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The NXT Factor

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Welcome to NXT

Scott: Let’s skip the (overdue) pleasantries and get down to business. You and I both regularly watch NXT. I jumped back in on May 22, 2013 — the debut appearance of Sami Zayn. I’d like to say I’d been aware of some of the personalities before then, but I’ll admit the Raw debuts of guys like Big E Langston and The Shield caught me off guard.

But now it’s been 14 months of watching the show every week, and in that time the WWE Network launched, making possible the two NXT supershows. I didn’t catch every NXT appearance of current Raw stars like the Wyatt Family, Bo Dallas or Paige, but I experienced enough to be invested in them as performers before they hit the main stage.

Some of the major players of the Sami Zayn era seem to be nearing the end of their NXT runs in preparation for a spotlight career. A flurry of confirmed signings of top international talent make it seem as if NXT will soon be shifting into a new focus, because as big as some of the new names are, it’s hard to imagine WWE just inserting them into prime time storylines with no conditioning of a portion of the audience.

So now seems like the perfect time to take a look at the NXT roster, to break down who we think can succeed in the big picture, and who might be best to consider selling office supplies. Part of the discussion is space on the main roster (for example, it would seem Antonio Cesaro is ready for maximum exposure, but apparently the storytellers can’t let his star shine at the expense of Roman Reigns), part of it is how the developmental act translates to the road show.

 

So where should we start?

• • •

David: Well, I hope to one day buy a Swingline stapler from Corey Graves, but that’s neither here nor there. Let’s start at the very top rung of the ladder that is NXT, which is fitting, since a ladder match is how Adrian Neville won the NXT Title in the first place. He spent the first portion of his time in NXT as a tag team wrestler, including two stints as NXT Tag Team Champion (with Oliver Grey and Corey Graves), but since that time has had a fantastic singles run, with matches against Zayn, Cesaro, Dallas and Tyson Kidd.

He seems poised to step up to Raw and Smackdown, which is, in my opinion, fantastic news. Between injuries and wrestlers who have recently been released, it seems like the ranks of the high flyers on the main roster have been diminished, while the ranks of wrestlers who provide a good contrast to those high flyers have been expanding. Neville has already had great matches with Cesaro, Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper, and I could see him working well with main roster stalwarts like Sheamus, Roman Reigns and, if he got the chance, John Cena.

The only obvious problem I see for Neville going forward is his verbal communication skills. He’s definitely improved during his time in WWE, but he’s still not great. As it is, I see him as a lock for a run with the Intercontinental or US Championships, but not sure how much further he can go.

• • •

Scott: It’s far too early to say if a run with the NXT Title is an accurate predictor of eventual main roster success, but certainly someone sees big things for Neville or he wouldn’t have stood victorious as the curtain dropped on NXT’s first two supershows. I certainly enjoy Neville on NXT, but it’s easy to see how he lacks the charisma of some of his colleagues. He has no discernible character (guy who jumps high?), and while I’m not pining for him to be repackaged into some sort of goofy gimmick, I’m predicting he’s a flop if he shows up on Raw as more or less himself.

Perhaps he needs to follow the NXT path and come in as part of a tag team. It wouldn’t be hard to find a better performer than Graves to team with, turn on and lose to Neville. One of the things WWE still needs to sort out is the hierarchy of its shows. Right now NXT is more important than Smackdown, since anything relevant from Smackdown is replayed (or flat out restaged) on Raw. No one advances their career based on Smackdown performances. (The same can be said of Superstars and Main Event).

Adrian Neville

Can the NXT champion make the jump to Raw?

Ideally someone like Neville could move up from NXT to one of the B, C or D shows and make a mark there. But the structure isn’t in place for that right now. You either make waves on Raw (even if they’re Bo Dalls-sized waves and not Shield/Wyatt tsunamis) or the at-large fanbase loses interest.

The guys you site as good Neville opponents are indeed worthy ring partners, but they’re also all huge fan favorites, and Neville doesn’t seem to have heel instincts. Maybe Neville’s ascension could do for cruiserweights what we hope Paige (and eventually others) could do for the women’s ranks. I’d have higher hopes for him as one of the guiding lights of something new — as Raw is in need of fresh ideas.

Speaking of the women, let’s go to NXT’s other top singles star, reining NXT Women’s Champion Charlotte. I think the smart move is to keep her in training for a while to polish the rough edges a bit more, but there’s certainly a temptation to bring up someone who, at her best, shames most of the current Raw females and also has the undeniable Flair legacy. Not to be morose, but the clock is ticking on the Nature Boy’s relevance. What’s your call on Charlotte — too soon or strike while the iron is hot?

• • •

David: When you say she shames most of the Raw Divas, I have to agree wholeheartedly. She is a better in-ring performer, and has shown at least flashes of talent in backstage vignettes, although she has been paired, mostly, with Sasha Banks, who, while a talented wrestler, could make Keanu Reeves look like Tom Hanks in comparison. To answer your direct question, they should strike while the iron is hot. I think she’s ready to move up, and the connection to her famous father could be a good way to get her established on the main roster. Although, it also could be to her detriment. One of my worries with Charlotte is that when she gets to Raw, the creative team there, which is entirely different from the team at NXT, will see her as nothing but Ric Flair’s tall, blonde daughter… which doesn’t bode well for her in the long term.

Another issue with Charlotte is I’m not sure where she should be positioned on the card. We currently seem to have two sets of Divas. There are the ones who are on Total Divas, and the ones who are in the title picture. They’ve crossed paths recently, but really only to cement the Naomi/Cameron break-up/feud. While she hasn’t appeared on Total Divas, she does have a connection to both Nattie (having defeated her for the NXT Women’s Championship) and Summer Rae (members of the now defunct BFFs), which make her a natural choice for that group. However, I would argue her in ring skills warrant her being in the title picture with AJ Lee and Paige, but as I’ve said, I’m not sure the Raw creative team can look beyond the obvious.

Since we’ve started out with the champions, it seems only natural to discuss the current NXT Tag Team Champions: The Ascension. I’ve seen rumors that Viktor and Konnor are going to be called up sooner rather than later to feud with the Usos for the WWE Tag Team Championships. Have you heard these rumors, and how do you feel about the idea of NXT champions coming to Raw to immediately challenge for titles on the main roster? Does it say more about The Ascension, or more about the tag team situation on the main roster?

• • •

Scott: The Ascension puzzle me in a way. Not them specifically but tag teams in general. On one hand, they’re as good a bet as anyone to contend for the Usos’ belts — the prime alternative seems to be thrown-together teams like Rybaxel, since the Matadors apparently existed only for comedy and since the Rhodes brothers are in an endless vignette loop. On the other hand, there’s always buzz about trying to build a tag division from the bottom up, and removing the Ascension from NXT leaves a giant void. None of the other NXT teams have been presented as serious competitors, and if they follow the Paige script and use the Ascension’s departure as a way to create an eight-team tournament, well, are there really eight teams? Are there even four?

The good news for Konnor and Viktor is, unlike Charlotte, they can be repackaged. Not saying they need to be specifically, but Charlotte is always going to be Ric Flair’s daughter, for better or for worse. They can’t give her another character, there’s already too much invested in her family name (for what it’s worth, they’ve spent the capital well so far, but there’s always reason to doubt the Raw writers). But the Ascension guys could easily take on new forms, either as a standalone or as part of a stable.

I’m really hoping to see WWE get serious about tag teams as a thing, and not just a rock tumbler hoping to spit out singles stars. That’s what I enjoy about Harper and Rowan, as well as the Usos and to an extent the Rhodes boys — they’re in it to be the best team as if that’s its own important thing, which it certainly can and should be.

To answer your specific question, I’m not ready to see the Ascension on Raw. I want a legitimate program heading toward the next NXT supershow. Maybe that’s the Vaudevillains, maybe it isn’t. But let’s talk about those guys individually and as a team. Aiden English has been around a lot longer than his partner, Simon Gotch. Both can do funny, and English had a bit of potential being semi-serious. I’ll say right now English’s character is a no-go on Smackdown or Raw, no matter how perfect it has been in the NXT realm. But is the man behind the character able to take on something else and succeed?

• • •

David: As a fan of Chikara, and the wider Chikara-verse, the Vaudevillains are my kind of tag team, but I sometimes have to remind myself not everyone sees wrestling the way I do. That fact leads me to agree with you that the idea of a show tune-singing wrestler probably won’t fly on mainstream WWE television. However, I think he’s a pretty talented wrestler. He’s a taller guy, and, while he’s not in the great shape Lex Luger was in his heyday, he “looks like a wrestler.” He’s got a strong television presence and an interesting voice that I think lends him the possibility of a strong future, if the WWE can find a gimmick that works for its main audience while still suiting his talents… but that’s kinda the catch, isn’t it.

While Gotch hasn’t been around long, I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen from him so far. He’s got a good look, although I wonder if he’ll need a makeover before moving up to the main roster, as his look (the moustache, hair style and singlet) is pretty specific to the old-timey character he’s portraying right now. I suppose they could parlay that look into some kind of “hipster” gimmick on the main roster, but I’m sure Vince would blanche if the creative team tried to get him to understand what a hipster is. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’ve seen enough from him to know if he’s got what it takes to make it at the highest level in the wrestling business.

What do you think? Can he be a star in the WWE, or should Justin Nottke hold a spot for him on the roster of Olde Wrestling?

• • •

Scott: One thing we probably have to think about is the definition of star. Is Aiden English destined for the WrestleMania main event or a run with the top belt? Highly doubtful. But can he string together three or four years on Raw without falling completely off the map, a la Curt Hawkins or Zack Ryder? No doubt.

The most popular illustration here is Colt Cabana’s outward desire to be the Honky Tonk Man, to have a long enough run of modest television prominence to be able to play the character more or less forever, even if that just means legends appearances and autograph shows well past the working days. The growing success of the NXT show might allow certain performers to market themselves on the touring scene as “former WWE star…” just as well as a forgettable Smackdown stint. How bright is Michael Tarver’s star shining these days?

I don’t know if English is limited to only the comedic circuit, which despite Santino Marella’s retirement and the release of Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre, is robust on account of Damien Sandow, Fandango, Adam Rose, the Matadors and so on, but there’s money to be made in that realm. Some performers might rather be in that loop than just the bottom end of the “serious” wrestlers, because it’s awfully difficult to break through into the main event scene, and at least the comedic acts are involved in memorable moments.

This leads to a question about another NXT standout of recent vintage — Tyson Kidd. If you’re in his shoes, would you rather be on Raw and Smackdown in the middle of the card or at the focal point of the leading NXT story?

• • •

David: Tyson Kidd is an interesting case. His wrestling skills have always been solid, but he’s had very little chance in five and a half years to show any kind of character. I think his recent run in NXT has been good for him. While some of the people in the Internet circles we run with make fun of his constant cries of “Fact!”, I feel like he’s shown marked improvement both in terms of actual spoken promos, and showing character in the ring. I think, despite the chants of “Nattie’s Husband,” he’s shown he is a lot more than that, and a high profile feud with Sami Zayn has been much better for him than languishing in the middle of Raw or Smackdown.

Speaking of Sami Zayn, how have we gotten this far into this piece with barely a mention of the guy who, as of right now, is the likely No. 1 on my TWB 100 ballot for 2014? I look forward to seeing Zayn wrestle every time he gets in the ring, but I’m glad they’ve decided to keep him in NXT for now. It’s not that I think he’s incapable of making an impact on Raw, but I’d like to see him get the NXT title, if nothing else than as a reward for having great matches with everyone from Tyler Breeze to Cesaro. There’s also the fact I’m wary of what the main roster’s creative team will do with him. I’ve enjoyed his work so much on NXT I’m worried it won’t be the same when he gets to the main roster, plus I’d like to see him work with the group of guys who are coming into NXT in the near future.

So, am I right to worry about Zayn’s prospects on the USA and SyFy Networks? Or do you think his talent will allow him to do what Daniel Bryan did in overcoming bad storylines to become a major player in the WWE?

• • •

Scott: To me, Zayn is the ultimate “please don’t screw this guy up” in my book. He’s undoubtedly capable of delivering a fantastic match in any scenario. He’s a natural hit with fans of all ages. I generally dislike when people posit “If (insert wrestler) doesn’t main event WrestleMania, then WWE dropped the ball),” but honestly, how can you not feel that way about Sami Zayn?

Sami Zayn

The most polished member of the NXT roster, but does that mean he should be on Raw and Smackdown?

I’ll admit to not being aware of Daniel Bryan’s pre-WWE career at the time he debuted on season one of NXT, but I learned quickly he already had the highest of respect among people whose opinions I respected. I tried to get in on the ground floor with Zayn’s WWE career as well. Part of me wants to not compare the two but it also seems essential given the striking similarities.

I would like to think current management sees in Zayn the possibility to meet or exceed Bryan levels of popularity, and in so doing consciously avoids the missteps that plagued Bryan early on in his WWE run. And say what you will about the company never being sold on Bryan’s prospects, but we’ll always have WrestleMania XXX. That was no accident. Sami Zayn can tell those kind of stories in and out of the ring, and — barring injury — I’ve never been so sure of anything in my wrestling fandom as I am of Zayn’s potential.

Now, how do they actually get him from the simmering at the surface of NXT to the center spotlight on biggest stage of them all? I can think of 87 different ways, none of which will actually happen. I’m anxious to see what he can do as soon as possible, but I don’t want him to get lost amidst all the guys currently getting elevated on the main shows. A double-edged sword.

Here;s the big question I’ve never been able to answer: How much does Zayn have to be reintroduced to the main audience? In my world, everyone who loves Raw should watch NXT, but I know that’s just not the case. Can they just bring him up, say “this guy is awesome” then let him prove it in the ring on his first night? I don’t want to think about ways to mess up his debut, but I’m sure it’s possible. How would you handle it — and when?

• • •

David: That’s a big question, but you asked, so I’ll put on my fantasy booker hat and see what I can come up with. First things first… I would not have him debut at the Royal Rumble. For some reason, the WWE creative team has seen fit over the past couple of years to make big debuts in the Royal Rumble match. I wasn’t a fan of that tactic for either Bo Dallas or Alexander Rusev. I think there are too many guys, and a debuting wrestler gets lost in the shuffle.

But you didn’t ask me how I would not handle his debut, so here’s what I would do if I were on the creative team. First, in September, I would announce 16 NXT Superstars are going to have a shot at a showcase at Survivor Series. The way it would work is there would be eight singles matches throughout October and November. The eight winners would then be in a traditional five-on-five Survivor Series elimination match, with the other two spots being given to main roster wrestlers with NXT ties.

I also would announce on Raw this match is happening, as a way to get the WWE Universe excited about it — and excited about NXT. There would be video packages each week showing what happened on the previous NXT, and how that affects the “First Annual NXT Survivor Series Showcase.” That way, the WWE Universe at large gets to know some of the guys they don’t know, and they get excited about the NXT Universe. This has an added benefit of being a good advertisement for the WWE Network, which is available for $9.99 per month.

Yes, John...we know.

Yes, John…we know.

 

The teams would be the following:

Enzo Amore, Colin Cassady, Xavier Woods, Mojo Rawley and Sami Zayn

vs.

Sylvester Lefort, Marcus Louis, Cesaro, CJ Parker and Bull Dempsey

 

Amore and Cassady fall on one side of the good guy/bad guy line, with the Legionnaires being their counterparts. Parker and Woods have a feud that may not be burning up the NXT Universe, but is worthy of a Survivor Series match. With Rawley and Dempsey, you get tag team partners on opposite sides who don’t really like each other, which would provide an interesting dynamic and storyline potential. Then, of course, you have the ultimate good guy, Sami Zayn, and his ultimate rival to this point, Cesaro.

I would start the match with Parker and Woods in the ring. Woods would get the early advantage, even getting a near fall. This would bring Dempsey in to break up the pin. As he breaks up the pin, Rawley comes in to attack Dempsey, but ends up hitting Woods accidentally, allowing Parker to get the pin.

After a few more minutes, Enzo would be in against one of The Legionnaires, who would take advantage of the ref being distracted at various points to use underhanded tactics. Big Cass spends most of this portion of the match getting hotter and hotter, until the Legionnaires are able to pin Amore with a handful of tights, or having their feet on the ropes. Cassady comes in and starts to take apart Lefort and Louis, but ends up going too far. His anger causes him to use a chair to injure both Lefort and Louis, which ends up getting him disqualified.

Rawley and Zayn take advantage of the Legionnaires’ injuries to finish them off fairly quickly, bringing the odds closer, with the villains having a one-man advantage. With Rawley the legal man, Dempsey enters the match, and the two lock up. After neither man gains an advantage, Rawley turns to Sami Zayn and says, “You’re on your own.” He turns to Dempsey, shakes his hand and then lays down for his tag team partner to pin him, leaving Sami Zayn staring down the barrel of a 3-1 advantage. Zayn gets in and is on fire. He takes it to all three men, getting a pin first on CJ Parker. Dempsey slows him down, but Zayn manages to tough out the pain, eliminating him with a roll up, which just leaves Zayn and Cesaro.

Sami Zayn starts by getting in a flurry of offense, which Cesaro quickly quells. Cesaro then proceeds to take Zayn apart, to the stunned silence of the crowd. After a pop-up uppercut and a Neutralizer, Cesaro gets the win to be the sole survivor.

I waffled a bit about whether or not to have Zayn make the complete comeback, but in the end, he’s far stronger as the guy who’s trying to get even, and with Cesaro as his white whale, we get to continue their feud from earlier this year in a different milieu. However, I wouldn’t have them fight immediately. I’d have them do a slow burn, where Zayn spends a couple of months fighting random wrestlers on Raw, and, for the most part, winning. I don’t think he needs a winning streak, but I would have him drop references to Cesaro in promos, with Cesaro repeatedly saying he has nothing to prove against Zayn.

This would go until the Royal Rumble, which would feature both Cesaro and Zayn late in the match. Zayn would eliminate Cesaro, but not win. This would give Cesaro motivation for wanting to take on Sami, and they could wrestle at Elimination Chamber, and possibly have a blowoff match at Wrestlemania, perhaps for either the US or Intercontinental title.

Obviously, I’m biased, but I think it’s a pretty good start to Sami Zayn’s main roster career, as well as a good story. In addition, I’ve built some potential stories on NXT, the new focal point of the WWE Network, for Mojo Rawley, Bull Dempsey, The Legionnaires and Cassady and Amore.

More than anything, I want Zayn to start off with something courageous that gets the crowd behind him, and keeps them there. Any other thoughts on Sami Zayn and his career trajectory?

• • •

Scott: I’m not going to describe another potential scenario to that degree of specificity, but to me you’ve hit on the key component of the big picture. Zayn most likely should “debut,” as it were, with a courageous performance that breeds a desire for him to get back on equal footing with his superior.  He’s such a fantastic storyteller in the ring his spoken words are almost secondary. He’s perhaps better than anyone at the “show, don’t tell” narrative approach.

Doing this exercise with Zayn and Neville makes me realize the difficulty WWE will have in advancing its good guys to the next level. Tyler Breeze is a much easier solution: Show up, be cocky, win. Rusev was similar: Show up, hoss dudes around, win. For too long it’s seemed the only card the writers had for good guys is to give them some sort of stunning “how did they do that” victory (the pre-NXT prototype is the Santino debut win over Umaga, the modern NXT version is Paige beating AJ Lee), except they never convey the message the NXT stars actually deserve to be on the main stage. If their wins are presented as flukes, then the established heel star gets suitable revenge, where does the NXT graduate go as a character?

There are plenty of examples of wrestlers needing two or three different characters or reboots to finally find something that sticks, enough so that we can’t say the manner in which an NXT star debuts will determine his or her long-term viability. But the growing popularity and availability of NXT makes it more likely a larger percentage of the fanbase will be invested in the NXT version of a performer than ever before (consider how many late 80s WWF fans had no real exposure to Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard before they came in as the Brain Busters).

The more I grow to love and respect an NXT performer’s work, the more I’m worried he or she won’t translate to Raw, or the writers won’t know how to handle them, or moving away from Full Sail will be problematic. Of course I want them to succeed on the big stage — that’s the whole point. I want them all to have a debut moment as thrilling as the Cubs’ Javier Baez hitting a game winning 414-foot home run in the 12th inning. And just like in baseball, I don’t want them to just be great at NXT forever.

This is not to say every working wrestler has to have a good run on Raw to be deemed a success. That’s clearly not the case. However, once you sign that developmental deal and begin to climb the ladder and headline NXT supershows, you build those expectations of WrestleMania moments for yourself.

I do want to get to a quick look at the rest of the NXT roster and see if there’s anyone we think should or shouldn’t move up (now or ever). But first I want to ask if there needs to be a more structured pipeline for promoting NXT stars. They’ve done the Royal Rumble thing once (Bo Dallas won a fanfest tournament). Your Survivor Series idea certainly has merit. I might suggest next year’s Money in the Bank show have a match that’s only NXT stars fighting to get a one-year Raw contract.

We’ve done the Rusev/Wyatts/Bo Dallas/Adam Rose thing, where a series of vignettes lead up to an actual debut. We’ve done the thing where Xavier Woods deal where he just appears on Raw and his story starts from scratch. And then there’s the Paige surprise appearance, where she is her exact character, as well as the surprise Shield debut, where the announcers have to tell us who they are and then it takes a while for their stories to unfold.

So should there be some specific way each year in which an NXT star wins the right to advance, or is it best to leave all the options open for creative collaboration?

• • •

David: I think it’s best to leave all options open. As much as I like the idea of an NXT Money in the Bank match, I’m not sure it’s something that can be relied on as an annual event. The nature of that type of storytelling seems to have a short shelf life, since I can’t think of too many stories they could tell surrounding the expiration of that one-year contract, and I’d rather them not add another gimmick where they’re telling the same stories over and over.

I think calling up talent from NXT has to be an individualized thing, involving finding a way to fit the NXT character into the main roster. This leads me back to the Vaudevillains, whose gimmicks we’ve already agreed probably aren’t suitable for the main roster. I was trying to figure out: what is the purpose of their gimmicks, and gimmicks like theirs? Is the point for the talent to prove that they are capable of getting over no matter what they’re handed by the creative team? Is it a case of the NXT creative team knowing oddball characters get over at Full Sail? Or, is there a disconnect between NXT and the main roster, where they don’t realize these characters probably are not going to fly in the mainstream wrestling space?

• • •

Scott: All right, maybe a one-year Raw contract doesn’t make sense. And I have never been a fan of forcing a match (Hell in a Cell, TLC) just because that particular themed pay-per-view is on the schedule. But I still see the value in some sort of annual showcase where the reward is a shot at the big time. I guess you’d have to temper that with the fact they can bring up pretty much whoever they want whenever they want — the last thing WWE needs is one more arbitrary narrative device that’s negated at the whims of whichever power figure happens to be in control on a given week.

The disconnect you mentioned has to be addressed at some point. Why was Paige forced to surrender her NXT title (on account of her Divas Champion obligations) when past NXT titleholders were allowed to do double duty? And what was the point of filling the Women’s Title tournament with main roster stars like Natalya? Wouldn’t they have to surrender the NXT title for the same basic reasons Paige could no longer keep hers?

That’s just the storyline continuity. There exists the larger issue of what purpose it serves to have a performer go all-in on a character that clearly can’t work on the touring team. We’ve seen quick tweaks (such as Becky Lynch’s recent drastic improvement) and some more gradual evolutions (Rusev is functionally the same but tried and dropped certain aspects of his presentation), and I’m not sure any of that stuff is canonical — the only part of a character or performer’s NXT backstory that matters is whatever the Raw or Smackdown writers decide to preserve.

Certainly guys like the Vaudevillains are getting more attention than NXT wrestlers without stage names or flashy attire. Someone must have something in mind for their future, but it’s hard to say what that might be.

What of the guys who don’t trip our trigger at present? Is there a Raw future for the men behind the likes of Mojo Rawley and Bull Dempsey? I always hate to see anyone released, but there’s only so many spots and I’d rather see my favorite guys and gals get a chance to shine.

• • •

David: As I said earlier, one of the things we, and fans of our ilk, have to come to terms with is we are very rarely going to be the fans WWE caters to. That means we’re not always going to like everything that happens in the WWE. There are plenty of wrestlers on the main roster whose stories and in-ring performance don’t interest me, and even though I don’t want to watch them, I have to remind myself WWE is creating a television product for a mainstream audience, not the little niche I fit into… that’s what Chikara is for.

Anyone who has followed me on the Twittah (shout out to Chris Jericho) for any length of time knows how I feel about Mojo Rawley. I almost always tweet my displeasure about him being on my screen, and that’s probably not going to stop. I don’t enjoy anything he does. I find his energy level and “I Don’t Get Hyped, I Stay Hyped” catch phrase to be annoying instead of charismatic. I think his offense looks ugly, and from my perspective as a fan, his matches rarely seem to have any kind of flow to them. He is usually just moving from one move to another, as if he’s following a recipe. That said, I know there are people who like Mojo Rawley, and God bless them. I think he’s got an okay look, and he might be able to make a living in the WWE. I’m not sure whether this particular gimmick is the one that will get him to Raw, but I think he can be a solid mid-carder, whether I like it or not.

Bull Dempsey, for me, is a different story. I don’t like Mojo Rawley because I’ve never seen anything to like. I don’t like Dempsey because I’m almost offended by the way they chose to debut him, and the gimmick that they chose to give him. For those who aren’t aware, Dempsey debuted on the June 26 episode of NXT, and referred to himself as “The Last of a Dying Breed.” There are a few people who took exception to this moniker, including Brandon Stroud, who had this to say in his “Best and Worst of NXT” column for that show:

When I heard him say “The Last of a Dying Breed,” the first thing I thought was pretty much the same as Mr. Stroud: “Screw this guy.” I love NXT, and think it’s the closest thing we’re ever going to have to a mainstream version of an indie promotion, but that doesn’t mean I need it, or even want it, to emulate or parody even the best parts of the indies. I want it to be its own thing, and I want it to be good at that. The Vaudevillains are a great tag team, and they may be a reference to things happening on the indie scene right now (hi again, Olde Wrestling), but they aren’t a direct rip-off, which makes them acceptable in my book.

Eddie Kingston - The War King

The War King is not amused…

But the biggest problem with the Bull Dempsey gimmick is the guy they gave it to. I don’t know Smith James, the performer behind Bull Dempsey, and I’m sure he is a fine person, but he’s not Eddie Kingston. I can’t foresee a time in the future where I would ever confuse him with Eddie Kingston. I’m not sure how much of Eddie Kingston you’ve seen, but he’s a regular in the two indie promotions I watch the most: Chikara and AIW. Kingston doesn’t have the prototypical wrestler’s body, but he is extremely intimidating. He’s tough. He’s mean. He’s surly. I wouldn’t cross him. In fact, if I was walking down the street and saw Eddie Kingston, my first instinct would be to tell him how much I enjoy his work. However, that would be overridden by my central nervous system, which would be telling me to cross the street so as not to make him mad in any way.

Bull Dempsey is not any of that. He’s the loudmouth at the bowling alley who thinks he’s the best because his team won their league. He’s the guy at the arcade who constantly brags about his high score on Pac-Man that got erased because the machine got unplugged. He’s a big talker without much to back it up or make you care. I’m not sure what the future holds for Bull Dempsey, but I have a hard time believing this character will make much of an impact on Superstars, much less Raw.

Of course, those aren’t the only two NXT wrestlers I’m not all that interested in, there are also guys like Angelo Dawkins and CJ Parker. Who else do you see having a hard time transitioning out of the world of “developmental”?

• • •

Scott: As far as the people getting semi-regular screen time, I agree with you on Dawkins and Parker. I won’t be shocked if either gets walking papers before they appear on television. I’m not sure what the deal is with Corey Graves these days, nor do I care. Nothing personal, but he rarely adds anything when he’s on screen. Marcus Louis and Sylvester Lefort don’t engender visions of grandeur, but it’s not impossible to see them getting a main roster run because “not Americans” is textbook storytelling.

As usual, heading into the next supershow we’ll start to get a clearly defined idea of who management sees as having long-term potential. As we noted, it’s good to see a guy like Tyson Kidd developing his character and performance in the NXT main event scene as opposed to being forgotten on a C show. As for Zayn, it’s fair to ask how many times he can hog NXT’s brightest spotlight before he gets a real shot at the big time.

When Bo Dallas graduated, it was clear he had nothing left to prove at NXT. It also was clear he wasn’t going to the top to get into a title picture or main event program. And that’s OK. His brother was destined for greatness, and despite some fits and starts, the team is showing a tremendous amount of dedication to the Wyatt Family’s place of prominence on the main roster. (No small amount of credit goes to Harper and Rowan. I have loved their contributions even as Wyatt’s stagnated.)

Tyler Breeze’s showing against Neville this week is another brick in a sturdy wall he’s constructed showing he deserves to be more than just a Raw caricature of his NXT character. So should I want him to stay at NXT until a logical spot opens for him in the Raw narrative? It’s the same question I have about Zayn — I fully believe he could headline WrestleMania. Does the company have the same faith? Is there a logical launching pad?

One of the things I’ve tried to do while watching Raw each week is see if the company (and fans) can handle multiple leading stories and rising performers. Obviously Roman Reigns is ascendant these days, but his SummerSlam showdown with Orton is not as important as Brock-Cena or even the Brie-Steph match. I could almost argue they’ve soft-sold Rollins and Ambrose a bit, but I also firmly believe you don’t need to feature each story every week unless you’re going to actually advance the plot. We know why these guys are fighting and it’s OK to fan the flames with a highlight package.

We’ve covered a lot of good ground here, but we need to reach some sort of conclusion. Let’s frame it as such: in the Network era of NXT, there will have been at least three “supershows,” and possibly a fourth, before WrestleMania XXXI. I suggest at least one man and woman from at least one of those supershows needs to have a prominent role at the Granddaddy of them All in the Bay Area next spring, or else all this NXT devotion becomes more a sideshow than anything else.

At this point, it seems Paige is a lock to be in that mix, though there are other women who could carry the same weight. For the men, there are obvious candidates, but who’s your pick? Who gets the nod and what is their role on the biggest stage in wrestling?

• • •

David: The Ascension jump right off the page. They’ve had a long run as NXT Tag Team Champions, but this tag team tournament seems pretty much designed to get the belts off of them in an effort to elevate them to the main roster. I have to assume that as soon as they get to Raw, they will be thrust into the WWE Tag Team Championship picture. If they don’t get an immediate title reign, it seems like they’ll get there pretty quickly, which could mean they enter WrestleMania as either champions or contenders. I’m sure that will be a welcome relief for Konnor, who has been in the developmental system off and on since 2005, and I think there’s a good chance he and Viktor will get a WrestleMania moment (note the lowercase m) in Santa Clara. 

Konor and Viktor of The Ascension

Can these men darken the doorways of Levi’s Stadium?

Outside of The Ascension, I’m not sure what to think. There are always so many x-factors to consider: injuries, the fickleness of the WWE Universe, bad booking. As a fan, I think Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville are currently ready to make an impact on the main roster, and should have ample opportunity to earn themselves a look at The Showcase of the Immortals. But I also think Kevin Steen, whose signing was officially announced this week, could go straight from the indies to Raw with nary a problem. The question is: how does the biggest boss of them all in WWE, Vince McMahon see it?

Mick Foley, in a recent interview with Stone Cold Steve Austin, pointed out the talent that goes the furthest are the ones who have the ability to turn Vince McMahon into a fan of theirs. There are a lot of fans who think they know what Vince looks for, but Mick Foley hardly fits that common perception, so there’s got to be something deeper than just a body builder’s physique. Getting Vince’s attention… that’s the biggest x-factor of them all.

Thanks for reading! Have something to say? Contact us via Twitter, or the comments section below. We really do appreciate any and all feedback we get.

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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?

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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.

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

Posted on

David: So, we’ve come through Money in the Bank and Raw mostly unscathed and unchanged. Sheamus and CM Punk are still our champions, both having won their matches at the pay-per-view. John Cena won the Money in the Bank Ladder Match for a WWE Championship Contract, and announced on Raw that he would cash it in vs CM Punk at Raw 1000. It seems to me that they’re setting us up for John Cena to not win the title due to interference from the Big Show. He will become the first person not to cash in the briefcase for the title, and will continue his feud with the Big Show heading into SummerSlam. That what it seems like they’re setting us up for, but I’m starting to second guess myself, because it almost seems too obvious.

Daniel Bryan and AJ have transitioned out of their love triangle story line with CM Punk, and now they’re getting married on Raw 1000. Based on what I saw on Twitter Monday and Tuesday, I think I’m in minority, but I love wrestling weddings, and I’m looking forward to this. I’m sure that some third party is going to get involved, and, based on Raw 999, my guess is that it’s going to be The Miz (who you correctly predicted would insert himself in the WWE Championship Money in the Bank match). His reaction to AJ drop kicking him off the apron during the mixed tag team match was awesome, and it seems like we’re primed for a potential revisiting of the Pro/Rookie relationship from the first season of NXT. Of course, there are other people who could get involved. After all, Kane has recent history with both AJ and Bryan, while Eve has also been getting involved in their story as of late.

Wedding Crasher? ©WWE.com

Are you looking forward to the AJ and Daniel’s nuptials, or am I alone in my affinity for wrestling weddings? Will the marriage license just say AJ, or will they remind us that she actually has a last name? Will DX get involved? After all, we’ve been promised that they’ll show up…and HHH does have a history of interfering with weddings.

• • •

Scott: Last thing first — I’m assuming the DX appearance is pretty much all about setting up the Triple H-Brock Lesnar showdown at SummerSlam. Brandon Stroud did a pretty good job of predicting how that will play out during his most recent Best & Worst of Raw column, and I’d be hard pressed to develop an alternative theory.

As for the other things you brought up — specifically the WWE Title picture and what happens with Cena, I also would second-guess your theory based on its obviousness. I guess the main question is whether Punk gets pulled into the Show-Cena world for a three-way match at SummerSlam or if he remains involved in the Bryan feud. Randy Orton is due back any day now, but revisiting that feud seems unlikely given other current events.

There seems to be a lot of support for a story in which Punk somehow plays the underdog champion, putting him back in the position of having to prove himself against the establishment. That seems like a story that would work well given the way he’s been presented over the last several months. It also would be a nice theme to play up leading into his DVD release (also the cynic’s reason for believing he’ll be champ at least up to SummerSlam, if not longer).

And while Cena is a natural foil for that plot, the guy who can say “the champ is here” even while not wearing the belt, I would not rule out an even bigger name to play the part: The People’s Champ. A Punk-Rock story (you see what I did there?) has all sorts of potential. I remain unsure if there’s any chance Rock would wrestle before WrestleMania, and with Lesnar, Triple H and the Undertaker all still on the fringe, Rock has no shortage of natural opponents.

All of this discussion and we’ve not gotten around to the very real likelihood Dolph Ziggler will finally get a legitimate run with a top title, or the potential excitement of the Mysterio-Del Rio program. I know there’s a good chance for things to drop off dramatically between SummerSlam and Survivor Series, but I really think the WWE creative team, as well as the in-ring talent, deserve a lot of credit for advancing so many different interesting stories that should pay off in dramatic matches. Maybe it would be a different story without Raw 1000 as a point of interest that happened to fall in this part of the calendar, but I’m not as concerned with why it’s happening as I am excited to see it all play out.

As for the Bryan-AJ wedding, I am looking forward to seeing how it affects the storyline. It’s a wonderful wrestling convention because it’s used enough to be familiar yet not beaten to death (like the “you’re fired” trope) and also not forced into the calendar just because (Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber, etc.). This particular wedding is obviously set up for the story potential, which was not the case with Randy Savage-Miss Elizabeth wedding from SummerSlam 1991.

But enough about weddings — others have done and will do a far better job chronicling the history there. There’s so many balls in the air right now I’m not exactly sure which to purse, so I’m going to go big picture on you. What are your favorite Monday Night Raw memories? I’m purposely being as vague as possible with my question, so feel free to think as far outside the box as you’d like.

• • •

David: One of the bad things about Raw getting to 1000 episodes is how long it takes to get there. This show has been on the air almost every Monday night for almost 20 years, so sometimes it’s hard to remember what has happened on the show. Some moments stick out, but when an entire episode sticks out, it’s even more special.

The most memorable full episode of Raw is probably “Raw is Owen” from May 24, 1999. The tribute episode the night after Owen’s death is extremely bittersweet, but also one of the most touching things the WWF/E has ever done. I remember reading the spoilers for Over the Edge, and being heart broken about Owen’s death, but I was just as intrigued about how Vince and company would handle the following evening’s Raw. Say what you will about how Owen’s death was handled overall, that episode of Raw was, in my eyes, about the best it could’ve possibly been.

One of the most memorable episodes in the history of Raw.

The only other full episode that even comes close to that, is the March 26, 2001 episode. That was the final night of the Monday Night Wars, and the final episode of Monday Nitro. I wasn’t watching wrestling regularly at the time, but I had heard rumors that WCW would be closing, and Nitro would be going off the air. I hadn’t read any information about who had bought WCW, so I was quite surprised to see Vince McMahon on TNT, saying that he had purchased WCW.

Those are probably the two most memorable for me. What sticks out for you?

• • •

Scott: I hadn’t considered it recently, but your mention of the Owen Hart episode brings to mind the Chris Benoit tribute episode. That tragedy came about shortly after I’d really started getting back into the WWE after several years away. I moved a state away, ahead of my wife and kid by a few months, and was loaded with free time. There were a few years I’d been out of the game almost entirely, so I printed out title and PPV histories from websites, started recording Raw, Smackdown and ECW again and trying to re-immerse myself in the environment.

When that Benoit episode aired — literally at the same time the horrendous details were coming to light, though I would not learn them until I got online the next morning — I was actually pretty interested in the chance to catch up on my history. Obviously now we realize what a bad idea it was to air that show that night, but it’s a reminder of how crazy things were in the immediate moment.

As I’m sure you know, I did not have cable at home as a kid. So when Raw debuted in 1993, I was a little upset with how much of the narrative was moving away from my staples, Superstars, Challenge and Saturday Night’s Main Event. I did not get to watch Raw regularly until you and I started watching it with our college crew in the fall of 1997 — even trekking through Iowa winters to get to the basement of the library for free cable. That’s when I discovered the joy of watching wrestling as a community instead of just alone in my basement on a Saturday morning.

Coe College’s Stewart Memorial Library, where we used to watch Raw and Nitro in the late 90s. (cheap nostalgia)

There are countless Raw moments that stick in my mind, and so many of them have to do with where I watched the show, or who I was with, as much as what actually happened. Even now I regret I am unable to fully engage with the Twitterverse when the show is happening because I effectively watch on a one- or two-hour delay since the show airs right when I’m supposed to be putting the kids to bed. That problem will only get worse as the show expands to three hours, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.

Speaking of that expansion, there’s been a lot of online chatter about the new general manager, including the very popular theory that fans will be the new GM by way of letting votes affect match pairings. That’s something I hinted at when I wrote about the new show format in June, though not to the extent others are theorizing at present. Here’s my comments:

As much as WWE (and it is not alone here) seems to love social media, it seems likely we’ll get some sort of interactive component to the show — perhaps the fans will decide who faces off in one match each week, or somehow they’ll find a way to make trending topics affect what happens on camera (I really, really hope they do not).

As much as I bristle at the integration of Tout and Twitter and other such things, I do think there is a lot of potential in using WWE.com as a way to incorporate fan votes into what happens on the show. Clearly the company realizes how much of its audience watches the show while also surfing the Web and/or tweeting, and they’re committed to making the experience as interactive as possible. I know some folks don’t like this, but to me, it’s genius.

We live in an on demand world. I don’t listen to live radio, but I do listen to the podcast versions of the shows I enjoy. I follow several TV shows, all of which I watch on my own time thanks to my DVR. The only time I watch real-time television (with the exception of when the kids have it on) is for live sports. And even then, since my favorite teams rarely play meaningful games, I’m usually recording and watching at least 30 minutes late, trying to catch up, skip the replays and stoppages, etc. For other folks, big-ticket awards shows fall into the same category. And while I want to watch Raw as close to live as possible so I keep up with Twitter, it rarely works out. With pay-per-views, I have no choice. If I can’t watch the show live, I probably don’t watch it at all, or at least not until several weeks later when I can find highlights on YouTube.

The big point here is that live programming remains the most reliable channel for television advertising. That’s why the NFL is the king of broadcast television. Everyone knows how many people watch NFL games, how it’s a communal experience and how folks are more or less beholden to the one or two games on free TV at any given time. Which means they are beholden to all the commercials thait air during those games. Sure, you can pay for the Sunday Ticket package, but that’s another revenue stream. And when you’re into the unopposed national broadcasts — Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights — you know you’ve got undivided attention from your audience, and you can charge more for your ads.

I’m sure you see where I’m going, but I’ll spell it out anyway. The move to the three-hour show, paired with an intense push to make it seem more essential to watch said show live, is a calculated business move to make the product more appealing to the network, cable providers and advertisers. It is a push to separate Raw from most other forms of television — from a business standpoint — and position it more like live sports in terms of how viewers respond.

In that sense, I love the move. My favorite aspect of the Monday Night Wars was the two companies pulling out all the stops to make each live show as special as possible. If viewers thought anything could happen at any moment, they’d never change the channel. The vibe going into this week’s Raw reminds me of the Georgia Dome Nitro where Goldberg finally got to Hogan. There was PPV-level buzz for a free TV show.

Obviously you can’t (and shouldn’t) do that every week. But if you can tweak the formula to make sure the viewers you do have are committed to watching live and to interacting with the show at the same time, you’re going to make money, and lots of it.

That was kind of a long stream of thought there. Do you have any thoughts on how the new Raw might look going forward — either playing off what I write in June or something I may have overlooked? There’s a lot of buzz for Raw 1000, but I’m guessing Raw 1001 will look way different from Raw 999, I’m just not quite sure what that means yet.

• • •

David:I’m hopeful that we’ll be getting a bit of a visual change either for Raw 1000, or for Raw 1001. I’d love to see a new set design, a new graphic style, maybe even a new color scheme. I’m also hopeful that we’ll get a new belt, as I’m tired of the spinner design. I’m not sure it’ll happen this week or next, but I do feel like it might be coming.

This is something that I didn’t see a lot of people talking about after Raw 999 on Monday. When the Big Show was trying to convince Cena to cash in his briefcase, he made mention of the fact that the belt that Punk holds is the one that John Cena designed. Could that be foreshadowing? There’s been so much talk lately of Punk’s lengthy reign as champion, it makes one wonder about the possibilities for an even more extended run. If Punk makes it past a certain milestone, does he get to design his own version of the belt?

• • •

Scott: That’s an issue I’d heard about a few weeks ago and then forgot once all the other Raw 1000 plot points developed. I know Punk has hinted at wanting a new design and I think I once saw a rumored prototype. It would seem a natural at some point — again as a tie-in to his DVD or, as you pointed out, the duration of his reign. As we know, when something is mentioned on TV (and especially when it’s repeated often) the writers want you to take notice and account for that as you process plot developments.

It would seem simple to revert to the winged eagle design most folks seem to pine for, much like the way they simply restored the classic look of the InterContinental belt. Like most folks bent on nostalgia, I wish they’d never changed it. The visual continuity of the same belt helps sell the actual continuity of people holding the same title. Think about how much Punk idolizes Randy Savage and how great it would be if they could wear the same actual belt design.

Also, good call on the set design (I swear, we’re going to disagree on something one of these days). I know K Sawyer Paul of International Object tweeted something to the same effect recently. I know what I said about commercials earlier, but I really do wish one of the features of the three-hour Raw was a guaranteed uninterrupted match every week. What if they created a TV title (I know, like we need another belt — perhaps they could just convert the U.S. Title) and it were defended weekly with a 30-minute time limit? Pick a company to sponsor the match, and heck, have their logo in a running clock. Who wouldn’t be excited for that 30 minutes every week, maybe right after the initial segment?

Since we’re moving outside the box, do you have any other ideas for tweaks? My favorite of recent memory is from Jason Mann of Wrestlespective, who once suggested the WWE should run one retro pay-per-view each year. Red, white and blue ropes, old school ring aprons and banners, perhaps even put Vince on play-by-play. He suggested Survivor Series would be a natural fit, and I couldn’t agree more. What would you do if the WWE were your sandbox?

• • •

David: I saw that you asked a similar question on Twitter, which Tom Holzerman answered on The Wrestling Blog. His idea was to have at least one story where the traditional ideas of alignment don’t matter, where he gets to make up his mind who to root for without the influence of the Almighty WWE. He uses the example of a potential Dolph Ziggler vs Chris Jericho feud as a possible jumping off point, and I think it’s a fine idea. As I’ve mentioned in the past, Ziggler is almost too skilled at wrestling to hate. In fact, I would argue that if he didn’t have the WWE’s biggest villain, Vickie Guerrero, as his manager, the fans would cheer him more than they already do. Jericho has spent a large portion of his career in a similar boat. He has to work really hard to make you hate him, as his re-emergence at the beginning of this year showed. It would make for a great storyline, and would really give the fans something to debate and talk about, and maybe we’ll get a clearer picture of where they’re going with Ziggler/Jericho tonight on Raw.

Tonight on Raw, we also get a scheduled cash-in of John Cena’s Money in the Bank briefcase. I’m on record as saying that I think John Cena will be the first person to cash in and lose, but I’m not convinced it will happen tonight. I’m wondering if Big Show will interfere before the bell rings, thus not allowing Cena to cash in his chance. If so, I could certainly see the match move to SummerSlam. However, if the WWE were my fantasy booking sandbox, so to speak, I would use tonight to start an overhaul of Cena’s character.

I like John Cena. I think that, for the most part, he is someone who uses his fame in the best possible ways. His work with the Make A Wish Foundation is well documented, but even so, I’m not sure he gets enough credit. I think that the idea of hustle, loyalty and respect means a lot to the kids that he meets, and I think that John means a lot to the kids he meets. I don’t think you can turn him into a bad guy without jeopardizing that, and I wouldn’t. I just want John Cena to be human. I want him to have self doubt. I want him to hurt and to show it.

“Hustle, Loyalty and Respect” is a decent catchphrase, but “Super Cena,” as some have dubbed him, doesn’t really have to hustle. He doesn’t really inspire loyalty or respect, because how can loyalty be proven, and what does respect mean to someone who really doesn’t go through trials? John Cena should’ve become really introspective after losing to the Rock at Wrestlemania. That doubt should’ve showed on his face leading up to his match with Brock Lesnar, and when Lesnar brought the fight to Cena, and he needed a chain to win, that should’ve been a low point in John Cena’s career. That should’ve been when we started to see what John Cena was made of.

All for naught?

If I could take over the WWE tonight, I would make his match with CM Punk the beginning of the lowest point in his career. CM Punk would get a clean victory, and then Big Show would come down and point out how John Cena just can’t get the job done anymore. This would be a trend that would repeat itself over the next 4 months or so. He loses repeatedly to the WWE’s big names, and maybe even some flukey wins against up and comers. Every time, Big Show comes down and berates him. There could really be some emotional story telling in this scenario, all leading up to Cena beating the giant at Tables Ladders and Chairs in December. I’d then have Cena enter the Royal Rumble at number one, and be the last man eliminated…falling just short of the prize. I’d have him take Wrestlemania season off. I don’t think you need him if you have the Rock and Lesnar at Mania. He could reappear the night after WM XXIX on Raw, and start a winning streak that goes into next year’s Money in the Bank show, where he would win the briefcase for the second year in a row. I would have CM Punk hold the belt for the entirety of the year, until Cena cashes in the briefcase not just to try and win the title, but to try and erase the scars of what began on July 23, 2012. Breaking a man down to build him up is a great story if played the right way, and it may be the best thing that could happen to John Cena. It probably won’t… but a guy can hope, right?

Enjoy tonight’s Raw 1000, and join us in our little corner of the web again next week for more dignified wrestling discussion.

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