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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.

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.

Wrestling Moves and Wrestling Movement

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Scott: This morning’s Twitter conversation has inspired me. In a discussion about various wrestling moves and how some don’t age well (i.e., what was seen as devastating in 1993 is merely average offense today), I wrote: “Is there a list for people who always thought the stunner was lame? Line forms behind me.”

So, where do you stand on Steve Austin’s signature move?

• • •

David: The Stone Cold Stunner is one of those moves that sort of changes based on who it’s being delivered to and how they sell it. The move itself is okay, although I’m in agreement with Jason Mann that I like the Diamond Cutter more. I think a more apropos question is related to a twitter discussion that also happened today (May 2). Jason asked who did the third best DDT behind Jake Roberts and Arn Anderson. Some of his followers turned the question, and started wondering who took the DDT the best. So I’d like to change your question: Who took the Stone Cold Stunner the best?

• • •

Scott: I guess I’d have to say The Rock? Shane McMahon? I just watched WWE.com’s list of the 15 biggest Stunners, though I think those were more for historical impact than actual move performance. But of that list, I’d have to say Scott Hall at WrestleMania X-8 did as good a job as anyone making the Stunner look great. But still, it’s no Diamond Cutter.

Are there any other moves you can think of that get too much praise? Any that are underrated?

• • •

David: That’s a hard question to answer, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. I’m not sure the words overrated or underrated really work for individual moves. However, the idea did start me on a path of thinking about moves differently, and I now wonder why it took me so long to think of wrestling as the true art form it is. When I started thinking about moves that get praised a lot, one of the first things that came to mind was Ricky Steamboat’s arm drags. All throughout my childhood, his arm drags were lauded. But why? Is an arm drag ever going to finish off an opponent? Probably not. An arm drag is a transitional move. Mostly it’s used to get an opponent off of his feet. Almost everyone who uses an arm drag is able to do that, right? So what made Steamboat’s any better than anyone else’s?

Image

Best arm drags in the business.

Of course, the answer is Steamboat’s arm drags looked amazing. The way that he hooked the bicep was different from the way most people performed the move at the time, and he gave this utilitarian move a flair (he also gave them to Flair in their great series of matches) it didn’t necessarily have before. The aesthetic and artistic beauty of his arm drags seemed to have more importance than the impact that the move created.

Of course, Steamboat’s arm drags aren’t alone. There are a lot of moves that are aesthetically pleasing. Do any spring to your mind?

• • •

Scott: I’m surely not alone in being a fan of precision on the ring — execution of all sorts of moves by the likes of Bret or Owen Hart, Curt Hennig and so on. But in thinking of specific moves that are just the building blocks of a great performer, I envision things like Randy Savage’s punches, Bam Bam Bigelow’s headbutts or Davey Boy Smith’s delayed suplexes. I think of the way Roddy Piper’s ring style always perfectly matched his manic microphone work, or how Rick Rude’s cockiness came across every second he was on screen.

It probably says something about me that I’m coming up with examples that instantly hit the rewind button to the tune of 15 or 20 years. Surely there are guys currently on the big stage who have a consistency of character — attire, backstage segments, entrance routine, in-ring performance and more — that evoke the all-time greats. Guys like Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan come to mind immediately.

Some of the biggest problems experienced fans have with characters like Triple H or John Cena are the countless holes between what they say and how they act. The best recent example is Cena talking about how the year after he lost to the Rock at WrestleMania was the worst of his career, ignoring his wins at Money in the Bank and Royal Rumble, not to mention continued dominance of the roster week in and week out.

We come to wrestling expecting and intending to suspend disbelief, But we’d also like this fictional universe to have its own sort of rules or logical consistency that make the whole thing easier to follow and accept. I get a sense that smaller promotions, and I’m referencing Chikara primarily, but surely there are others, do a much better job of establishing the parameters in which they will tell stories and then sticking to the ground rules. You’re much more a follower of the non-WWE world than myself. Do you have any insight in that regard?

• • •

David: I do think that, to a certain extent, smaller promotions do have an easier time maintaining logical consistency and continuity in their product. A lot of independent promotions (especially Chikara) cater to a niche audience who are glad to come to that promotion because of what they bring to the table. Chikara deals quite a bit with a very surreal side of wrestling, what with ants, wrestling ice cream cones, horror figures like my oldest son’s favorites, Frightmare and Hallowicked, and so on. Ring of Honor has spent most of its life concentrating on the “sport” aspects of professional wrestling, and succeeding for the most part. CZW assumed the “hardcore” mantle that was left open when ECW folded in the early part of this century. What these groups all have in common (besides some level of shared talent) is they operate on a smaller national basis than the WWE. Because of their size, they’ve been able to gain fans of their specific product, as opposed to the general professional wrestling fan. In my mind that makes the connection deeper and more profound.

Since you are primarily a fan of WWE, do you think you have a deep connection with today’s product? I know you have a deep connection to the product we grew up with, but has that stuck with you through today?

• • •

Scott: That’s a great question. Clearly wrestling was far more popular during our college years, which more or less coincided with the peak of the Attitude Era/Monday Night Wars, than it is today. But it’s fans like you and me, who were there long before the late-90s explosion, that are by and large still around today. That’s because all of the eras speak in some way to what we crave in our entertainment diet. Sure, the language may have evolved over time, but we’re fed nonetheless. How’s that for a mixed metaphor?

When I fell away from being a regular fan in the mid 2000s, it had more to do with my life schedule at the time than the actual product. Essentially, I couldn’t find the time to watch Raw, let alone Smackdown, and there were so many pay-per-view shows I just couldn’t keep up. That this coincided with the brand split made it all the more confusing. When I lived on my own for a few months in early 2007, I all of a sudden had the chance to commit to Raw on a regular basis. I spent a few hours looking up information online to fill me in on what I’d missed. I still consider summer 2002 to spring 2007 to be a pretty substantial void in my fan memory.

In this way, wrestling is very much like a soap opera. I actually committed to watching a soap opera once. It debuted during one of the summers I was home from college, so I figured I could get in on the ground floor. It was pretty easy to fit into my schedule at college as well. When I tried to keep up when regular viewing became a challenge, the same thing happened that I’d experienced with wrestling. There was enough familiarity to help ease me back in, but I still felt like someone who’d suffered some sort of traumatic brain injury when certain scenes didn’t register because that part of my memory was void.

All of which to say is sometimes I realize I’m watching a wrestling show out of sheer obligation to the fact I’ve been a fan since the mid 1980s. The May 13 Raw is a great example. I knew it would be a soft show, I plowed through it in an hour on the DVR while folding laundry and in retrospect I should have gotten caught up on “Parks & Recreation.” But I wanted to be part of the conversation, to read my regular recaps Tuesday and to be involved in Twitter when we all “watched” Extreme Rules. But if the Bulls actually had a chance to beat the Heat, I almost certainly would have given that priority.

All that said, there are times each year when I know why I’m still in on wrestling. When WWE is firing on all cylinders in a given story, I want to hear what the characters say, I want to see them mix it up in the ring and I spend far too much time thinking about who could or should win based on a variety of factors. Some shows have six or seven stories on this level. Some, like Extreme Rules, might not have any.

But there is something about the mix of scripted entertainment (so you know there will be drama, as opposed to say a “straight” sporting event that can completely fail to deliver if it’s a blowout) and the unpredictability of the live performance blended with impressive feats of athleticism that remain captivating after all these years.

Do I sit through a lot of absolute crap in order for those payoffs? Absolutely. But I’m a Cubs fan, so I’m rather used to waiting around for something good to happen.

• • •

David: You’re right. Based on our history with wrestling it would appear there are fundamental aspects of the genre that appeal to us. And I think you’ve hit on it pretty closely. I’ve long said I prefer wrestling to MMA because I know I’m going to get a certain quantity of entertainment for the money I’m paying… even if I’m not always sure of the quality.

What I am sure of is every time I turn on any wrestling event, there is the possibility of seeing something that will excite me, and might make me say “I’ve never seen that before.” That happened this past weekend at the end of the Chikara “Aniversario: No Compromise” iPPV. I know you don’t watch Chikara, but I also know you run in similar online circles as I do, so I’m sure you’ve picked up the gist of what happened, and if you (or our readers) don’t know what happened, basically, the main event ended in a no contest when Condor Security stormed out and ended things, which included tearing apart the stage.

The closest thing I can compare it to in mainstream wrestling was when the Nexus formed, and destroyed the ring and ringside area at the end of Raw in the summer of 2010. Even with that, though, there was no denying it was part of the story. Because of rumors and other things, there is just enough possibility that Chikara is done for good that people aren’t really sure what to think. I’m still pretty sure it’s part of the story, but again, the line is blurry enough I can’t be 100 percent positive.

The fact the line is blurred at all is pretty fascinating to me.

• • •

Scott: In the days after the Chikara show I got into a Twitter discussion about the nature of what is and isn’t “real” in wrestling. It started with Wrestlespective’s Jason Mann tweeting: “Wondering if something is real or not is about 50,232nd on the list of reasons I’m interested in wrestling.”  and I have to say I totally agree. I want to assume everything is part of the show.

Of course, that is not the same as saying I want everything to be predictable. Nor is it the same as, which Jason noted later, using reality to make a story more believable. Bringing in those real-world aspects of doubt and confusion, as with what’s happening with Chikara right now or the “will he or won’t he” questions surrounding CM Punk’s contract status in the weeks surrounding Money in the Bank 2011, is sometimes needed in order to keep fans guessing.

I think where the distinction comes into play for me is, at least in the Punk story, the company put the facts on the table and made them part of the story. Punk announced the date his contract expired, proclaimed he would win the title anyway and would leave as champion. For all I care, that could have been totally false. I don’t need a dirt sheet or website giving me the details of a contract to enjoy the show. In fact, when you do know these things — such as reports Chris Jericho would be going off the road following SummerSlam 2012, it takes an awful lot of wind from the sails of a retirement or “loser leaves town” match.

Some of the ideas in this conversation are why I don’t have much interest in following wrestlers on Twitter. I’m just more interested in the characters they play than the people they are, unless we have some sort of connection that goes beyond what happens in the ring. But I am totally on board with your description of wrestling as offering the promise of something exciting.

You and I both enjoy conventional sports, and we also have a background in theater (though yours is far deeper). I’d argue it’s hard to beat the drama of a live, high-stakes sporting event, but am compelled to note the disappointment when that drama is not delivered. The Cubs getting swept out of the playoffs in 2007 and 2008 was akin to Daniel Bryan losing in 18 seconds at WrestleMania. Months of buildup for absolutely no satisfaction past the introductions. But Bryan’s loss was notable because of its rarity. Stuff like what the Cubs did happens in baseball all the time.

Now, the St. Louis Cardinals’ run to the World Series in 2011 had about as much drama as anyone could bear — but that itself was notable in comparison to the team’s rather bland victory over the Tigers in 2006. If Bud Selig could script the Fall Classic every year, you’d never see pitchers making that many errors.

With theater, we go expecting drama (and laughter, perhaps music, dance and so on). We know absolutely everything is part of the act. Great performers make audiences suspend disbelief. The absolute best can take well-worn source material and still make it seem fresh. But aside from sets, costumes or the whims of a director, if you’ve seen “Death of a Salesman” a few times, you’re more or less appreciating how well one cast delivers versus those from the past.

Again, I’m not telling you anything you (or, likely, anyone reading this) don’t already know. Wrestling is a perfect mix. The story should be a secret to the audience. The feats of athleticism are fantastic, almost superhuman. Scripted or not, a spectacle is guaranteed. To me the art form takes the best of many other forms of entertainment, blurs the lines between them, and delivers a unique experience, and that goes far beyond the WWE product.

Have I made any sense? Does your acting career give you any additional insight?

• • •

David: One of the great things about any form of performing art is the possibility of catharsis. To use your example: in Death of a Salesman Willy Loman’s funeral acts as a method for the characters on stage, and the audience, to release the emotions that have built up throughout the story. The same thing happens in wrestling… whether the good guy wins or loses. The end of the match allows us to cheer or boo, depending both on the story being told, and on our own personal preferences.

However, there is something to be said for a lack of catharsis in art… or at least delayed catharsis. It’s something very tricky to pull off in certain dramatic arts. Most plays are one-evening events that take about three hours. When that three hours are over, the story had better be complete. Long-form television series and films with multiple parts have a unique opportunity, however. When everything went down at Aniversario: Never Compromise on June 2, I likened it to ending of The Empire Strikes Back. Han Solo is trapped in carbonite and on his way to become a wall decoration for Jabba the Hutt. Princess Leia has realized her love for a man she might never see again. Luke Skywalker has lost his hand, and gained the knowledge that the most hated man in the galaxy is his father. That’s a bummer no matter who’s keeping score.

The catharsis comes in the ending of Return of the Jedi, when the Emperor is defeated, Anakin Skywalker is redeemed and Han and Leia declare their love for each other. Part of why Chikara fans were legitimately upset at the end of the show is because with there being no ending to the title match, they were denied that catharsis. Presumably, if and when they come back, the fans will finally have that moment to cry or cheer over.

As I look at the lineup for the upcoming WWE pay-per-view Payback, I wonder where that emotional release is going to come from. As I pointed out catharsis in wrestling typically comes from the ending of each match… but I think a lot of fans want something more. As Tom Holzerman wrote recently on The Wrestling Blog, Kane is probably the best good guy the company has right now. That gives a lot of emotional weight to anything that happens within his storyline with Daniel Bryan. Will this Sunday see them break up for good, or will they reconcile?

Another potential emotional moment is in the Divas Championship match between Kaitlyn and AJ. AJ has spent the last month and a half playing mind games with Kaitlyn, which all came to a head on the most recent episode of Raw. Will Kaitlyn get her revenge, or will AJ’s plan to get inside Kaitlyn’s head work? I don’t know how that one will end, but it’s nice to see the Divas title get an actual storyline.

Being a Chicagoland resident, what do you think the emotions are going to be like on Sunday night when CM Punk makes his return to the WWE in his hometown? Also, is there any catharsis to be had in the John Cena/Ryback match?

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Punk makes his return at WWE Payback this Sunday on PPV, live from Chicago, IL.

• • •

Scott: Your question brings to mind the old K. Sawyer Paul standby of not predicting match outcomes, but whether stories would continue past a given show. That’s another quirk with wrestling as compared to other art forms.

As you said, in the theater you expect the story to end when the curtain falls. With television each show sort of communicates its approach: sitcoms and procedurals tend to be dominated by stories that wrap up with each episode, though characters have continuity and slow growth year over year. More conventional dramas tend to bring you along for a lengthy ride, drawing some bits out over several episodes, some from season premiere to season finale, and a precious few the entire run of the show — but they also generally have subplots that begin and end within the hour. Of course, few shows actually get to establish their own timetable as it relates to how long the network wants it on the air.

But with wrestling, the characters have to be in constant motion, especially so in the era of weekly TV. Nothing ends without a new beginning — with the WWE, this means a competitor who stands triumphant in Sunday might be brutally beaten by a new foe Monday (or Friday) night. This is nothing new, of course. The Flair-Steamboat trilogy ended only moments before Terry Funk attacked Flair to set up a new story.

The issue with wrestling (and I suppose specifically WWE) is fans don’t really know which is the long-form story and which is the time killer. It’s also clear the writing team doesn’t always know. On many shows, we can guess (say, the Intercontinental title will change hands but we know the WWE Title feud is only beginning). Looking at Payback, however it’s not especially clear. And getting back to what we talked about earlier, reality (or “what we know”) is part of the issue.

For example, was Fandango originally supposed to win the Intercontinental belt Sunday? Does that mean whoever does win is just a placeholder until he returns? Was Curtis Axel put in that match solely to convince fans the Punk return isn’t a Heyman swerve? Surely Axel can’t win the belt because it wouldn’t help his ongoing involvement in the McMahon family saga. But neither can he lose and risk what’s been built (or at least what they tried to build)  over the last few weeks. But what good is a Miz-Wade Barrett story without the belt? It’s barely any good with the belt.

We should expect Cena to win, not just because he’s Cena, but because he excels in these dumb gimmick matches. Punk is returning (if we don’t see Punk before his ring entrance, the crowd will be electric, especially if he dons a Blackhawks jersey), but is he coming back to challenge Cena for the belt? That seems an odd choice as well. We already know Mark Henry is coming back the next night on Raw, perhaps he will resume his issues with Ryback, thus removing him from the top of the card. But maybe Henry and Sheamus have unfinished business. Which is more unlikely to continue: Sheamus in the preshow or Ryback in the main event?

WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan

What does the future hold for Daniel Bryan?
Photo copyright: WWE

I could book out a year’s worth of Daniel Bryan story (short version: challenges Kane, demands Kane give him his evil best, even when Bryan wins he still feels insignificant and must challenge the Undertaker at WrestleMania), and I also am hoping Kaitlyn retains Sunday so her story with AJ continues to progress. The Ziggler-Del Rio story has been stilted on account of Ziggler’s concussion, and now Swagger has disappeared. But that’s the thing, I don’t really know.

Will there be any catharsis Sunday? If there is, it won’t last. As soon as Raw opens Monday, we’ll be able to focus on Money in the Bank, which is quickly taking its place among the biggest shows of the year. Will there be two briefcases again this year? Is the Wyatt family coming sooner rather than later? Will Henry or Punk get into either top title picture? Is Jericho done (again) after Payback?

I admit, I am more interested in the fallout than the actual Sunday show. But I wasn’t much interested in Extreme Rules at all, so I consider this an upgrade. Sorry I rambled so long here, we should wrap up before Sunday actually arrives. Any closing thoughts?

• • •

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Did I really just compare wrestling and Sweeney Todd? Yes, I did.

David: I keep thinking about the idea of catharsis in a dramatic context, and the idea of delayed catharsis. It’s not only important for the audience to be able to achieve that emotional release, but it’s also important for the characters. However, that delayed emotional release can lend itself to character movement. In the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, there is a moment at the end of the first act where the main character is about to use his razor to take revenge on the man who wronged him 15 years before the start of the play. That moment is interrupted, and it drives Sweeney to the point of madness.

The way you talked about Daniel Bryan’s current story made me think of that as an analogy. Bryan is convinced of his insignificance, and he has gotten to the point where he will stop at nothing to prove he is not a weak link. There are rumors Money in the Bank will feature a John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan match. If that is the case, I think we’ll see Bryan complaining about Cena saving him from getting beaten up by the Shield and further descend into this madness. Whether that ends with him trying to end “The Streak” next April in New Orleans is yet to be seen… but I certainly wouldn’t mind it.

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!

SummerSlam 1992: An Appreciation

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Scott: It’s been quite a wild ride over the last few weeks in WWE, but by now I feel as if almost everything has been said about Money In The Bank and Raw 1000. I’m sure we’ll get sucked back into current events, but for now I want to go a totally different direction. It’s almost August, and to me that’s always meant SummerSlam. The 1988 through 1992 shows are arguably the greatest five-year run for any WWF pay-per-view event, if that makes sense, though 1990 is weak at the top in retrospect. I’m thinking especially about the 1992 show this year as we reach its 20th anniversary. I have my own thoughts on that classic, but what comes to mind first when you recall “The SummerSlam You Thought You’d Never See”?

• • •

Bret Hart

The Excellence of Execution

David: As a teenager, Bret Hart was my favorite wrestler. I was a Hulk Hogan fan when I was younger, but as I got older, I took notice of how great Hart was in the ring, and it made me excited about wrestling. I remember scouring the video store shelves for matches that involved the Hitman, and never being disappointed when I got them home and watched them. He had good matches with an amazing range of opponents from Mr. Perfect to Bam Bam Bigelow (their 1993 match from Spain, which is included on the “Best There Is, Best There Was, Best There Ever Will Be” DVD is great). But two matches have always stuck out for me: the Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII and the match from SummerSlam 1992.

Both matches told great stories, in the build up and the execution, but I think the emotional context of the match with Davey Boy Smith sets it a level higher than the match with Shawn Michaels. I will never forget the interviews conducted with members of the Hart family as the match at Wembley Stadium got closer and closer. Particularly, the interviews with Diana and Helen stood out. As someone who’s always been a bit sappy, the buildup for this match really got me, as did the idea of Davey Boy getting a shot at the Intercontinental Title in his home country, in one of the greatest venues in the world.

Warrior vs. Savage is great, and I enjoy both the Legion of Doom/Money Inc. and the Shawn Michaels/Rick Martel matches. However, when you mention SummerSlam 1992, my mind automatically leaps to Bret vs Davey Boy. In fact, being such a huge fan of Bret Hart, when you mention SummerSlam without a year attached to it, this is the match that springs to mind.

I know you’ve always been a big Randy Savage fan, is that the match that leaps out at you from this card, or do you give the main event more weight?

• • •

Scott: I’m realizing now that my proclaiming the 1998-1992 SummerSlams as a great five-year run is a theory built on the back of great Bret Hart matches. I really enjoyed the two-out-of-three falls match with Demolition at SummerSlam 1990, but the 1988 Demolition match and 1989 opener against the Brain Busters also hold up incredibly well. Obviously his 1991 Intercontinental Title victory over Mr. Perfect ranks with the all-time great matches for that belt. Hart’s run no doubt helped establish the show and its place on the WWE calendar.

But getting back to the 92 show specifically, when I think of that show I think of the spectacle. WrestleMania VIII a few months prior was in the Indianapolis HoosierDome, a massive facility compared to the Los Angeles Sports Arena hosting WrestleMania VII, yet other than its size was incredibly bland. There were some decent fireworks after Savage beat Flair for the title, and it’s always fun to see how the day turning to night affects the overall setting, but nothing aesthetically really makes that show stand out in the manner we’ve come to expect from WrestleMania.

SummerSlam 1992 emanated from London’s iconic Wembley Stadium.

But the Wembley show (discussed in episode 19 of the Old School Wrestling Podcast) looks and feels like the actual precursor to the modern spectacle of the company’s signature show. Perhaps I’m being drawn in entirely by the open-air arena and a few quirky entrances (the LOD motorcycle bit and an the Undertaker’s funeral carriage, though both are tame by modern standards), but I really think the production crew took some chances here that ultimately paid off — even though it would be several years before WWE ran any shows in stadiums of this magnitude.

This also is the first major WWF show without Hulk Hogan since his big-time run began, and it played to remarkable success — Wikipedia reports the show did $2.2 million in ticket sales and more than $1.45 million in merchandise, a staggering amount. I know it’s a common topic to revisit, but can you imagine how the WWF landscape might have changed had Hogan not made a brief return in 1993?

• • •

David: The ending of WrestleMania IX, with Hulk Hogan winning the title from Yokozuna, is often derided as one of the worst decisions the WWF ever made. However, I’m of the opinion the Hulkster’s return was not the worst decision in company history. In fact, if Hogan had been kind enough to pass the torch to someone, the mid-90s may not have been the low point we remember them to be. I can’t help but feel that if Bret had beaten Hulk Hogan cleanly, the fans would’ve gravitated toward him more than they did, and the WWE probably would be a completely different company today.

If Hogan had never come back, as you mentioned, I’m not really sure that much would have changed. When Hogan took his leave of absence in 1992, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and their contemporaries were still in the mid-card. The Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage and Ric Flair were probably the biggest draws in the company at the time, but by the beginning of 1993, Savage was a commentator, and Warrior and Flair were out of the company. Hart had been elevated to WWF Champion, beating Flair in Saskatoon in October 1992, and would carry the belt until the aforementioned WrestleMania. As a Bret Hart fan, I can say I kept watching the WWF because he was champion, but there were few other superstars capable of keeping me there. I know you have written in defense of WrestleMania IX, and I do not hate that show. But when I look at the card, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of star power in early 1993 WWF. If you take away the Money Inc. vs Mega-Maniacs match, there are only four men on that card who ever held the WWF championship, and two of them were in the main event for the title, with Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker being the others, and neither of them was ready to step up and be a main eventer at that point. If Hogan never returns, I’m not sure what changes. Obviously, the end of WrestleMania is different, and if he’s not in the mid-card with Beefcake and Money Inc., he’s not pulling focus from the main event, but like I said, had be been willing to pass the torch to Bret, that would’ve been the huge shift, in my opinion.

Of course, that is ignoring the stuff that was going on outside the ring in 1993 and 1994. As a kid, I was pretty ignorant of the steroid trial and anything else that was going on in “real life” where wrestling was concerned. Were you as sheltered from that stuff as I was?

• • •

Scott: I was aware of the steroid trial, but was not aware how it affected what I saw on TV each week. And while I agree with your general overall assessment of the period, I also think it needs to be pointed out how underused Randy Savage was following his WWF Title loss to Flair in September 1992. Here’s a guy who had been one of the main characters since at least January 1991 (and obviously before, but he was clearly relegated during most of the Ultimate Warrior’s run at the top), was in the hottest program of the summer, who absolutely tore it up in front of 80,000 fans and then, after Survivor Series, got shoved in the booth and trotted out for token Royal Rumble appearances, to host the Yokozuna body slam challenge and for some reason feud with Crush.

The Yokozuna bodyslam challenge, as discussed on episode 73 of the Old School Wrestling Podcast.

Maybe Savage being moved to the background had something to do with the trial, or maybe McMahon really felt he needed to put his best talent on the back burner in order to give Michaels and Hart room to work. But if you look at the way Savage flourished for several years as soon as he got to WCW, you can imagine what might have happened had he been allowed to continue to buzz around the WWF Title scene in 1993 and early 1994. He did some good things to help promote Hart as a top guy in the minds of fans, and maybe it would have been difficult for him to do so as a regular competitor. There are plenty of examples throughout wrestling history of promoters not having a clue how to keep the right mix of talented guys interesting and relevant

And speaking of WrestleMania IX — how dare you overlook the presence of two-time WWF Champ Bob Backlund? Sure, his match with Razor Ramon was pretty useless, but he was a legitimate champion once upon a time. And since we’re breaking down the card, that show features 15 Hall of Fame performers and six or seven more who have strong cases for future enshrinement. I’m not saying any of them are used to the best of their abilities (hearing Savage on commentary throughout the show only underscores how much better two or three matches could have been with him in the ring) but still, the show is not short on talent.

But let’s get back to SummerSlam. I’m really fixated on these first five years of the show for some reason. I don’t know if you’re as intimately familiar with these cards as I am, but I’m curious if you have any other favorite moments you’d like to discuss from the earliest years of this proud franchise?

• • •

David: Wow… I can’t believe I missed Backlund as a champion. That’s a huge mistake on my part. Some might call it egregious.

Bob Backlund

This man was a great champion. David is a dope.

You’ve already mentioned the profound effect Bret Hart had on the first few editions of SummerSlam, and I have to agree. The 1989 opener with the Brain Busters is one of my favorite tag team matches of all time, and the 1990 match against Demolition also was great. But if I step away from my Bret Hart-centric world view for a moment, one of my favorite matches is from the undercard of SummerSlam 1992: Shawn Michaels vs. Rick Martel. Both men are excellent technical wrestlers, and they mixed that technical skill with some comedy to put on a match I think is severely underrated. Sensational Sherri, who is one of the greatest females in the history of wrestling, certainly adds to that match, especially when she pretends to faint, and then keeps checking to see if either man has noticed. She’s also great at the end of the match when she throws a tantrum after both men have fought to the back, leaving her in the lurch.

As I think about that match, I also think about how underrated Rick Martel was. “The Model” is a gimmick that could’ve gone nowhere, and taken the wrestler down with it. Rick Martel had the skill and the psychology to elevate that character, and while he might not have won many titles, he certainly had a great career. Who are some of your favorite wrestlers to be saddled with a gimmick that seemed awful, but somehow worked out?

• • •

Scott: Excellent question. When I was a kid I was a huge Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake fan, and while I still like him nostalgically, I also realize there was a lot to be desired in his performances. Regardless, that doesn’t really get at the intent of your question.

My initial instinct is to go with Scott Hall as Razor Ramon. I had literally no exposure to Hall prior to his Ramon vignettes airing on syndicated WWF shows in the middle of 1992. And I’ve argued Hall’s WCW character is pretty much a distillation of the Razor Ramon persona, as opposed to just genuine Scott Hall (which we can prove by going back to his AWA days). But my larger point is those early Ramon vignettes don’t, to me, give any indication of the performer’s skill level and eventual success.

One other consideration is Bob Holly, who managed to stick around despite his early runs as Thurman “Sparky” Plugg and then Bob “Spark Plug” Holly. I’m not saying he was ever one of the greats, and certainly not even on Martel’s level, but he certainly endured, which is more than you can say for a lot of the guys who debuted during the WWF’s seemingly endless onslaught of career-based characters.

I also feel Jacques Rougeau did some underrated work as The Mountie, but I don’t know if that qualifies under the scope of your question. Suffice it to say the list of great talents saddled with lousy gimmicks is far easier to populate. My go-to example is the re-branding of Tito Santana as El Matador following WrestleMania VII (where he lost, coincidentally, to The Mountie), but I suppose for Tito that meant two extra years of WWF paychecks when the alternative would have been far less lucrative. I doubt WCW would have had much use for him in that era.

Speaking of Santana, have you heard the rumor (probably floated by him) that Santana was in line for the WWF Title in late 1992 to aid a corporate growth push in Mexico and Central America? As the story goes, the title went instead to Bret Hart because Vince McMahon decided a Canadian push would be more lucrative at the time.

It’s a nice story, but after seeing what happened to Santana’s character from the end of Strike Force, save for one somewhat shining moment at Survivor Series 1991, I can’t imagine how he could have been re-introduced as a legitimate world champion contender.

Had you heard that story before? Are there other crazy “what ifs” that are more than just fan speculation?

• • •

The artist formerly known as Tito Santana.

David: I had not heard that, and I don’t buy it either. Tito Santana was a solid talent, and I enjoyed his work, but the idea of putting the WWF Championship on him sounds like a work of pure fiction, or at the very least, Vince trying to make him happy. I’m sure Vince told a lot of people a lot of things in order to get them to work harder, he strikes me as that kind of boss, but that doesn’t mean it was ever going to happen.

There are many rumors and “what ifs” and “could’ve beens” in wrestling, and the fact most of them are probably apocryphal just doesn’t matter. One that may not be apocryphal is about Nikita Koloff. According to his Wikipedia page, Vince McMahon wanted to bring “The Russian Nightmare” to the WWF to wrestle Hulk Hogan. As a fan of Crockett Promotions, that rumor gives me chills. I remember his battles with Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA and Ric Flair very well, and a feud between him and the Hulkster had great potential. Although, I do wonder how the mid-80s WWF audience would’ve reacted to Nikita, who was far more vicious than Nikolai Volkoff ever was.

One of my other favorites is actually fairly recent, as it occurred last year. When the WWE began running promos featuring a man in a black trench coat, the Internet was rampant with rumors that Sting was coming to the WWE. I’m not sure what to believe about this one. Sting has said he was very close to signing a deal with WWE but TNA offered him more money and more flexibility. There also are some people who still believe the very first of the 2-21-11 promos were supposed to be for Sting, because they were confident he was going to sign and they had to adjust when he went back to TNA. Sting is one of my top three favorite wrestlers of all time, just behind Bret Hart and about even with Shawn Michaels, and probably the wrestler I’m the biggest “mark” for. I’ve always enjoyed his work, and would love to see him get a spot at a WrestleMania. I think it’s safe to say there are a lot of people out there who feel the same way.

• • •

Scott: I am completely indifferent when it comes to Sting. I was aware of him during the early 1990s, but I had practically no regular exposure to him until well into his Crow gimmick in late 1997. I don’t have any problem with the guy, I just don’t care. And while an Undertaker-Sting match at WrestleMania certainly would hold strong appeal for a certain segment of the fan base, I can’t see it being something to build a show around. I have to imagine a large part of the WWE audience — the younger crowd — has never seen Sting wrestle live. Remember, WCW has been gone for more than a decade now. I’m sure this is blasphemy to some, but I wager a larger percentage of the current audience would be more excited to see Booker T get another run at the top than to have Sting show up for a few months.

I’m going to totally switch gears on you right now to bring up one more SummerSlam history point. While I prefer to focus on the 20-year anniversary of the Wembley Stadium spectacle, I also must acknowledge what happened 10 years ago — the last major defense of the undisputed WWE Championship, which lasted roughly nine months. Chris Jericho unified the titles at Vengeance in December 2001, and by September Eric Bischoff awarded Triple H the first World Heavyweight Championship. So we’re going on about 10 years now of having two different top champions. Do you see that ending any time soon?

• • •

David: Your indifference toward Sting has always hurt me…although your “Sting is a Mime” sign when we went to Thursday Thunder is still a favorite college memory of mine. But I digress…

When they started doing the Super Shows last fall, mixing the Smackdown and Raw rosters, I thought we might be headed toward title unification. However, as we’ve been having these discussions, I’ve sort of changed my mind. I’ve mentioned in previous pieces I felt like the writing team was giving us ideas about how they view each show, and how they want us to view them. If that’s the case, then it makes sense to me that there would remain two “World” titles, and we’re going to stay within that particular paradigm for the time being. There’s a part of me that also thinks they could use two top championships to help fill out a the three-hour version of Raw…but isn’t that why you have multiple video recaps, and you show them multiple times? I guess that’s a discussion for a later time.

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.

• • •

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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