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Dream of the Elimination Chamber

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The biggest thing to happen to wrestling since PPV?

Scott: Once again, it’s been far too long. But here we go.

The WWE Network launches soon — two weeks from the time we started this debate. While there’s plenty to say about what WWEN might mean for the dollars-and-cents side of the business, this seems a good opportunity to explore the possible on-screen implications.

I have a billion questions and I’ve tried to sort them out on my own. Can’t be done. I need your insight. But I’ll start with an assertion: Fans will look back on the launch of the Network as the biggest impetus for a shift in the business model since Raw’s debut. How long, though, do you think it will take for us to see shifts in WWE storytelling methods?

WCW famously prized Monday night ratings over PPV buys, which was clearly evident in the way important events were scheduled. WWE obviously wants people to consider their monthly mega shows as important enough to be a selling point for the Network, but also have positioned WWEN as something attractive even to folks who don’t diligently follow the current product.

It’s not to say Raw will move away from cable and into the ether, but there will be changes in how stories are told, or perhaps shifts in how supershow cards are built. The first six months are crucial, since that’s the minimum subscription length. Will it be OK to leave John Cena off a show like Payback because the PPV buyrates are no longer a driving force? Will there be essential plot points exclusive to the pre-and post-Raw shows?

This early in the game, what’s your read?

• • •

David: As someone who is planning on being an early adopter, I can only hope there is “value added” material on Monday nights. Not only would I like to see additional character and plot development on the pre-and post-Raw shows, but I’d actually like to see the live action that goes on in the ring after the show goes off the air.

It strikes me that the key to the long-term success of the network is to hook the casual fan. For the hardcore fan of today’s product, WWEN pays for itself. The library of PPVs on demand will bring in lapsed fans looking to take a trip down to the corner of Memory Lane and Nostalgia Avenue. The viewer who only spends money on WrestleMania, and only watches a few Raws a year, is a tougher sell, though.

To answer your first question, I think any changes in storytelling will depend on how much business the network does initially. That initial six-month commitment is interesting, because it takes us through the post-WrestleMania season up to SummerSlam. With a lesser focus on buyrates, that time could be fertile ground for creative exploration.

In the past, I’ve read some wrestling critics advocate for the idea of an off-season in professional wrestling. With CM Punk’s sudden departure  being blamed in some circles on burn-out, it got me thinking of the idea in a new light. Could the network allow the WWE to be flexible with wrestlers’ schedules, and give them more time off?

• • •

Scott: Before I answer your last question I’m going to take issue with you on a few points. First, I don’t think the Network is all that tough a sell on the “WrestleMania only” fans. They can pay $60 to their cable company for one show, or pay the same directly to WWE for that show plus nearly limitless content. Who cares if they don’t actually watch the Network all that often? The value is undeniable.

But, is that a “casual” fan? To me, anyone willing to spend $60 on WrestleMania, even if that’s the only show they buy all year, is a bit more invested than the truly casual viewer, the kind of whom became devotees in droves during the mid-90s. During the recent Art of Wrestling podcast with guest Mike Quackenbush, Colt Cabana lamented the idea of the Network closing the loop, in a sense, meaning WWE primarily will be catering to the audience it’s already cultivated to this point. Quack countered with a positive — that maybe wrestlers can be wrestlers again and not just TV stars. But I don’t see Raw going away any time soon, if ever. It’s value to advertisers as live entertainment in an increasingly on-demand culture is impossible to ignore.

As for your question about time off, I’m not sure if I can draw a straight line from the Network to a rotating offseason, if only because I think it’s been happening already. Undertaker’s one match a year thing is the extreme, but Chris Jericho has done a good job with on-again, off-again stuff, and I think Rob Van Dam’s recent run was actually pretty well timed (it ended when he ran out of stuff to do), not to mention the resurgence of Goldust.

The key for WWE is if it can find a way to spread these things out across the year in order to get away from the perception of ringers coming in and hogging the WrestleMania spotlight. I actually think this is a great time for Punk to step away, whether it’s part of the story or not. Does anyone now care (or remember) he didn’t work a full 2013?

• • •

David: First off, you’re right. $60 is probably a bit more than “casual.” The casual fan is probably the guy who flips channels when Monday Night Football isn’t particularly compelling and happens to land on Raw. I guess my thinking is there are people who watch WrestleMania because it’s an event, and spending $60 on an event resonates with them differently than buying a subscription service. I think that’s especially true of people who don’t trust Internet streams, and they may be even more leery if they are aware of the issues WWE had with the WrestleMania online stream last year.

Also, I think there’s a point to be made about the difference between dropping $60 in one go and signing up for an auto-renewing service, which I’m assuming WWEN will be. In my above scenario, I wasn’t just thinking of it as a $60 commitment. I was thinking of it as a $120 commitment, since anyone with a gym membership knows we don’t always cancel things we don’t use, especially if we’re not having to write a physical check to pay the bill.

punk

Does CM Punk’s “sabbatical” make room for other talent to shine?

When it comes to Punk’s absence, I think longer is better for both him and the product. If the backstage reports are true, then he needs the time off to get over being burnt out. I think it also gives other talent the chance to step in and make a difference. I love that Antonio Cesaro is going to be in the Elimination Chamber match and hope it means the start of a big push for him. Is that necessarily a result of CM Punk not being around? Obviously, I don’t have the answer to that, but I certainly think it’s possible.

On the February 10 Raw, John Cena made a point of saying that the next generation of superstars needed to come through him if they wanted to be the “face of the WWE.” It’s easy to write off a statement like that as being part of the character Cena plays on the WWE Raw television program, but I have to wonder if there’s a certain reality to it. Is that why he drives himself so hard and why he forces himself to come back from injuries more quickly than medical science says should be possible? As much as I like John Cena, there are times when I think he’s Norma Desmond. Most people have heard the quote from Sunset Boulevard: “Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close up.” Right before that, Norma, in a dazed state after just having killed Joe Gillis (sorry if I spoiled a movie from 1950 for you) says to the news cameras: “I promise you I’ll never desert you again because after ‘Salome’ we’ll make another picture and another picture. You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else!”

Kindred spirits? Or the biggest reach in the history of this blog?

Kindred spirits? Or the biggest reach in the history of this blog?

Has John Cena gotten to the point where he can’t exist outside the WWE, and will the WWE Network help with this, make it worse or have no discernable effect?

• • •

Scott: No, Cena can’t exist outside WWE, at least not as a professional entertainer. He’s tried to cross over into movies, which didn’t work any better than it does for most wrestlers, and probably also means he’s not a candidate for anything more than guest spots on TV series. There’s no other wrestling promotion where he’d  get paid what he’s worth.

I don’t see the Network having any discernable effect on Cena’s role with the company any time soon. Why? He doesn’t want to change. He seems to like the grind of the schedule (have you ever heard a report of him claiming to be tired or burned out?) and, because this is a scripted art form, he can (and must) always be presented as the same he’s always been. Absent an Austin-like injury that forces him to change his in-ring style, Cena has to be either the top of the mountain or gone altogether.

Yes, there is compelling narrative potential in a Cena who doesn’t know how to deal with his advancing age and fading powers. But there seems to be zero interest in telling that story. For one thing, he has to maintain his Übermensch status in order for there to be any real value in his rare clean defeats. For another, his character lacks the supernatural elements of the Undertaker (which mean he can fade in and out with little narrative exposition) or the vagabond, multimedia dynamism of Chris Jericho or even Punk’s “above all this/smartest guy in the building” vibe or any other element that lets you think either the character or the performer has any interest in being anywhere else.

In this way, Cena and Daniel Bryan are more similar than either character might care to admit. Bryan was right earlier this summer when he essentially labeled himself a pro wrestler who happens to be in the WWE and Cena a WWE star who fits nowhere else. That Bryan can and would go back to the independent barnstorm circuit is secondary, even if only because he’d immediately be the most bankable name. These guys are wrestlers first and foremost. Except Cena has been so big for so long, he can’t be anything but the best.

We’re not going to see Cena as the aging slugger taking a one-year deal with the Phillies just to hang around and pad his stats. But we’re also not going to see him cast as Michael Jordan, hitting one great, final shot and walking away (we’re ignoring post-1998 MJ, by the way, as everyone should), because Cena will be written to be great probably past when he can perform as well as the story demands.

I’m on a roll here, but I don’t want to get too far away from another point you established: Cesaro’s ascension as a result of Punk’s departure. I agree there may not be an exclusive correlation (I think the seeds of Cesaro’s split from Jack Swagger were sown earlier), but it’s certainly seemed to accelerate the situation. I love everything Cesaro does, so I think it’s a fantastic development. That said, I’d sooner have Punk AND Cesaro around and elevated. Much as I love Punk, I can stand to see him walk away if it means more chances for the other guys I support. So the question is where else could the dominoes fall? Who is ready to ascend around WrestleMania season, and does anyone need to leave for this to happen?

• • •

David: The name that jumps to the forefront of my mind is Dolph Ziggler. For a couple of years now, it seemed like he was ready to make the leap. If there had been an absence at the top of the card during his rise, it seems likely he would have been the guy for WWE to elevate. Unfortunately, he’s had some setbacks and regressions, and I’m just not sure if he’s capable of being “The Guy” at this point.

There is another guy who I think is ready to make “the leap,” and I don’t think there needs to be an absence for it to happen. With his performance in the Royal Rumble, and the build to the Shield’s match with the Wyatts, I think it has become obvious Roman Reigns is going to be a breakout star, and it appears it’s going to happen sooner rather than later.

As great as his Royal Rumble performance was, for me, the “moment” that told me exactly who Roman Reigns is in the eyes of the WWE creative team was on the Jan. 31 Smackdown when he stepped into Triple H’s face and told him the Shield wasn’t “asking for his approval” for a match with the Wyatts. I also think this match with the Wyatts at Elimination Chamber could be the next big “moment” for Reigns. Not to tip my hand before we get to any kind of EC discussion, but I have a feeling the finish to that match could have a lot to do with Roman Reigns not being on the same page as his Shield teammates, Rollins and Ambrose.

What will this man be doing come Wrestlemania?

What will this man be doing come Wrestlemania?

Before Punk left the WWE, there was a rumor I read a few places saying he was going to be featured in a match with Triple H at WrestleMania. Since Punk has left, that leaves Triple H open as a dance partner. I may dislike Triple H as a character, but I have to admit a match with him in the SuperDome in New Orleans could have a huge effect on an emerging Superstar’s career. Provided they built a good enough story, how would you feel about a Roman Reigns/Triple H match at WrestleMania XXX?

• • •

Scott: Here’s the thing about WrestleMania, and also the way the Chamber shakes down Sunday: what about Daniel Bryan? I think Bryan defeating Triple H would be a pretty good WrestleMania story, but are fans going to e-riot if Bryan fails to win the title Sunday the way they did when he didn’t appear in the Rumble?

At this juncture, I’d have preferred Wyatts-Shield to wait for WrestleMania. Maybe that’s because I don’t want the Shield to break up. Maybe it’s because I would like the group to have a more memorable WrestleMania moment before it disbands. Maybe it’s because I want the Wyatts to shine on the big stage and I can’t yet see where they go from here. We could have expected a Cena-Wyatts story after the Rumble, but that was ignored probably in light of Punk’s departure. After the go-home Raw, it’s not too hard to see a Cena-Real Americans plot developing (perhaps with the inclusion of the real Real American, Hulk Hogan), but that could all change depending on what happens in the Chamber.

To directly answer you, Reigns-HHH could be fantastic. All the Shield members, as well as guys like Cesaro and Big E Langston, can quickly and easily be put into matches with established veteran stars with an “old guard/new blood” narrative, except without the clunky, late-stage WCW forcing of factions amongst each side.

Cena has been vocal of late, on camera and off, about the rising stars needing to go through him to prove they’re ready to ascend. And while he’s clearly at the top of the mountain, other guys like HHH, the Undertaker, Lesnar and so on can still provide the kind of moment needed to move an up-and-comer into prominence as a new company cornerstone.

After two years where the top of the Mania card was pretty clear from a distance, there’s much more confusion going into a show that, thankfully, kind of sells itself at this point. Are you OK with that?

• • •

David: I am absolutely okay with that. I prefer wrestling to be unpredictable to a point. The problem with WrestleMania XXVIII was they set up the main event between John Cena and The Rock a year early, and then had to try to build a story that led up to it featuring a guy who wasn’t around very often. It was an interesting experiment that, in my eyes, wasn’t a creative success. They didn’t telegraph the WrestleMania XXIX main event quite as far in advance, but it was pretty clear once the Rock announced his intention to challenge for the title at Royal Rumble we probably were going to end up with “Twice in a Lifetime.” The fact we still don’t know what’s going down at WrestleMania XXX, other than Batista headlining, creates a lot of interesting potentiality for the show.

The fact there is no announced match yet provides an interesting look at the WWE’s business. As John Cena pointed out during his appearance on the Steve Austin Show, the WWE has already sold more than 60,000 tickets to WrestleMania without announcing more than a single competitor. This tells me that, despite any negative feelings about booking or creative direction, there are going to be fans who will always want to go to WrestleMania, because of its status as the “Big Event.” I wonder, though, if this is a bit of a double-edged sword.

Could the success of WrestleMania as a brand be to the detriment of creative booking?

• • •

Scott: I certainly think there’s something of a disincentive to taking major creative risks leading into WrestleMania, which is why the spring and early summer have always been more interesting — if not more creatively successful. I’m not at all sure how important it is to use a WrestleMania itself to build fans for the ensuing 12 months, and whether the shift to the Network vs. pay-per-view buys will be signal any shifts in the pace at which stories are told or the choices made about which performers to feature at given points on the calendar. Of course, that’s how we got into all this discussion in the first place, right?

I think it’s simply too early to tell how the next WWE era will differ from what we’ve come to know over the last several years. What I do know is there are now a large handful of stars on the cusp of breaking through to the top of the promotion. And even if guys like Big E Langston and Antonio Cesaro stumble, there remain others such as Damien Sandow and Dolph Ziggler who have been forcibly detoured of late, or the greatness of Cody Rhodes or AJ Lee, who have been upstaged in recent weeks. That’s to say nothing of the potential breakout success stories currently headlining NXT. There are so many great WWE matches every single month it’s almost impossible to envision anything but sustained success even if Cena should slow down and Punk just stays home.

But that’s big picture. Let’s get a little more narrow, specifically this Sunday. Let’s try something new here as we wrap up. We’ll take a look at the card the way A&E critics approach award shows. What do you think will happen, and how does it align with what should happen?

• • •

David: Okay, let’s start with the undercard and work our way up. On Raw, it was announced Titus O’Neil will take on Darren Young in a singles match. The feud between them started after a tag team loss by the Prime Time Players that ended with Titus O’Neil attacking Darren Young, thus dissolving their team. I tend to like stories that evolve from tag team break ups, and while this one hasn’t gotten nearly enough television time on Raw, I’m interested in seeing how these two mesh as opponents. I think Titus O’Neil probably will win the match, as he’s gotten way more television time in the lead up to the match, including his interview with Renee Young on Monday night. I think that’s probably the right move, since they seem to want to build him as a strong bad guy. I think he needs to look strong and get a decisive win, even if it is by nefarious means. That would allow them to carry the feud through and maybe end it at Extreme Rules when Young gets his revenge.

Is there a different way you’d write the story?

• • •

Scott: Well, for starters I wouldn’t have run with this until after WrestleMania. It came out of nowhere and, as you noted, is getting seriously lost in the shuffle, which is a shame because I think both guys are talented. I just don’t see this match on the WrestleMania card at all, unless they’re planning to have it be a subplot of a multi-man match like a Money in the Bank or battle royal. That said, I think O’Neil should and will win because WWE needs more talented lower-card bad guys at the moment. Hopefully that doesn’t mean an end to Darren Young being worthwhile. I’d have preferred to see these guys stick together to help bolster the tag team scene.

Next match up is the Tag Team Title match between the champion New Age Outlaws and the Usos. I think the Usos deserve to be champs at this point, but again this seems like a story that’s lacked build over the last several weeks. The Outlaws and Rhodes brothers seemed to still be feuding until just this week, and while the Usos have proven worthy of a shot, I don’t see a win here having big buzz. It seems likely Road Dogg and Billy Gunn are headed toward a WrestleMania appearance (a natural carrot to get them back in the ring for a few months), and I expect a rematch in New Orleans, or perhaps a multi-team encounter. Your thoughts?

• • •

David: You’re right, the build hasn’t really been there for this contest. I did enjoy the Billy Gunn/Jey Uso match, and even more so, the interplay between Road Dogg and Jimmy Uso on commentary. It was, in my memory, the best recent use of wrestlers on commentary. Like you, I think the Outlaws will and should beat the Usos leading to a WrestleMania rematch, where, hopefully, the Usos will win the titles on the big stage, which would be a huge elevation for them. I almost would like to see a third party help the Outlaws win at Elimination Chamber, paving the way for Rikishi to be at ringside for the Usos at Mania.

The next match, and I’m working my way up from bottom to top on the Wikipedia page for the event, is Big E (nee Langston) vs Jack Swagger. This match, like the first two we’ve discussed is suffering from a short buildup. Swagger won the title shot in a Fatal Four Way match on Smackdown, which aired nine days before the pay-per-view, and doesn’t really have any history with Big E. Unlike the first two matches, I see very little in the way of a long program between these two. I don’t see Swagger winning the title, and with the tension they’ve teased between Zeb and Jack, I wonder if this is going to be the match where we see an ill-advised (in my opinion) Jack Swagger re-alignment, and a possible Real Americans split. The reason I see it as ill-advised is because I think Jack Swagger will always work best as a bad guy with a manager, and I’d rather see Cesaro as a good guy, anyway.

Maybe I’m wrong, though. Do you think we’ll see Jack Swagger as a good guy, and will the WWE Universe accept him as such?

• • •

Scott: We’re agreeing too much again. I don’t see Swagger succeeding in attempts to get cheers. If he breaks from Colter and Cesaro I see the same thing happening as we predicted for Darren Young — a demolition to serve the needs of building his former partner. Of course, with Cesaro’s classic against Cena Monday as well as his spot in the Chamber Sunday, a feud with Swagger probably is a step back at this point. I’m actually fond of Swagger, and his NXT match with Sami Zayn is a largely overlooked bright spot of 2013. Hopefully there are some interesting stories for him going forward.

At least that match will be more interesting than the next one on the docket — Batista vs. Alberto Del Rio. What precisely is the point of this contest? Batista is in line for a title shot at WrestleMania, after one of the least impressive Royal Rumble wins in history, and the only possible interesting story is for him to lose to Del Rio, which sets up Del Rio as a top challenger should Batista win the belt. But is there any indication that’s a direction they’ll pursue with the Mexican millionaire? Should win (for my own interests)? Del Rio. Will win? Batista. Do you agree?

• • •

David: Well, I agree Batista will win, but I don’t necessarily agree Del Rio should win. Primarily because I don’t have an interest in Del Rio winning. Even though I can see he is a skilled performer, he doesn’t move me or excite me in any way. I don’t feel anything during his matches, which is unfortunate. Of course, I pretty much feel the same way about Batista, except he’s not as skilled technically as Del Rio. But, in terms of the story, it seems pretty clear Batista will win. It wouldn’t make much sense for him to lose and then be in the main event of WrestleMania six weeks later.

As for the point of this contest, there isn’t a good one. I think the point is to give Big Dave something to do while he’s waiting around for his title shot. Like I said… not a good point. It would almost be better if he were a part-timer like Lesnar, because he could have sat at home for the last month instead of having a pointless feud before his real job begins.

That brings us to the first of the two big matches on the card (maybe the biggest): the Wyatt Family vs. the Shield. There are so many storytelling possibilities for this match I don’t quite know where to begin. As I said earlier, I think Roman Reigns is poised to be the breakout star of the Shield, and I think he takes another step toward the deep end of the WWE talent pool this weekend. I am predicting a Wyatt family win in this match, and I think it’s the right move, primarily because I think there are more storytelling possibilities with a Shield loss.

I can envision a scenario where Reigns has the match well in hand, and Dean Ambrose tags himself in and ends up costing the Shield the match. From there, you can either break them up immediately, continue the simmering tension in the group or have their group resolve strengthen by having Triple H explicitly turn his back on them.

I know you’re looking more toward a Daniel Bryan/Triple H match at WrestleMania, so what do you see happening between the top trios in WWE?

• • •

Scott: Well, I should clarify my stance on Bryan. I’m looking for him to have a WrestleMania moment. Retaining the tag titles last year in New York was great, but I am aching for the visual of a triumphant Bryan leading the entire Superdome in a “Yes!” chant, and I’m OK if that’s not for a title victory. After all, it would take some screwy machinations for him to go in as a challenger at this point, unless he gets horned into a Batista-Orton match — which is possible, I guess, if he gets screwed in the Chamber and offered a qualifying match into the Mania main event some time on Raw.

I’d also be OK with a Bryan-Undertaker match, which I suppose could be set up if Undertaker saves Kane from a Bryan assault. Fans aren’t going to cheer for the streak ending unless Undertaker is going against someone with amazing crowd support, and even Cena at this point doesn’t qualify. And yes, yes I have gone down a fantasy booking rabbit hole, thanks for asking.

Reigns-HHH would be a great WrestleMania match. Both the Wyatts and all three Shield members need to have a place on the WrestleMania card, and hopefully not in multi-man matches. The WWE.com staff recently dreamed up some Mania matches, including a 10-man Money in the Bank that included both the Wyatts and Rollins and Ambrose, and putting Bray Wyatt in a match like that seems ridiculous. Harper and Rowan were able tag champs in NXT, but Wyatt’s character would not be enhanced by a singles title pursuit.

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Follow the Buzzards.

I did love, however, that same article’s suggestion of pairing Reigns and Langston. That’s a match I’d enjoy as much as Sheamus and Cesaro. Yet I’m not ready to let go of the Shield. Would they work well against Authority figures like Kane and the Outlaws? Would people complain if this Chamber match ends inconclusively and we end up with a rematch in New Orleans?

Your prediction of Ambrose causing the Shield loss and further dissension seems like the story they’ve been telling of late. But certainly Reigns turning by attacking Triple H would be far more momentous than him going against Ambrose. I’d love to see Reigns and Brock Lesnar tear each other apart, for that matter.

The main question I have about the Chamber, and this gets into the main event, is where are we going with John Cena? Do we revisit the hint of a Cena-Wyatts program we saw at the Rumble? Does Cena-Cesaro on Raw become Cena and Hogan against the Real Americans? I know we’re talking in circles a bit, but let’s look at the main event Sunday. There’s six guys, and it would seem all of them (with the possible exception of Christian) ought to have a spot on the WrestleMania XXX card. Yet all of them have so many possible stories that could be told well between now and then. What happens Sunday — not just the end of the match, but the storytelling all around it — will be incredibly interesting.

At this juncture, the best I can say is it does not appear Cena winning is the obvious, inevitable outcome (as it was during Money in the Bank 2012 and the 2013 Royal Rumble). That alone is a significant improvement over what we’ve come to expect. I know I didn’t make an actual prediction, but we need to wrap up soon. What are some things you expect to see in Sunday night’s main event?

• • •

David: I agree with your point about Cena winning not being obvious. I agree with it so much my expectation is he will be eliminated prior to the end of the match. If we’re seriously talking about a possible Hogan/Cena vs. Real Americans match at WrestleMania, why not use the Elimination Chamber to further what was started on Raw? Cena pinned Cesaro clean last Monday after a hard-fought match, so it seems plausible Cesaro could be the one to eliminate Cena from the Chamber.

daniel_bryan_bio_20130430

I’m hopeful, though I wouldn’t say I expect it, that we’ll have an understanding of why Christian was put into this match. He has to be going somewhere, right? Well, I guess he actually doesn’t…but I hope there is an outcome for him other than the one I’m afraid we’ll see, which is he’ll be one of the first men to enter and the first one to leave.

Along those same lines, I expect to have a better idea of where Sheamus is headed after this weekend. There have been rumors around the internet WWE was kicking around the idea of re-visiting the Sheamus/Daniel Bryan feud from two years ago. Their match at Extreme Rules in 2012 was fantastic, and they have a certain chemistry in the ring together, but there doesn’t seem to be the makings of a WrestleMania moment in that match. Maybe he and Christian will continue their mini-feud that started when Sheamus hit Christian with the Brogue Kick during their tag team match on the Valentine’s Day Smackdown.

I do sort of expect the Elimination Chamber to come down to Orton and Bryan as the final two competitors. I expect shenanigans involving Kane, and I expect Randy Orton to retain his title of Champion because of said shenanigans. I’m almost expecting something similar to what happened at Elimination Chamber 2010, when Shawn Michaels, who wasn’t an entrant in the match, came up through the grates and delivered the Sweet Chin Music to the Undertaker to cost him the match and his title. Kane could come up through the grates and chokeslam Bryan to hand the victory to Orton.

Now I’m going to go down the fantasy booking rabbit hole. This could lead to Triple H coming out on Monday night, letting us all know he knows Bryan got screwed by the Director of Operations at Elimination Chamber. He tells Daniel Bryan that to make it up to him, he gets a match with Kane as the main event of Monday Night Raw. The match itself features Daniel Bryan beating Kane from pillar to post right from the opening bell. Kane doesn’t get in a lick of offense, with Bryan brutally taking out all of his frustrations of the last six months on Kane. All of the sudden, the lights go out. We hear one chime and the lights come back on with the Undertaker in the ring, delivering a chokeslam to Daniel Bryan to save Kane, and standing over Bryan as Raw fades out… to the activation of the WWE Network.

How great would it be if one of the first things on the WWEN was an interview with Bryan challenging the Undertaker to put his streak on the line at WrestleMania XXX?

• • •

Scott: You know, it leaves me dumbfounded that until this very moment I’d not considered the absolute imperative the Feb. 24 Raw end with something that forces people to care about the aftershow. The scenario you outlined, or something just like it, is almost a certainty. And of course following it backward leads to the almost certain screwiness of the Chamber itself.

I like your thought about Sheamus and Christian — I’m not sure how their match on this week’s Smackdown will leave things going forward, but I would be OK seeing them paired off for the next couple of months, if only to keep Sheamus out of the title picture for a while.

At some point there will need to be a formal consolidation of Orton’s two belts into one and the formal elevation of the Intercontinental Title to establish it as the No. 2 belt. That would enable something like a Sheamus-Cesaro feud over a belt that truly matters in the “new” WWE.

(Side note: As excited as I am for Cesaro’s match this week and prospects in the Chamber, I also know he will be a centerpiece of the live NXT event on Feb. 27 in what will be an amazing match with Sami Zayn. How that encounter relates to Cesaro’s role on the main roster remains to be seen. But if/when Zayn beats Cesaro, doesn’t that enable him to graduate from NXT?)

Hopefully we’ve had a productive discussion here. I am far more excited about this big February show than I have been in years, and I’m also pretty jazzed about the long-term outlook for the WWE roster. I’m anxious to see how the Network changes storytelling and character development (don’t get me started on the backstage NXT show) and, well, I just enjoy talking wrestling with my friends, which is why we do this in the first place.

As always, thanks for reading, and know 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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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:

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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!

Cutting Electricity With a Knife

Posted on
Welcome to the first post on Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object, a two-headed wrestling blog in which college buddies debate top-level pro wrestling from the mid-1980s to today. We’re going to just dive right in with our initial post, please feel free to give us feedback and contact us in whatever way is most convenient.

• • •

Scott: All right, so the premise here is to debate wrestling with class and dignity. I called dibs on being the “Immovable Object” part of the tandem if only because I’m probably more stubborn, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been described as irresistible. But before we get down to actually debating a wrestling issue — and perhaps since we haven’t quite settled on an appropriate topic just yet — I think we should start with a brief bit of introduction. And since I decided to get the ball rolling, I’m going to roll it in your direction. When and how did you get into wrestling, how much do you consume at present and who is your all-time least favorite celebrity ring announcer?

• • •

David: An introduction is probably a good way to start. After all, while you’re something of a known commodity in the blogging world (being associated with Fair to Flair, and having appeared on a few podcasts), I’m pretty much unknown outside of Twitter.

Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like wrestling. I know that when I was 4 or 5 years old I watched Wrestling at the Chase (which was the St. Louis area wrestling show that ran for more than 40 years) on those rare Sunday mornings when we didn’t go to church. That said, I didn’t become a big fan until sometime in late 1986. My dad is probably most responsible, because he and I would watch Saturday Night’s Main Event together, and he was the one who brought home WrestleMania 2 from the video store. Those two things really kick-started my love of wrestling, and I was a hardcore fan of both the WWF and the NWA/WCW products until I went to college in 1995. Over the last 17 years, I’ve sort of run hot and cold with wrestling. I watched Nitro and Raw pretty religiously until WCW folded, but after the debacle that was “The Invasion” I got bored with wrestling and stopped watching. I would follow angles online, but didn’t really watch very often until around the 2010 Royal Rumble, when I got back into a regular viewing schedule.

Currently, I watch Raw every week and I try to catch the pay-per-views when possible. I watch Smackdown occasionally, and am working on watching it more regularly, especially since I feel like that show has been getting an upgrade as of late. I’m really excited about the additions of Damien Sandow and Antonio Cesaro, and their prospects for the future. I stopped watching TNA altogether last year, and hadn’t seen any of their programming until Slammiversary a few weeks ago. I’m just not sure if I’m ready to go back to being a full-time fan of theirs or not. I also try to watch NWA Hollywood online every week, as I think they’ve got a good product.

Burt Reynolds and the Bushwhackers

My least favorite celebrity ring announcer is probably Burt Reynolds at WrestleMania X. I was never a huge fan to begin with, although I did enjoy the “Cannonball Run” movies as a kid. Despite his statement to the crowd that he’s happier to be there than they are, his introductions seem really pedestrian and boring. I’ll take abject failure over pedestrian and boring. Burt Reynolds is an acclaimed actor, right? Then why does he sound like a high school sophomore in a public speaking class? At points he trails off and starts mumbling, which is ridiculous. The cadence of his speech doesn’t make much sense either. It’s almost like he was trying to impersonate an announcer of some sort, and did it badly.

Since I know you’ve always been a predominately WWF/E guy, what started your infatuation with wrestling, and why did you specifically get caught up in the WWF? Was it an access issue? Did you not get the Superstation when you were growing up?

• • •

Scott: If we’re going to disagree on things for the purpose of this website, perhaps it would be better if we had different fan origin stories. You’re only two years older than me, but we got into wrestling around the exact same time — 1986. My first vivid memory is watching one of the syndicated WWF shows at a neighbor’s house and seeing the Randy Savage-Ricky Steamboat larynx-crushing angle. I don’t know if I ran home and tried to figure out how to watch SuperStars and Wrestling Challenge on my own from that point on, but I was pretty well hooked. I know I was following stories in real time during the Mega-Powers angle because I clearly recall being desperately interested in the outcome of the WrestleMania V main event. Two years later I was subscribing to WWF magazine, my bedroom was awash in action figures and I knew almost everything any child could know about the WWF of the time.

However, my family did not have cable growing up. I had to beg some family friends to record the two-hour “road to WrestleMania” special leading up to WrestleMania VIII and Hulk Hogan’s first retirement. I would rent Coliseum Video tapes over and again and started to buy them as video stores unloaded old inventory. When I got a drivers license and discovered eBay, the collection jumped to triple digits. But that lack of cable as a kid made it hard for me to learn much about NWA/WCW.

Our local library had a few classic wrestling books, including one or two by famed photographer George Napolitano. That’s how I came to learn about the Von Erichs, the Freebirds, Bruiser Brody and the like — and to realize guys like Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes had a life before coming to the WWF, that the Bushwackers were really the Sheepherders and the Legion of Doom were actually the Road Warriors. Somewhere along the line I must have gotten some exposure to WCW TV because I learned of guys like Vader and Ron Simmons and Sting, though I didn’t try to watch regularly until Savage jumped in late 1994.

However, as I said on my upcoming appearance on the What A Maneuver podcast, even by 1996 I was still spotty enough in my global view to where I recognized Marc Mero as Johnny B. Badd but had no concept of Steve Austin or Brian Pillman except maybe seeing an old snapshot of the Hollywood Blondes. I still have not watched an entire Clash of the Champions, any of them, which is a great regret.

As for now, I DVR Raw and watch it later that night. I read Smackdown spoilers but rarely have time to watch the show, unless it’s live, in which case I make time. I am an active Twitterer and occasional blogger, so I am exposed in that way to TNA and a variety of smaller promotions. And while I respect the dedication of people who follow and discuss those promotions, I just can’t make time for them.

And now a question for you — do you remember anything about the WCW Thunder show we attended together in February 1998?

• • •

David: That night, especially the actual wrestling, is a bit of a blur. I remember I had to walk over to the Five Seasons Center by myself because I got out of class later than everyone else. I remember your “Sting is a Mime” sign. I remember the “Eddie Sucks (dick)” chant… talk about class and dignity. I remember it was in the middle of the illegal power bomb angle where Kevin Nash was getting arrested every night for jackknifing whatever mid-carder he happened to be wrestling. The matches are indistinct, although I did look up the card at one point on TheHistoryOfWWE.com, so I do have some notion of what happened that night. Apparently, this happened:

What I remember the most is even though Thunder was not, typically, a great show, how much fun we all had. It was great being at a live event with the guys we watched wrestling with every Monday and Thursday night. In my opinion, the greatest thing about wrestling is being able to share it with friends. If I think back to the times when I haven’t watched wrestling, it was at times when I didn’t have any friends who watched wrestling, and I didn’t have anyone to discuss it with. That camaraderie made that night special, and made it one of my favorite memories from the four years I spent in college.

Do you also find you remember the little things surrounding the event better than the event itself, or am I just an oddball that way?

• • •

Scott: You’re an oddball, but not for that. I could not name one match from that night without looking it up online. But I could recall almost the entire cards of the two WWF PPVs I attended (SummerSlam ‘94 and King of the Ring ‘96). I think a lot of that has to do with how weekly TV is booked vs. supercards. When we bought those tickets a few weeks before the show, we just assumed we’d see the guys we saw on TV every Thursday. We may have gotten some indication of the actual card on the preceding Thunder or Nitro episodes. But I don’t recall that, either.

I do recall going over to an electronics store with our friend Dan earlier in the day to meet Booker T. He was the TV champion at the time and we each got to hold the belt. That was a pretty spectacular experience. Honestly, we’d have gone over there no matter which wrestler was announced, but standing next to Booker T specifically was incredible.

I totally get what you’re saying about how wrestling is best experienced with friends. I was mostly following by reading Raw results and Smackdown spoilers for about two years. That changed when Randy Savage died and I tried to read everything I could about him. That kind of led me down the rabbit hole to wrestling bloggers and podcasters and Twitter folks I’d never known about. It’s really enhanced my enjoyment of wrestling new and old. I recall being super excited for the Royal Rumble this year because I couldn’t wait to watch it and be on Twitter at the same time — and it turned out to be a great experience.

Since we’ve crossed over 1,700 words in the “getting to know you” part, I figure we should move on to an actual debate. So in light of my last blog post and with the idea we’ll post this some time Monday, here’s my question to you: What should WWE writers do with John Cena’s character at this exact moment?

• • •

David: John Cena is a tough character to deal with, and I thought the Chris Jericho suggestion from your recent article was probably the best possible idea. But it would be boring for me to just leave it at that. As you pointed out, this is not the time for John Cena to take a vacation. With him being the face of the company, and the biggest merchandise seller, the business aspect of the WWE just won’t allow it. I know a lot of fans have grown tired of Cena’s in-ring work, and the Super Cena character that goes with it, so what if John Cena doesn’t leave television, but he stops wrestling? One of the scenarios you threw out in your latest Star of Savage piece was Cena could continue to have problems with the new GM. But what if WWE flipped that scenario on its head and made John Cena the new interim GM… with the stipulation he is not allowed to wrestle and be GM at the same time.

In this scenario, John Cena is still on television. He can still do Make-A-Wish fulfillments. He still pushes merchandise, because I have no doubt in my mind General Manager Cena would continue to wear jorts, T-shirts and baseball caps. In fact, they could craft new merchandise around him being the GM. One of the problems with Cena’s character as of late is they’ve had to bring guys in (Rock, Lesnar) to be credible threats to him. This solves that problem as well. This also gives us an interesting long-term story: who is going to push Cena to renounce his general manger position and get back in the ring, and what will they have to do to make it happen? That’s a story I’d be interested in.

• • •

Scott:That’s a pretty interesting suggestion. My initial reaction is to reject it out of hand because I think house show business would suffer if fans knew they wouldn’t get to see Cena wrestle.

Would Cena ever apologize for humiliating Laurinaitis?

But I do love the creative possibilities it presents. I’m drawn to the possibility of seeing Cena take over to wild initial success and support only for him to slowly realize it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, perhaps even going to far as to apologize to John Laurinaitis for how rude Cena was to him and begging him back on the job.

Of course, that sounds pretty similar to last summer when Triple H wrested control of day-to-day operations only to have the entire thing collapse beneath him. Not that it was all that well executed, but I’m wondering if it might be too soon to go back to the same well. All that said, I stand by my position there’s no one person who warrants a singles program with Cena. Rehashing a Nexus-type invasion wouldn’t be a great direction either, especially since Cena doesn’t really have the same position as he did back then.

Aside from the brief period where he dealt with losing to the Rock, I liked Cena best when he was portrayed as close to reality as possible — Vince McMahon’s ideal of a superstar. The kids still got to cheer him and the adults had reason to side with people who didn’t want Cena to be the face of the company. Maybe there’s some potential for a Cena-Daniel Bryan feud, with Bryan setting out to prove he deserves the same glory as Cena despite his obvious physical shortcomings. I could imagine some decent mic work coming out of that scenario.

But I’m kind of tired of talking about Cena. Let’s hit up one more guy before we wrap this up: Sheamus. I have never found him interesting or been able to understand why he seems to be so popular. Do we think he’s set to lose his belt to Alberto Del Rio at Money in the Bank? I could see Del Rio winning that match and losing the title the same night, possibly setting up another redemption story for him with a Rumble win. Or maybe Sheamus has to stay on top for some of the reasons Cena needs to stay active? What’s the big deal with this guy?

• • •

David: I know a lot of people who feel similarly about Sheamus as you do, but I am not one of them. I like him a lot, and I think he’s constantly improving, both in the ring and on the microphone. He’s had some really good matches, especially lately. The two-out-of-three falls match at Extreme Rules was great, and I thought he did a really good job selling Daniel Bryan’s offense in that match.

Does that mean I like seeing him with the World Heavyweight Championship? Well… yeah, I do. Of his three major world title runs (sorry, but I don’t count the WWECW title as major), this has been, by far, the best. Obviously, that makes sense considering he’s far more seasoned than he was in his first two runs. He’s having good matches, and like I said, he’s constantly improving. I think he’s got a shot at being a major player with the WWE for the long term. Now, does that mean that he’s got the potential to be the next John Cena, where he rises above the show? Probably not, but I see him being a main event performer for a long time to come. That said, I don’t know how much longer he’s going to hold the title. There are a lot of worthy contenders, and I could see any one of them taking the title from him in the near future.

Your thought about Del Rio winning and losing the title in the same night was interesting. The WWE hasn’t had that exact scenario play out with the briefcase yet, and I can see them thinking it’s time. The closest they’ve come was at MITB 2010, when they had Kane defeat Rey Mysterio after Mysterio defended his World Heavyweight title against Jack Swagger. I am not sure about Del Rio winning and keeping the title, though. Obviously, I don’t have anything but internet rumor to go off of, but I’m not sure how much traction Del Rio has backstage. He’s definitely a great wrestler, but is he what they need right now as a champion?

• • •

Scott: Your last paragraph gives me so much to go on, it’s probably best to just wrap it up for now. But I do see some future topics, including:

  • The role of the World Heavyweight Title
  • WWE as a place where the good guys almost always win
  • Mixing up formats before they get stale (MITB and Royal Rumble seasons always get me in the mood for this discussion)
  • And more…!

I think we’ve decided to try to put up new posts every Monday, though maybe that will shift based on the wrestling schedule and what all there is to talk about. As they say on the end of all those podcasts we listen to, we’d love your feedback via comments, tweets or email . Hopefully this site can be a fresh take on the wrestling landscape of today and yesteryear, or at least give folks something to read when they should be working.

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