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Off-Ramp On the Road to Wrestemania

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

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

• • •

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

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

• • •

Rock vs Hogan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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Never quite the equal of Wrestlemania…

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

Do we agree on this one?

• • •

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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1000…and counting

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

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

Wedding Crasher? ©WWE.com

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

All for naught?

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

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

• • •

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

Cutting Electricity With a Knife

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

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

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

Burt Reynolds and the Bushwhackers

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

• • •

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

Would Cena ever apologize for humiliating Laurinaitis?

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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