One of the main reasons I started this blog was the emotion I felt both after HBK’s sublime match with the Undertaker at this year’s Wrestlemania and during his ‘Farewell Address’ on RAW the following night. It seems only right that the first post of this blog is dedicated to him.
I’m writing this six days after the best Wrestlemania in years (dare I say, the best ever?), so I wont really be talking about that. All I will say is that, though i’m unsure as to whether such a thing as a ‘perfect match’ can take place, HBK vs Undertaker at Wrestlemania 26 was damn close to a perfect match! It was probably the best match i’ve ever witnessed, in terms of storytelling, emotion, excitement, technicality and imagery. The ending was perfect, seeing Shawn Michaels, the most controversial character ever, a man who would do whatever it took to break his opponent’s heart, taunting the Undertaker in the face of defeat when ‘Taker compassionately told him to “stay down.” To paraphrase Paul Gambaccini, this match was ‘the best of Shawn Michaels, and Shawn Michaels is the best there was.’
I was reassured by Shawn saying he was going to honour the stipulation of his match. This comment was of greater prominance given that parallel to RAW was iMPACT! featuring Ric Flair, the man who retired (in circumstances similar to HBK after a match with the Showstopper on the same stage two years earlier). I know Shawn has reluctantly given Ric’s return to the ring his blessing, and I wish I could share his compassion.
But I can’t, quite. I know he’s had money issues, but I struggle to see how the Nature Boy couldn’t get paid outside of the ring. Even if he took on a ‘managerial’ role, or a scouting role, or whatever – which I have no doubt he’d be able to get – it would be acceptable. But he hasn’t, he’s lacing up the boots again, and in doing so, he’s effectively spitting in the face of WWE, he’s spitting in the face of Shawn Michaels, but worst of all, he’s spitting in the faces of those that loved and made him, the fans. I shed tears for Flair when he took his supposedly final curtain call and was given the fantastic retirement he deserved. I, like millions of others around the world, thanked him for the spectacles he’d given us, and he’s thrown it back in our faces. I know Shawn wont do the same.
Speaking of TNA, I watched the end of this week’s episode to see how its doing. I hear it only got a .6ish rating, and that seems a fair reflection. I tuned in to see ‘Mr. Anderson’ cutting an dragging, insignificant promo against Kurt Angle that was met by silence and even indignation from the crowd. Not only that, but it was just stupid and overblown. A ladder match to get a key to a cage in a future match? So what? I’ve never seen opening the door be a big obstacle in a cage match. It just goes to show that he’ll never be able to cut it at the top.
The iMPACT! main event was equally disappointing. Lasting five minutes or so, the vast majority of the match was a boring, sloppy and not very interesting. Half of 6 Pac’s match was botching locking the cage and with dinosaurs like Nash and Hall in there, the match wasn’t going anywhere. Not even RVD (surely the company’s next best hope after Angle) looked good. The end of the match, an (admittedly risk-taking) spotfest drew chants of TNA! TNA! But why? Dare-devilish spots don’t maketh good wrestling. It’s simplistic and gets uninteresting very quickly. It also goes to show the reason behind TNA’s (modest) success. Its status as an alternative has meant that anything remotely impressive will have it’s fans in raptures, even if it’s surrounded by horrible content. This came the day after the Money in the Bank ladder match at Wrestlemania, which saw a great deal of bodily sacrifice by the participants and much more innovation (Shooting star presses from set up ladders, walking on two ladder halves like stilts, etc), all of which deserves raucus WWE! WWE! chants. The fact that these aren’t forthcoming (though the fans certainly showed their appreciation) is due to the fact that this kind of innovation is established in WWE and consistant in it to boot. This is expected by fans of WWE, so when it’s forthcoming, it doesn’t draw the excitement and appreciation of the fans in the same way. Its an understandable shame.
Finally, i’d like to mention the breathless episode of Smackdown this Friday. It looks like a lot of things are getting shaken up in the aftermath of Mania (perhaps to replace the function of Backlash?), not least the fact that Jack Swagger has gone from nearly-man to World Heavyweight Champion, headlining both RAW and Smackdown. This was a shock to all surely, but it goes to show WWE’s continued and accelerated push of younger stars. This is a good thing, and Swagger deserves his main-event status. However, it seems to have all happened a bit too quickly. His near-attempt at cashing in his contract on RAW suggested there would be unique MITB storyline in which he would hesitate on several occasions cash in, before finally doing it at some point in the future (and therefore, when he had gained a bit of kudos at the main-event level). While his cashing in was certainly a shock (a good thing), I worry that his first reign could be a flop. We’ll have to wait and see.
This first month will be crucial, and especially his first defence. I was convinced (and hoped) that it would be a triple-threat ladder matchat Extreme Rules. This would make perfect sense given Jericho and Edge’s history and affinity with this stipulation, as well as the way Swagger became champion. It looks though, that it’ll be a one-on-one affair (with no defined stipulation as of yet), which I think is a mistake. Not only will a successful defence in a brutal ladder match help his credibility, but it’ll be better for all involved if three are involved. Jericho and Edge can really mentor him through the match, and help maintain a high standard. Not only that, but both Jericho and Edge look less weak if they lose in a match with more competitors and the more the competitors, the better Swagger looks in defence. Its not set in stone yet, but I hope they find a way to make it a triple-threat match. Again, we’l have to wait and see.