about them feeling like “just another pay-per-view.” David Shoemaker, in a pre-Survivor Series article on Grantland, spelled out how he would fix the Survivor Series. I have a fairly simple idea of how to fix the Royal Rumble… eliminate the title match. The Rumble is its own thing, and, I’m sure you’ll agree, deserves to be the most important match on the card. Let the champions enter the Rumble, with the idea that they get to pick their own challenger for WrestleMania if they win. Unfortunately, this means Cena or Orton would have to win this year in order to set up a unification match at WrestleMania, which is where some people’s distaste comes in.

There is another alternative that may be a little more palatable to some: the Royal Rumble winner enters the Elimination Chamber, and wins one of the titles. Not only does this lead us to a unification match, but it potentially builds more excitement for the Elimination Chamber than has been there in previous years. I would love to see a scenario where Daniel Bryan wins the Royal Rumble, wins the World Heavyweight Championship at Elimination Chamber, and challenges John Cena for the unified title at Wrestlemania.

How does that strike you?

• • •

Scott: I wouldn’t put anything past them at this point, especially given how much confusion there’s been since SummerSlam. I do agree the Rumble itself needs to be the most prominent thing on the card, and I recall bristling when they added a WWF Title match to the card way back in 1991. But I’m also okay with there being a title match on the show, provided the Rumble goes on last. There was a lot of frustration in January when the CM Punk-Rock match ended the show instead of the Rumble, but I have to wonder if that wasn’t the Rock’s ego/contract getting in the way.

CM Punk and Daniel Bryan

Could these two men re-create the ending of the 1994 Royal Rumble?

I saw one person suggest Orton and Cena can’t settle things while Punk and Byran pull a Hart-Luger 94 and both “win” the Rumble, setting up a winner-take-all four-way match for WrestleMania XXX. While it might be great to have Bryan win his first belt under those monumental odds, it also would evoke far too clearly the WrestleMania 2000 debacle. Black Cat of the Old School Wrestling Podcast makes a compelling argument: the Mania main event needs to be two guys, period.

Here’s the reality of the situation: Cena will be in the title match at WrestleMania, whether there’s one belt by then or not. Orton will be there too, unless someone directly causes him to lose his belt, spinning them off into a viable grudge match (maybe Big Show or HHH or Kane or something). It’s not yet clear if Punk or Bryan will be out of the mix with all that’s going on with the Wyatts and the Shield, but aside from Orton or a returning star, it’s not clear anyone else is ready to share this stage with Cena. So in my book it has to be one of those three on the other side of the ring.

All this talk makes me realize there are real losers in this scenario. My first thought is Cody Rhodes. When Sandow won the Money in the Bank match, and especially during Cody’s termination and Goldust’s return, lots of people envisioned a scenario in which those three would be involved in a long-form story surrounding the World Heavyweight Championship. Now that seems somewhere between unlikely and impossible. It’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to elevate either the Intercontinental or United States championships to their previous positions. In fact, I’ll say it can’t be done and dare you to prove me wrong.

• • •

David: I specifically waited to answer this question until after I watched the Dec. 2 edition of Monday Night Raw, hoping maybe either of those titles would see some movement. My disposition at the moment is about 50 percent optimistic.

At this point, the US Title seems like a lost cause. It’s not that Dean Ambrose is a bad champion. On the contrary, I’d say he’s a very good champion, or at least he would be. Unfortunately, United States Champion Dean Ambrose has seemed to take a back seat to Shield member Dean Ambrose lately.

However, Raw featured an excellent match between Dolph Ziggler and Damien Sandow for the right to battle with Big E Langston for the Intercontinental Championship at TLC. With Sandow getting the victory and punching his ticket for a date with the powerhouse from the University of Iowa, I’m cautiously excited for what’s happening with the IC title. Power vs brains usually makes for a pretty good story. Do you think these two up and comers might have what it takes to bring some focus back to that title?

• • •

Scott: When I watched that Ziggler-Sandow match, I had the same general thought — establishing top contenders via contested matches is a good way to drum up interest. I don’t know if we’ll ever see a day where there’s a Money in the Bank match for the right to cash in on the Intercontinental champion, for example, but I do think the narrative will be helped going forward with a clear delineation between the top title and the second-tier belt. The reason the IC and US titles have floundered — in addition to the meager stories they’ve told around them — is the clear descent of the World Heavyweight Championship to the spot previously held by the IC belt.

The fact is, some of the greatest matches in history — not just WWF — have been for lesser titles. It would be almost too easy to make a list here, including times where a secondary belt match has stolen the show of a major card. It’s not impossible to get there, but the WWE needs to do more than just erase the WHC to make the IC belt relevant.

As for Langston and Sandow specifically, I’m in sort of a quandary here. I love both performers, and a loss is bad for either one. For Langston, it’s an indication he’s not ready for prime time and the excitement over his title win over Axel would be neutered as much as Ziggler’s cash-in on Alberto Del Rio in April. For Sandow, a loss would be another slip down from the peak he hit when he turned on Cody Rhodes and grabbed the Money in the Bank briefcase. So in some ways this is good storytelling, where I’m really interested to see both the result and how the in-ring performance supports the narrative. In

Dean Ambrose

Has Dean Ambrose’s position in the Shield overshadowed his status as US Champion?

other ways, I want my favorite guys to just beat up dudes I don’t see having potential.

And then there’s Ambrose. If someone showed up on Smackdown this week and scrapped the Sandow match in favor of an Ambrose-Langston unification bout, it would instantly be my favorite match on the TLC card, although as with Sandow, I want Ambrose to continue to succeed.

But you’re right, his role in the Shield has supplanted his role as U.S. Champion. And maybe it’s OK to let that title stay in the shadows for one more show, but as soon as the top belts are unified they’ll need to make a move with the lower belts. I’m still not convinced there’s a good strategy to employ, especially so close to WrestleMania. Do you see a successful road map anywhere?

• • •

David: In my mind, it doesn’t make sense to do anything special with the IC and US titles at the Royal Rumble because they’ll be overshadowed by the Rumble match itself. However, if Triple H and Stephanie announced the night after the Royal Rumble there was going to be an Elimination Chamber match to unify the two middle titles, I think I’d be pretty excited. They could use the period between the Rumble and Elimination Chamber by having a tournament to get into the Elimination Chamber. If done properly, I think there’s a story there that could grab people’s attention and make the unification of those belts meaningful. They could even make that match the main event, and say they’re giving the unified champion that pay-per-view off to prepare for his WrestleMania match with the Royal Rumble winner. This would especially work if Randy Orton, or (God forbid) Triple H is the champion at that point. In just writing it, the idea of a well-rested champion seems like it would be a way of creating a talking point for the WrestleMania main event, and giving an underdog (like Daniel Bryan) a bigger hill to climb. If they were to do that, in one deft stroke, they may have upgraded the midcard title, created a good story for WrestleMania and, if they so choose, made the entire year-long saga of Daniel Bryan worth everything we’ve gone through.

How do you feel about the idea of using the Elimination Chamber as a way to unify the titles?

The Elimination Chamber

Could this structure be used to unify the second tier titles?

• • •

Scott: I think it’s a great idea, which means it probably won’t happen. I don’t mind the Elimination Chamber as a concept, but like the annual Hell in a Cell dilemma in October, having the Chamber forced into February always seems to complicate the Road to WrestleMania. This year is a prime example. Why go through the process of unifying your top titles with your biggest stars in December, then crown one contender to stand above the rest in January… and then in February try to force six guys into one match as supposed equals?

You can’t have a Chamber match without stakes. Less titles means fewer stakes to be had. Heck, even if they didn’t unify the belts having one or both of them contested in the Chamber would elevate the profile. But I can debunk that logic, too: Look back to this year’s Money in the Bank. Everyone agrees the World Heavyweight Championship MITB was the high spot of the show, but it was the opener and having a great match did nothing to change perceptions about which belt was more important.

Maybe ultimately the most important thing for a belt is who has it — not for what the title means to the wrestler, but what the wrestler means to the title. That’s why this unification couldn’t happen until they found a way to get the “lesser” belt back on the bigger star, while having another highly decorated veteran carry the big strap. If we set aside our fan interests, is there any way they’d promote this match with any other performers?

Among the many things I’m confused about at the moment is how we get from December to WrestleMania. Many years that feeling is intrigue, but this year I’m more perplexed than anything. Is the Rumble main event just a Cena-Orton rematch? Will the TLC ending not be as conclusive as promised?

The more important question: is there any chance the writers, free from some of the rules hampering them over the last several years, can tell stories from WrestleMania XXX to XXXI substantially different from what we have today? Or is it going to be another year of mostly great in-ring action with mildly amusing to outright maddening narratives everywhere else in the “universe”?

• • •

David: In the Attitude Era, there was a period of time where Vince Russo got a lot of credit for the things that turned the WWE’s fortunes around. Russo eventually left the WWE and went to WCW, where he had a hard time creating compelling television. It was then believed WWE was a success in part because of Russo, but also because Vince McMahon was there to oversee what Russo was doing and reign him in when he needed to.

I believe the latter probably is mostly true, but I also think there is a third ingredient to the WWE’s success in the late 90s, and that’s competition. I once heard someone say “competition is the mother of innovation”, and I think innovation is what the WWE is really missing. Because of the lack of a strong competitor in the sports entertainment genre, the WWE isn’t really being driven toward innovation in its storylines.

WWE also doesn’t have a way to define its progress. Buyrates and ratings are, I would assume, how the WWE judges the merits of its storylines and matches, but those seem like empty numbers when they’re not being compared to something, or when they’re the apples being compared to oranges. The WWE constantly reminds us when it has the top ratings, or the most social media traffic, but that is useless horn blowing if there’s no one occupying the same space and competing for that traffic.

The emptiness of those numbers causes their effect to be exaggerated in my opinion. As a result, we get stories like the ones that surfaced last month about Vince McMahon being unhappy with the SummerSlam buyrate, and the idea he feels Daniel Bryan is the reason for the disappointment. How can Mr. McMahon truly know who is responsible for the low buyrate, if he can’t possibly know what the buyrate would have been without Daniel Bryan in the main event? Isn’t it possible that a lot of people really like Daniel Bryan, but didn’t like the story WWE was telling with him? Isn’t it possible that a lot of people really like Daniel Bryan but didn’t like the involvement of Triple H? Maybe there’s an argument to be made that casual fans didn’t buy SummerSlam because of Daniel Bryan, but I think the Dec. 9 edition of Raw proved how popular Daniel Bryan can be.

Personally, I think the SummerSlam main event was an artistic success, even if it wasn’t a business success. Of course, being an artist myself, I see the value of artistic success, even if it comes at the detriment of business success. Granted, I don’t have stockholders to answer to, and neither do most of the theatre companies I’ve worked for.

That is a very long-winded way of saying the answer to your question is I think we’ll see more of the same until the WWE changes the way it views success, or a competitor arises to force the WWE to innovate.

Thanks for reading! If you have any insights on our discussion, you can contact us via Twitter, or the comments section below. Your feedback is appreciated.

Off-Ramp On the Road to Wrestemania

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Image

Scott: David, my friend, it’s been too long. The last time we chatted it was before the Royal Rumble, and now we’re nearly at the end of the Road to WrestleMania. For me it’s one of the most nostalgic times of the year as we’re able to look back on 28 classic events, many of which serve as benchmarks for where we were not just as wrestling fans, but also as life markers. That may seem a bit strong, but don’t tell me you can’t tell me everything about your life the day the Ultimate Warrior challenged Hulk Hogan at SkyDome in Toronto.

That said, some WrestleMania moments are, in a word, overrated. I asked around to get a feel for what some folks might put on their list of ’Mania memories that aren’t quite worthy of the love they get from fans. Jason Mann of Wrestlespective suggested the Bret Hart-Shawn Michaels Iron Man Match from WrestleMania XII belongs on this list. Tom Holzerman of The Wrestling Blog chose another HBK moment — the night he ended Ric Flair’s career. So now I turn the question to you: What WrestleMania moments are more sizzle than steak?

• • •

David: I’m probably going to anger some people with my answer, but here goes. Rock vs Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8. I’ve never been a big Rock fan, even during his late ’90s heyday, and I grew weary of any version of Hulk Hogan around 1999. It’s not that it’s a bad match, it just feels like there is still a lot of hype surrounding this match, and it doesn’t live up to it for me. In fact, I think it’s the third best match on the show, behind Jericho/HHH and the Ric Flair/Undertaker no disqualification match.

I want to know what your most overrated WrestleMania match is, but I also want to ask you this: can a match’s rating change based on the career arc of the participants? Can a wrestler hang around so long (Hogan being the obvious example) that his current performance affects how you look at his past matches?

• • •

Rock vs Hogan

Overrated, Underrated, or Properly Rated? David and Scott disagree.

Scott: Blasphemer! We’ll get to your other questions after I defend Rock-Hogan. Although, in a way, I’m going to answer your last question in my defense. Because the reason I will continue to stick up for Rock-Hogan as a straight-up classic is I’m able to tap in to how I felt at the time. It’s the same for Hogan-Warrior. Do they hold up technically? Heck no. And if you’re trying to be objective and rank which was a better actual match, I’ve got no qualms with preferring the other two matches you mentioned. But in the context of the sport at the time (in this case spring 2002), that Rock-Hogan encounter brought a kind of buzz that far exceeded Rock-Cena in 2012. Since the Rock factored in both, I think credit for the difference goes to Hogan’s mass appeal compared to Cena.

This is the one WrestleMania I saw in a public setting. It was the viewing room at a bar/club in Cedar Rapids. We paid $10 to get in, watch the show and drink all night. My good buddy and I brought my girl roommate to be our driver. She cared very little, if at all, for wrestling in any regard, but believe me when I tell you every last person in that room got insanely caught up in the outcome of that match. The live crowd held up its end of the bargain, and watching it again proves my point.

Now, Hogan tried to recapture that emotion in other “dream matches” with guys like Shawn Michaels and even Vince McMahon at the next WrestleMania, or up-and-comers like Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton, and he never quite reached the same mountaintop. But I’m able to remove those matches from the equation when evaluating Rock-Hogan in its own context.

Your question did spark another thought. Jason Mann and Joe Drilling (co-host of the What A Maneuver! podcast) had a recent Twitter discussion about the Randy Savage-Ultimate Warrior career match at WrestleMania VII, which to me is absolutely one of the best WrestleMania moments ever. Joe maintained there was no need for Savage to drop so many elbows, that it weakened the storytelling at the end of the match and hurt Savage going forward. Jason countered by saying the story was told perfectly because it was a career match — quite a rarity for the WWF at the time — and Savage was portrayed as pulling out all stops in the name of defending his very way of life.

But it led to an interesting question — did Savage’s reinstatement in November undercut the story told in March? Personally, I don’t think that’s the case on account of how well the reinstatement story was told. But I do see where someone could argue the ongoing narrative, in this case, can tint hindsight. But again, at the time the match happened, with everything that was on the line, it’s hard to argue with the impression the performers made that day.

Now, if you want to talk moments that don’t hold up, my list starts with the three-way TLC tag team title match at WrestleMania 2000. I may have been excited at the time, but it does little for me now. I think it’s worth watching to understand what wrestling was at the time, but to me it just rings hollow. I can’t quite understand why it continues to be held high in so many fans’ memories.

• • •

David: I think it is held high because of what it represents. We all know there is a lot of nostalgia for the “Attitude Era”, and I think in terms of actual in-ring action, that ladder match (which wasn’t technically a TLC match since that format didn’t come into being until SummerSlam) is a touchstone. It’s sort of representative of WWE’s version of hardcore wrestling at that time, as opposed to the ECW version.

A match I enjoyed in the moment, but doesn’t hold up for me, is Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 21. I’m not sure Kurt Angle fully grasped wrestling psychology by this point in his career (I’m sure there are people who would say he still hasn’t). That match suffers greatly from Angle’s insistence on slowing down the match at inopportune times. It’s not that I mind slow, methodical matches in general, but in this match there are periods of time where the tempo is picking up, and there’s a flow. Kurt Angle stubbornly insists on breaking that flow. There’s also an element of storytelling that is problematic in this match. HBK starts the match with a flurry of mat wrestling, essentially trying to prove he can compete with Angle in that arena. After a little bit, it devolves into a brawl on the outside, with Angle slamming HBK’s back into the ring post. Shawn spends most of the match favoring his back, and moving very gingerly because of it. However, about 13 minutes into the match, Michaels dumps Angle back out onto the outside, and hits him with a high cross body to the outside. Jim Ross sells Michaels’ knee catching Angle in the face. Angle gets back up within 30 seconds, and never seems to show any effects from that move again. I’ve never thought selling others’ offense was one of Kurt Angle’s strong suits. In fact, I think he was guilty of being Superman before people started referring to Super Cena. I think this match suffers more than most because of it.

The concept of “overrated” is somewhat negative. Let’s get a little more positive. What are some underrated matches to appear on “The Grandest Stage of Them All”?

• • •

Scott: The beauty of having nearly 30 WrestleMania events to revisit, and the wide variety of people who tend to comment on such things, is it’s possible for one person to underrate something while another person overrates the same thing. For example, Razor over at Kick-Out!! Wrestling is running down his top 29 WrestleMania matches of all time. Coming in at 26th on his list is Ric Flair and Randy Savage from WrestleMania VIII. To me, that’s a top-10 classic. And probably putting it in a top 29 list is considered high praise given how many matches to choose from overall. But I can guarantee that even though he’s not posted the rest of his list, I’ll have no problem arguing which of his selections should be moved down to make way for the Savage-Flair encounter.

That said, I think you’re asking a specific question — what sticks out that otherwise wouldn’t? What perhaps is forgotten under the crush of nearly three decades of supercards, especially considering roughly half those shows have been put on with the extreme purpose of being the card of the year, something you couldn’t always say back in the earlier years.

I don’t think the Bret Hart-Roddy Piper InterContinental title match at WrestleMania VIII gets its due historically, but it’s a perfect example of a well-told story feeding a well-executed in-ring performance. The actual match is not only enhanced by the build but provides a satisfying conclusion while properly advancing characters. It simply hits every note.

While I’ve not watched it in quite some time, I have a fond recollection of the Rockers and Twin Towers on the early part of the WrestleMania V card with a great tag team match. Excellent tag team wrestling is entirely different from singles wrestling, and the physical contrast between the two teams worked well in this encounter. Plus, bonus points for it being Michael’s debut at the “Showcase of the Immortals.”

As I go over the dozens of other matches and cards, every time I think of something, I quickly recall another person arguing earlier the same point. Maybe we’ve all overanalyzed past WrestleManias to death… but that’s just crazy talk. We’re wrestling fans, and it’s very, very hard to be a wrestling fan without strong feelings about at least one WrestleMania.

As a guy who grew up loving the NWA, does it bother you that Starrcade never quite reached the heights of WrestleMania? Even in the years when I was following WCW pretty closely, Starrcade never seemed to stand out as much from the rest of the year to the degree WrestleMania rose above all other shows. But maybe that’s the real crazy talk. What say you?

• • •

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Never quite the equal of Wrestlemania…

David: I can’t really say it really ever bothered me. WrestleMania was sort of destined to be the bigger event, because Vince McMahon’s vision and execution were, for the most part, beyond Jim Crockett’s and then Ted Turner’s. By the time 1996 and 1997 rolled around, WrestleMania was already a household name, and even though WCW was beating WWF in the Monday night ratings war, that name recognition of WrestleMania was probably never going to change.

The scope of Crockett’s vision and execution also plays into the fact that Starrcade seemed closer in scale to a typical pay-per-view than WrestleMania. Ever since the beginning, Vince and company have constantly looked for the biggest and most historic stadiums and arenas to stage their annual event. Starrcade was almost always in arenas Crockett and WCW would have appeared in on a regular basis anyway. The Greensboro Coliseum, home of the first Starrcade, also was a normal stop on the Mid-Atlantic house show circuit, unlike the Pontiac Silverdome or Trump Plaza. Those places are destinations. People are willing to travel great distances to be a part of something special, which WrestleMania undoubtedly is. Even though it was their biggest show, Starrcade never turned into a “destination” pay-per-view.

Time of year might also play into this as well. WrestleMania is uniquely situated on the calendar, during the beginning of spring. That means in a lot of markets they can use an outdoor arena and still have the fans be comfortable. In November and December, there aren’t a lot of places WCW could’ve taken their road show and had people comfortably sit outside to watch their biggest stars.

Of course, you could argue whether or not that’s necessarily a good thing. Are you a fan of wrestling being taken outdoors?

• • •

Scott: As we’ve discussed before, I will happily defend the concept of staging WrestleMania IX (if not the execution of the show itself), though it was not the first major outdoor WWF production. Major open-air stadiums in New York, Toronto and Milwaukee hosted WWF supercards well before 1993, not to mention the grand success of SummerSlam 1992 at Wembley Stadium in London.

But by and large, the open-air tradition has been reserved in recent years for WrestleMania alone, and I have to say I’ve come around to very much supporting this move. If you’re going to convince everyone that one show a year is different — worthy of an extra hour, worthy of an extra $10 on pay-per-view, worthy of months of buildup and everything that goes with it — then you darn well better deliver, and putting WrestleMania in America’s largest arenas helps set the stage for success.

There are drawbacks. Last year’s “palm trees” that supported all the above-the-ring lights, fireworks, sound and cage with a lid caused notable obstruction problems for people who paid obscene amounts to attend the show. When a crowd is too big, or too removed from the action, the cheers and boos may be lost to acoustics, hampering the way the show is presented on TV. And we’ve yet to see if staging an outdoor WrestleMania in coastal New Jersey in early April is a good idea.

I’d love to see WrestleMania come back to Chicago for a fourth time, but the AllState Arena (née Rosemont Horizon) isn’t going to be viable unless the company bottom line heads back in the tank. And Soldier Field, with one of the smallest seating capacities in the NFL, isn’t worth the outdoor risk posed by being literally next to Lake Michigan. Outdoor isn’t the only rule — the Georgia Dome did a passable job and I have high hopes for the Superdome in 2014. But when you want to pack in 60,000 or 70,000 people, you almost have to be somewhere without a roof.

Do we agree on this one?

• • •

David: Yes, we agree. From a television presentation perspective, I thought Sun Life Stadium was an almost perfect place to stage WrestleMania. On the WrestleMania XXVIII episode of Wrestlespective, K. Sawyer Paul noted that when they would pan the crowd, it just seemed to go on and on forever. That endless expanse of people brings an epic feel to WrestleMania that is made almost necessary by its history and the things you mentioned like extra time, cost and hype. And since it’s unlikely I will ever be able to go to WrestleMania, the television presentation is more my concern.

Tom Holzerman recently floated an idea I want to get your take on:

Image

In my opinion, he’s right. It would suck to be there live, but for a company that prides itself on “moments,” that’s one the WWE could show forever. Where do you stand on a rain-soaked WWE champion?

• • •

Scott: I’m torn. WWE does indeed pride itself on moments — especially WrestleMania moments — but they almost always are intricately planned. I’m thinking a serious rainstorm, while visually enthralling, would be exactly the kind of unexpected wrinkle that could send the production crew scrambling. Of course, the company has a huge investment in this one show (a recent International Object podcast does a good job of breaking down the actual economics) and it would be pretty silly to think there aren’t a boatload of contingency plans.

Of course, with wrestling being a unique art form, we’re never quite sure what’s planned, what’s spur of the moment and when impending doom is all part of the spectacle. That’s why asking you for predictions about this year’s show is fraught with peril — sometimes the only thing to expect is the unexpected. That said, what do you expect?

• • •

David: You’re right. Predictions for this show are fraught with peril. Even the match order is up in the air. I think there are a few things we’re likely to see, though. First, I think we’re nearing the end for Team Hell No. I predict they will lose to Dolph Ziggler and Big E. Langston, which will precipitate a return to full-time singles action for both Daniel Bryan and Kane. However, if this match occurs after the World Heavyweight Championship match, there is the possibility Ziggler has cashed in and is already the champion. If so, he may be disinterested in the tag team titles, causing a dissolution of his arrangement with Big E.

I think Ryback is likely to win his match with Mark Henry, but only because WWE seems to want to shove Ryback down our throats at every opportunity. I’m not invested in this match because I haven’t been thrilled with the build for this feud. Although, I have to say I did enjoy Ryback throwing Santino at Mark Henry on Raw. That gave me a chuckle.

One of the matches I’m really looking forward to is Fandango vs. Chris Jericho. I think it’s unlikely Fandango would be built up the way he has been only to lose his debut match at WrestleMania. I’m more interested in seeing if the former Johnny Curtis can shut up the segment of the crowd who are intent on screaming “You can’t wrestle” at him just because he hasn’t wrestled. I was a fan of his work on NXT, and I have to give him solid marks for really committing to the character.

CM Punk would probably tell you there’s no need to commit to a character if you’re being yourself. But in his feud with the Undertaker, he has transcended from a typical wrestling “heel” to a true villain. I’m looking forward to that match the most, and while I don’t think Punk will win, there’s enough room in my mind to say… maybe the streak is in jeopardy.

Of course, the headline match is The Rock vs John Cena. I predict John Cena will emerge victorious but the drama for me is to see if this match goes on last or not. I think it probably will, but I’m not positive.

Thoughts on these matches or the others on the big card?

• • •

Scott: It seems this might be the year the World Heavyweight Championship match doesn’t open the show, but they’ve already moved the Intercontinental title match to the preshow. I really think you have to let Del Rio and Swagger go on after the tag title match just to build speculation for a Ziggler cash-in. But up until the go home Raw I was prepared to say they’ve really backed off the focus on this feud. I guess maybe the spotlight shone a bit brighter on this story during those weeks Rock was off camera. And with Glenn Beck not taking the bait, well, at least we’ve got some tension with an injured Rodriguez and the escalating violence of late. This could be the most brutal match on the card — but it won’t, because Brock Lesnar is also wrestling.

I’m not quite sure what to make of the Lesnar-HHH match. In the same vein, I’m unsure about The Shield in the six-man tag. I can predict a winner, but what’s more interesting to me is what happens as it relates to the story? If Lesnar wins, so what? We get an HHH farewell the night next on Raw, sure, but what does Brock do? Does he challenge the champ? Does he stare down the Undertaker and set the scene for WrestleMania XXX? I expect the Shield to win because a loss wouldn’t make any sense in context of their ongoing story, but are they going to get “a leader”? Do they need one? Can they win the match and that be secondary to Orton and Sheamus initiating a feud? The Shield, at some point, needs a stated purpose. There aren’t any six-man tag belts to be won these days.

The mixed-tag isn’t worth discussing from an ongoing plot standpoint. I agree with you Fandango winning seems to make the most sense, but is that it for Jericho? He’s in far too good of shape to have this be his last WrestleMania moment, but they certainly don’t need him for the rest of April, do they?

In your mind, whose absence from the card is most disappointing? I think the obvious answer is Antonio Cesaro (sorry for the ask and answer), so is there anyone else you think deserves a spot based on the last several months?

• • •

David: Honestly, Antonio Cesaro is the only guy who really comes to mind, especially in terms of disappointment. I will point out that this is the first WrestleMania since 23 Kofi Kingston hasn’t been a part of, but it’s hard to call that a disappointment based on what Kofi’s done over the past few months.

There is something that makes me scratch my head, though. The mixed tag team match neither one of us talked about when discussing the card features two female “tag teams.” One that just came back to the WWE after an extended hiatus, and one that, as far as I can recall, has had one match… last week on Raw. Yet, the WWE Divas title, and by extension, the WWE Divas Champion, Kaitlyn, will not appear (as of Friday morning) at WrestleMania. While not unprecedented, for fans of women who wrestle, this is just one more slap in the face by the largest wrestling company on the planet.

• • •

Scott: I’ll admit I needed the Internet to figure this out, but if my research is correct, the Divas championship has never been on the line at WrestleMania. The last title match involving women was WrestleMania 23 when Melina retained her WWE Women’s Title against Jillian in a “lumberjill” match. Of course, the top women have usually been on the card in one way or another every year, and not having Kaitlyn scheduled (especially in favor of two wrestlers who just returned and two who have scarcely been presented as wrestlers) is a huge disappointment to her fans.

As many have noted, there’s a very natural Kaitlyn-AJ Lee story to be told, one that could easily center around the title, but it’s either something they’re not yet interested in pursuing or perhaps are saving for a show that’s a little less cluttered. AJ is pretty heavily wrapped up in the Team Hell No story, not to mention her own relationship with Ziggler and Langston, so it’s easy to see why they’re leaving her alone there. Any other Kaitlyn match would seem thrown together, but hey — when has that stopped them before?

One last question before we go. You’re predicted a Cena victory. I’m not so sure, but that’s more me being hopeful he loses (because he’s a more interesting character in defeat) than actually predicting what makes the most sense. But let’s say Cena wins. There’s six weeks between WrestleMania and Extreme Rules. Any ideas what the road map looks like with a victorious Cena and a defeated and (presumably) departed Rock?

• • •

David: Not a clue. That’s actually one of the more intriguing things about this WrestleMania to me. Some of the matches on the card leave me baffled as to where the players go next. If the Rock wins, then there is obviously a story there about Cena potentially getting another shot with the third time likely being the charm. If Cena wins the title, and Dwayne Johnson goes back to Hollywood, then what? Feuds with the Shield, Punk (more on him in a minute) or Ryback are possibilities, but what is the transition? I’m intrigued to see what the WWE creative team comes up with.

The Undertaker will likely not be on Raw on Monday. The bigger question is, will CM Punk be on Raw on Monday? I’ve read numerous rumors that Punk will be given some time off after WrestleMania to heal up from some of his injuries. If not, his transition from his feud with Undertaker also will be interesting. He could go into a program with Cena, provided Cena wins the title, or could a loss to The Undertaker cause seeds of dissention to be sown between Punk and Heyman leading to a potential feud with Brock Lesnar? After all, Triple H probably will go back to the boardroom after WrestleMania no matter the outcome of his match with Lesnar, and Lesnar probably will need something to do, unless he goes back to taking time off.

The road to WrestleMania usually is a time of fun and building stories in the WWE, and while the period after WrestleMania is considered a dead season, I think this year’s road away from WrestleMania has the potential to be pretty interesting.

Enjoy WrestleMania everyone! Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time.

Contact us via Twitter, or the comments section below. Your feedback is appreciated.

Hell in a Cabana

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*note: Because of scheduling issues, this week’s post actually contains a few weeks of emails between Scott and David. Enjoy.*

Colt Cabana

Coming to WWE? We’ll see.

David: So, there hasn’t been a lot of movement in the on-screen happenings in the WWE lately, but there seem to be some interesting things going on backstage. Over the weekend, CM Punk did a Q&A at a comic convention in Ohio. Around the 16:25 mark, someone asks Punk about his relationship with Colt Cabana. Punk briefly plugs the Art of Wrestling (which I’m always happy to plug), and talks about hanging out with Colt. He ends the question by saying “Cabana’s a cool guy. Knock on wood. Everyone cross your fingers, we might have some potential good news in the near future.”

I’ve seen some people saying they think this is a hint WWE is looking to sign Colt. But I ask you, as a fellow fan of The Art of Wrestling, do you take it that way? If WWE signs Colt Cabana, is it a good thing?

• • •

Scott: I will first take time to point out Colt Cabana and I are practically peers. His hometown is only a few miles south of mine — in fact, he went to the high school my mom graduated from. Not that we actually knew each other, but we did both attend at least one basketball game and for all I know could have bumped into each other at the mall. I’ve offered to buy him Subway next time he’s in town, and you can see by this paragraph why he probably doesn’t think that’s a great idea.

That aside, your question is great because it can be looked at from so many perspectives. Is it a good thing for the WWE audience? If he’s used right, certainly. Fresh faces are always welcome on my TV screen, especially given how stale the Punk-Cena stuff has become. I assume Cabana is featured prominently in Punk’s new DVD (I am bummed I couldn’t make it to the Portage Theater for the Chicago screening) and no doubt the production team could use that footage to quickly introduce Cabana to the mainstream audience.

But are we talking a one-off (say Brock Lesnar murders Colt as part of my Heyman trap theory) or a legitimate run (Cabana plays Owen Hart’s role in the “What about me?” story)? These are the questions I would presume Colt is considering. At this stage in his career, he doesn’t need one night on Raw. He couldn’t just show up as a surprise Royal Rumble entrant. Everyone who knows him through his podcast and indy shows is already a supporter. Everyone who doesn’t know him (probably the majority of the WWE audience) won’t start caring about him because of one appearance.

However, if he is looking at an extended run, he has to give it serious consideration. It may mean putting Art of Wrestling on the shelf. It may mean an extended hiatus from the independent scene and the chance for another run as NWA Champion. But it also could pave the way to realizing a lifelong dream of being in the ring at WrestleMania. He’s already had more success, financially and otherwise, than the great majority of those who sign up for one class at a wrestling school. But can he honestly say he’s achieved every dream he had for himself?

When I decided to leave the newspaper business full time, one of the reasons was because I realized my one-time dream job — an office at Tribune Tower, writing columns and editorials for the World’s Greatest Newspaper — would come at too great a price for me and my family. So what was I really working toward? Maybe Colt Cabana has adjusted his long-term goals, too. We’re the same age, and though I’m a family man and he’s a globetrotting bachelor, I can guarantee he’s thinking beyond his next tour of Australia.

That’s easy for me to say because my “dream job” was never within my grasp. If a Broadway producer called you tomorrow and offered you a role, I would imagine your wife and children would support your decision. But it would not be an easy choice.

You’ll notice the one phrase I didn’t use — selling out. I don’t think that should begin to enter the conversation. But how do you see it?

• • •

David: If Colt Cabana goes to the WWE, I agree with you he will not be selling out. However, I won’t be so quick to say the phrase “sell out” shouldn’t be considered. Should it be considered by fans, bloggers, etc.? No, of course not. But Colt himself might want to consider the phrase. Right now Colt is in an interesting position. He’s sort of like an underground band that doesn’t get a ton of radio play, but gets name checked in prestigious music magazines by prestigious music writers. If that band keeps getting that kind of press, they may end up on the radio. When that band attains a certain level of success, there are always going to be people out there who will, wrongly, call them sellouts.

If Colt Cabana signs a WWE contract, there are going to be people out there who will call him a sellout, especially if it means the end of the Art of Wrestling as we know it. Those people are wrong for doing so, but they will be out there. Should he make the decision based on the ridiculous opinions of those people? Not in my estimation, but I think he does have to think about how it will affect him to hear that kind of noise, and to get the kind of stupid Twitter comments Punk and others with his level of celebrity have to deal with.

Leaving that particular side of the issue, I want to refer to something you said:         

“It may mean an extended hiatus from the independent scene and the chance for another run as NWA Champion.”

During the introduction to this week’s episode of The Art of Wrestling (which featured a fantastic interview with Justin Roberts), Colt was talking about his Texas death match with Adam Pearce, and how it wasn’t really about the NWA title, which, in his estimation doesn’t mean very much anymore. When he said that, the wheels in my brain started turning. Is he trying to distance himself from the NWA title, because of the recent strife with Championship Wrestling from Hollywood? Or is there something else there, having to do with a possible WWE run?

There were some other interesting things said on that podcast. He did try  to distance himself from Punk’s comments, referring to them as rumors. He then said not to always “hear what you believe.” I’m not one who typically looks for conspiracy theories, but I have to wonder if this was an accidental transposition of words or some sort of careful word play. I don’t know what it would mean, but who knows, right? 

Have you listened to the podcast yet? 

• • •

Scott: I did listen to the podcast, and I’m more inclined to pass off the “hear what you believe” remark as a malaprop, especially given Cabana’s reputation for not always pronouncing everything the right way. That doesn’t mean there’s no substance to this rumor. I have yet to see the CM Punk DVD, but as I referenced earlier, there’s got to be a good deal of footage the creative team could use to re-introduce Cabana if desired.

That said, WWE still has the reputation of wanting to create its own characters. What’s in it for them to bring the Art of Wrestling guy to the main stage — unless perhaps they think they can co-opt and brand his podcast popularity. (Side note: how does WWE not have even one official podcast, yet there’s 87 YouTube shows? Is it because there’s absolutely no money to be had in podcasting?)

I also think the “Cabana to WWE is a no-brainer” approach is a classic example of people who follow any form entertainment forgetting what it was like to follow along in their early days as a fan. We are not casual fans. We have been following wrestling on and off for almost 30 years now. We talk/tweet it about it regularly with people who by and large share our views. Yet the part of our fan-brain that accepts many people blindly love John Cena is not in concert with the part of the fan-brain that presumes Cabana would be an overnight sensation. In reality, he’d probably be met with a heavy dose of “Who’s this effing guy?”

Again, it’s not that I don’t respect and admire Colt Cabana. Like I said earlier, we were practically neighbors as kids. But he may not be the right guy at the right time, despite all the creative possibilities.

• • •

David: Diverging from the topic of Colt Cabana a bit, we’re gearing up for the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view this weekend, and I wonder what your thoughts are on the Ryback situation. Personally, I’m not a huge fan. I don’t see much in the way of charisma and, frankly, don’t get what all the fuss is about. However, I’m not even sure it matters. As it stands right now, John Cena has announced he has been medically cleared to return to the ring, but doesn’t have a match for the PPV. I’m getting the feeling the scheduled Ryback/Punk encounter may be a moot point.

I know you are on record as believing or hoping CM Punk’s involvement with Paul Heyman is leading to a feud with Brock Lesnar. Could we see seeds of that planted this weekend? What if Lesnar were to appear in Atlanta and incapacitate Ryback, leading to Cena having to step in for the Hell in a Cell match?

What do you think? Will Ryback actually get a shot at the WWE title? Is it his time?

• • •

Hell in a Cell 2012

Can CM Punk keep the WWE title and end Ryback’s undefeated streak?

Scott: Of the many Hell in a Cell suggestions, that’s not one I’ve considered. In his recent Best and Worst of Raw recap, Brandon Stroud suggested Cena’s involvement in the AJ resignation story serves as his departure from the championship picture for the time being, the same way his entanglement with first Miz and R-Truth, then Kane and Zack Ryder, gave him something to do between Hell in a Cell 2011 and WrestleMania XXVIII. Whatever the case, Cena’s endorsement of Ryback before the contract signing, then in-ring stump speech for him this week on Raw, are fine examples of the creative staff admitting there is no real depth to the Cena character.

There were good reasons to not force Ryback to go through Cena to get to Punk. What was unclear, though, is why they couldn’t just let Cena stay at home for a few weeks top nurse his injury. We saw the crowd reactions when Ryback came out at the end of the Punk-Vince McMahon match — none of that was due to Cena’s blessing. So why retcon the story that way? Why not just let it be a matter of McMahon rewarding the guy who saved his butt with a title shot?

On this week’s International Object podcast, Rich and KSP made great points about how the Ryback character is great because he isn’t really a character. There’s zero depth, and the crowd simply reacts as it chooses, or the way it’s led to based entirely on his opponent. When Ryback came out to destroy Punk, the fans went wild because they’d just been booing Punk for three hours. But if Ryback came out in exactly the same manner to destroy someone like Randy Orton, then he’d be the one drawing the jeers.

Getting back to your main question, though, I agree — I’m not seeing the Ryback thing. David Shoemaker made some great points about this little run in his Grantland piece previewing the show, and maybe I’m not getting Ryback because I’m not the kind of fan the writers are trying to cater to. I can accept that. At the very least I’m interested to see if the two are allowed to have a long match and how well Ryback does being on TV for 10 minutes or longer. I loved Rich Thomas’ theory of them destroying the cell, but I think the common prediction of Lesnar’s involvement in some fashion is going to win out.

Of course, there’s more than just one match on this show. What else are you looking forward to seeing Sunday?

• • •

David: There are two main things I’m looking forward to. The first is the tag team title match. I’m loving the Rhodes Scholars, and can’t wait to see what they can do in a match with Daniel Bryan and Kane.

The second isn’t even a match. I can’t wait to see how Dolph Ziggler gets involved with the World Heavyweight Title match. He has vowed to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase, and I’m hoping Big Show wins the title in a brutal match, only to lose it to Ziggler in a short amount of time. That would be an interesting event, especially since last year’s 45-second loss to Bryan has been mentioned on television recently.

Is there anything specific you’re excited about or hoping to happen?

• • •

Scott: I am surprised Ziggler’s briefcase has kind of faded into the background, and I agree there would be some nice symmetry to having him take the belt from Big Show the same way Show lost it in December. That could set up a great program with Ziggler and Big Show feuding over the belt, though I’m not sure the writers would be fond of pairing those two, especially since it would leave Sheamus arguably without a logical next step.

Along those lines, one of the things I would like to see more of, either at Hell in a Cell or subsequent television, is a bit more of the Big Show-Sheamus interaction we’ve seen recently wherein Big Show speaks what many fans have been saying: Sheamus is an overgrown child who would rather make bad jokes than be serious about being a champion. It’s a weird comparison to make given these remarks are coming from an establishment superstar like Big Show, but to me it evokes what CM Punk said about John Cena in June and July 2011. When the so called “bad guys” speak the truth and try to make the fan favorites accountable for their questionable words or deeds, it gives the fans who consider the depth of the characters something to appreciate.

But looking at the show itself, the card is somewhat disappointing. The match outcomes may not be predictable, but I also don’t especially care if Randy Orton beats Alberto Del Rio. I like to harp on how close together certain pay-per-view events are on the WWE schedule, but it’s been about six weeks since Night of Champions, and the major stories have grown incredibly stale despite plenty of time to add depth. Only the tag team scene has flourished in the interim, but as long as fans have pined for that development, I’m loath to complain. Further, we’ve seen “The Main Event” on Ion become something of appointment television. If nothing else, it’s a reminder WWE can present shows in more than one format, and that knowing the outcome of a match doesn’t mean the presentation of said match will be boring. We all know “MacBeth” is rife with tragedy, but it still packs theaters worldwide so long as the performers are up to snuff.

I am curious on your thoughts about the Intercontinental title. Does Kofi Kingston retain? If so, why? If not, why not?

David: It’s an interesting question, specifically because I think that Kofi divides the fans. If you read Brandon Stroud’s “Best and Worst of Raw” column every week, he has given numerous reasons why he think Kofi Kingston is not a very good professional wrestler. The analytical fans, which is the group Mr. Stroud courts with his writing, see him as sloppy, and not very believable.

However, I think the casual fans, who don’t put a microscope on the WWE’s product, probably don’t se Kofi the same way. They see him do flashy moves, and while the more analytical fans deride those moves and the “Boom Drop” for not makong sense psychologically, and not being performed very well, the casual fan gets a visceral thrill that probably defies the analysis.

In figuring who is going to win the match, it would seem to make sense to try to figure out which group the WWE cares more about. Signs point to Kofi retaining, in my estimation. Additionally, I feel like they’ve built him up in such a way over the past few weeks (with mic time, and the big title win on Main Event, which has indeed become appointment television) that his win seems to be a no-brainer. Of course, when it comes to the WWE, is anything really a no-brainer? I guess we’ll find out at Hell in a Cell.

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

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.

• • •

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