Anointing: Cody Rhodes

When I returned to the World of Professional Wrestling sometime after WrestleMania XXIV, Cody Rhodes was one of the many people I had no knowledge of, other than finding his surname familiar. At the time he was tagging with Bob Holly who was acting as his mentor, and though he split with Hardcore and turned heel soon after, you can see aspects of his influence remaining in Rhodes (the Alabama Slam, his kick to the stomach/low blow while holding opponent against ropes thing). Rhodes’ heel turn was actually quite innovative (even if it employed a lot of artistic licence/Wrestle-logic to allow it); the debuting Ted DiBiase claimed he was going to win the Tag Team Championships from Rhodes and Holly, and he would do so because his money and influence had allowed him to get a partner to guarantee it. As it turned out, Rhodes was that partner:

Him and Ted DiBiase (Priceless) made for an excellent tag team; one of the best of that period for sure, but it was in Legacy that both DiBiase and Rhodes started to shine noticeably bright. Obviously, most immediately, Rhodes got to associate, on a weekly basis, with Randy Orton. But that came with a lot of related positives: more mic time, longer matches, more promotion, and of course, better opponents – often the marquee adversaries of Orton like Triple H and John Cena. Their highest point, arguably, came at Breaking Point, when not only did they get to take on the legendary DX in a memorable PPV match, but we saw a really rare sight – Shawn Michaels tapping out, and it was to Rhodes and DiBiase.

Unfortunately for the two younger members of Legacy, Randy Orton was getting pops every week, despite supposedly being a psychopathic heel. He had to turn face, and he did so, in part, against his ‘Legacy brethren’. Being in a high profile match at WrestleMania XVI against Randy Orton seemed like a great opportunity, and it was, but they were never really allowed to capitalise on that opportunity and fell away from the main event picture. It has become an urban truism that in most prominent tag teams there is a Shawn Michaels and a Marty Janetty (one being the star, and the other … not so much), and in Legacy, post-WrestleMania, most expected DiBiase to be the former and Rhodes the latter, but instead, it has turned out the other way round (though DiBiase is by no means a ‘Janetty’ yet). While DiBiase has gotten lost in the shuffle for the most part, Rhodes has gone on a long but sustained journey to credibility, and now it seems he is destined for the absolute top.

So, What Sets Him Apart
Rhodes is different, and in a lot of ways. Even more than other second/third generation wrestlers, Rhodes is a throwback to the ‘glory days’ of legends like his father, ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes and the territories. He just has such a refreshingly classical style, right down to the lack of knee-pads and re-birth of the classic Intercontinental Championship. Rhodes is smaller and not a natural talker, at least for the WWE mold. He could have allowed this to let him get lost in the shuffle, but instead, he used it to make him a palpably ‘different’ character to the rest of the roster, and has done so by making the most of his gimmicks. After WrestleMania XXVI, he was given his ‘Uncommon Son of the Common Man’ gimmick, which he did his best with bit obviously didn’t connect. His ‘Dashing’ gimmick, which seemed to have a lot more of Rhodes the man in it (apparently he got most of his grooming tips from Randy Orton). That gimmick, inspired in part by graphic novel characters, was unique (and again, something akin to more old-skool ‘pretty boy’ gimmicks) and he really made the most of it, rapaciously defending his face and bolting the ring to check his face in the mirror whenever it got hit. He was doing well with this gimmick, but when he changed to the masked ‘Grotesque’ gimmick, he really thrived, and he’s embraced that most of all; using his mask as a weapon, covering his face during pins so people wont stare at him when everyone’s attention is on him, and his use of paper bags to humiliate and cover the lying eyes of fans and opponents. Add in to that his general, delusional Mr. Hyde demeanor, and you have a unique, stand-out gimmick. He’s finally found his voice on the mic with this gimmick, which is again unique, and his wonderfully polished, classic in-ring style has never been an issue. He has finally become the full product.

When Did Rhodes Become Part of the Future of Wrestling?

Rhodes holds aloft his freshly revived and defended classic Intercontinental Championship

There are a few moments in Rhodes’s career which might be called ‘break out’. Joining Legacy, feuding with DX, WrestleMania XXVI against Orton, the beginning of the ‘Dashing’ gimmick, beating Rey Mysterio at WrestleMania XXVII, to name just a few great ‘moments’ from Rhodes.

The moment I started to believe that Rhodes was an absolute shoe-in for future ‘top guy’, however, was when he re-established the classic Intercontinental Championship (pictured above), a belt worn by the likes of Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat, Bret Hart, and Randy Savage. On the surface, it was just a token gesture, but it was more than that. It was an instantly recognisable gesture of intent about making his championship prestigious again, about making his career notable, and about standing out as a special and elite talent. He is succeeding with all of these goals, and in doing so, is making himself a must-see at the top of the card.

The Future
If you watch Rhodes in the first video embedded in this post, and compare it to the Rhodes in the video above, you can see the amazing growth of him as a sports entertainer. Rhodes is currently feuding with Randy Orton, and it doesn’t seem like that will end too soon. This is different to his previous feud(s) with Orton as it is on his own, and not with DiBiase, yet plays more on his whole, storied history with The Viper, right back to Legacy.The only way this can go forward though is if Orton actually challemges for the title. A higher calibre of challenger only helps the prestige of the title, and I think this should, and hopefully will continue for some time. I’d like to see Rhodes keep the title for quite some time, successfully defending against high-card talents like Orton, Sheamus, Sin Cara etc and really keep the prestige of the title, and him as champion, sky-rocketing. Perhaps he could be champion for Daniel Bryan to challenge at WrestleMania – it’s certainly a match-up i’d like to see. Saying that, I can’t see it happening. More likely he’ll keep the IC title even longer, and at some point in the new year, finally become the World Heavyweight Champion, and one of the faces of the Smackdown brand.


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Smack of the Week (28/10/2011): Punk Centre-Stage in a Muddied Title Picture

Punk post-victory against Christian. But what does this mean for the two World title pictures?

Christian Confronted Teddy Long, Was Confronted By CM Punk
Teddy Long came out with the purpose of clarifying the World Heavyweight Championship picture, but before he could make any sort of decision, out came Christian, calling for ‘one more match’. I like this catchphrase and this aspect of his character. It’s a slim thing to build a character around, but he has done so successfully; it is, however, getting a little repetitive. Clearly, Punk thought the same, as he came out to shut Christian up. Punk was, again, wonderful on the mic, and his comic routine where he wouldn’t let Captain Charisma finish his line by saying ‘… and bitching’. This was funny, and when complimented by his acknowledgement of the heel being an admirable talent (something a little lacking in babyfaces) and especially pointing out his following among the WWE Universe (‘Voice of the Voiceless’ and all that …) added to his truly unique and playfully unmoulded promo style. He should, however, be careful about criticising people for ‘bitching’, after all, the shoot heard around the world was bitching. Admittedly it was a righteous and much needed dose of truth-telling, which Christian certainly couldn’t claim, but Punk should still be careful about coming across as hypocritical.

The Awesome Truth (The Miz & R-Truth) def. Air Boom (Kofi Kingston & Evan Bourne)
Air Boom are gaining a reputation for raising the roof and the general atmosphere of every show they appear on, and it is a reputation deserved. They are really validating themselves as the poster-boys of the newly revamped tag division! This match was, indeed, pretty exciting. Most of the match saw the heels in control, with R-Truth returning to his scary intensity that was prevalent at the time of Capitol Punishment, which was one of his best features at that time. Air Boom struggled to get any offense in at the start, but towards the end, they managed to match the conspiracy-theorists, which showed them off well, and really got the audience rocking, most notably when Kingston hit a springboard massive cross body to The Miz after the ‘awesome one’ had avoided Kofi’s turnbuckle attack. That was so impressive that the fans really were at fever-pitch by that time! This was, however, awkward booking with the tag champions against the seemingly unstoppable heels with invisible forces on their side (in fact, I liked Josh Matthew’s call that it was like they had no fear of repercussions, hinting of course that they were being protected by ‘the powers that be’). The Little Jimmy’s Finalé was too much for Kofi Kingston though, and over went The Awesome Truth. A good accounting for themselves by the tag champs, and Truth put them over by bragging about beating them afterwards; a necessarily evil though as it certainly showed them up a little.

Randy Orton def. Dolph Ziggler
This had ‘MOTY candidate’ written all over it, and perhaps harked back to just under a year ago when Ziggler was being tested against the big boys and lighting the ring up. This period of Ziggler’s career seems to be replicating that time, which culminated in a techniacl World Championship reign. The start of the match was impressive in it’s technicality, if it was a bit repetitive and unexplosive, with progressions of ducks, leapfrogs, and shoulder blocks. As the match built though, especially after the commercial break, we saw some wonderful progressions, back and forth, and near-falls. Orton probably had the advantage in terms of amounts of offense, but Ziggler was certainly his equal, and managed sustained offense against The Viper, especially towards the end of the match – most notably with a superkick, which I hope means Ziggler has added it to his repertoire because it kinda suits him and because, here, it made for a great near fall, especially after Ziggler’s version of the straddle pin which saw Orton only just slip out of the pinfall attempt. Ziggler tried to keep the momentum with a Zig Zag, but Orton held the ropes before hitting an RKO on the startled Ziggler for the win. After watching this I did, indeed, consider adding this to my MOTY section; and it was very good – probably just lacking at the start and in an inventive, striking finish. Good enough to show that Ziggler belongs at Orton’s level though, especially given that Swagger wasn’t allowed at ringside. In a slightly related note, Cody Rhodes was on commentary, and was excellent! He got his own character over as well as getting the match and participants over too (though, understandably, the heel primarily), constantly reminding Booker and Cole to pay attention to the match, and to the United States Champion. Excellent stuff.

Hunico Revealed Himself
A quick note here. Though I would have liked Hunico do re-debut as a heel lucha with a Hunico gimmick to try and gain retribution over Sin Cara. I was pleased to see him get some individual time as a character though. I had worried that having been brought up from developmental specifically for the Sin Cara vs Sin Cara feud, he might be forgotten about in it’s aftermath. I like his look too – a bit different for WWE. Maybe he and JTG could work together?

Daniel Bryan def. Tyson Kidd
So maybe this match was a kind of promotion for the new HBK vs Hart rivalry DVD (which by all accounts is a must-see), but I enjoyed the premise nonetheless, especially seen as it features such amazing technical wrestlers. There wasn’t too much to this match, but a sign of great wrestlers being that they can make an impact with little time, these two did just that as Kidd had the initiative at the start with a low dropkick to Bryan’s head. They then moved to some sweet chain wrestling starting and ending with the LaBelle Lock. Initially, that move saw progressions in to some amazing, innovative pin attempts, before Kidd attempted a Sharpshooter which was expertly reversed in to the Labelle Lock for the win for AmDrag. Now I noted with pleasure an interview on WWE.com with Bryan which placed him at the forefront of the title picture, and the delight taken at Bryan snapping his ‘losing streak’ seems, hopefully, to point to some renewed strength for Mr. Money in the Bank; something he really needs as we approach WrestleMania season quickly.

CM Punk def. Christian
These two are two of my favourite in-ring competitors, and so I was glad to see them booked up together. The match lived up, for the most part, to their reputations too. Given Christian’s not been on the right side of many matches recently, it was good to see him get a lot of offense on on Punk, but very quickly, he was in GTS position, in a way that perhaps seemed a little too easy. Then Alberto Del Rio’s music hit, and the man strutted down to distract the Best in the World. More back and forth here which put both men on a pretty level pegging which was great for Christian and perhaps a little detrimental to Punk, but nonetheless made for some great action. As the match moved on there were some great power moves and counters as Punk rolled through a Christian top-rope cross-body, nearly taking the match, before Christian reversed Punker’s springboard clothesline in to a powerslam for another big near fall. Punk did later hit this move though as the match drew to a close. After the clothesline, he went to the top rope for his Macho Man elbow. Before he could leap to victory though, Del Rio pushed him off the turnbuckle as Rodriguez distracted the ref. It looked like Christian would be able to pick up the scraps, but Sheamus – so far conspicuous by his absence – hit the ring to stop the injustice. He chased off Del Rio and Rodriguez before a startled Christian walked in to a GTS and the win for Punk. Not the most impressive of wins for Punk, but it’s all momentum and even better coming from a good match. It looks like Punk will get his title match, but he’ll have a hard time getting it, as it has been announced that he has to beat Mark Henry to do so; while on Smackdown, Big Show claimed he will get a rematch at ‘some point’ in the future, while Henry rejected his worthiness. Despite the definiteness of the finish of this main event, the two title pictures remain rather murky, but in an interesting way.

The RAW View (24/10/2011): The Pipebomber Returns to the Spotlight

Punk refused to kiss up to Laurinaitis, and 'his' champion (?), Alberto Del Rio

OK, so Punk wasn’t a part of the closing images of the show, but i’ve decided to lead with him, because we saw him back to his best, and back in the WWE Championship picture.

Kevin Nash Attacked Triple H With a Sledgehammer, Twice
To start the show, out came HHH, bewildered and angry about Kevin Nash’s attack the previous night at Vengeance. Trips’s story was quite well told, even seemingly loosing his smile when Nash attacked him. His mention of the kliq, Shawn Michaels, and Sean Waltman (who still gets X Pac heat, apparently) was a nice slice of reality. It did seem a little repetitive though, when compared to their previous run-ins. Luckily, the story became really attention grabbing after HHH had done telling Johnny Ace to sign Nash for a match and was walking away to find Nash himself, only for ‘Big Daddy Cool’ to smash Trips in te back with a sledgehammer; a nice touch given that it’s Hunter’s trademark weapon. This wasn’t the end of it though. In another nice touch, the segment bled across the commercial break and in to the next segment – a rare ocurrence which gave a sense of endless, furious abuse, as well as a bit of reality and surprise. The second attack was, if anything, worse than the former. With HHH out, and tied to a spinal board, Nash stood him up, Hannibal Lector style, and clocked him in the head with it, knocking him down to the floor, defenseless. This was all very engaging, but, not helped by there being at least two commercial breaks in between all the action, the Nash-HHH action lasted what seemed an incredibly long time for what it was, and was over-replayed. Happily, it seems Nash has moved on to HHH instead of CM Punk, which makes for better storylines while saving Punk from a feud he certainly doesn’t need.

Randy Orton & Sheamus def. Cody Rhodes & Christian
Following victories for both faces the night before at Vengeance, I hoped for and kinda expected some booking receipts for the heels on RAW. We were threated to another fine match between these four, with Orton having ‘beef’ with both of the heels, which meant there was always storyline interest with what was happening in the ring. Sheamus continues to develop as a competitor, turning the bluntest of moves, his springboard shoulder-block, in to something cool and unique. Firstly, he hit his shoulder block to Christian, on the floor, from the apron, and then he did it as part of a double team with Orton Irish Whipping his opponent towards the ropes and in to the shoulder block. Orton and Sheamus were rightly booked strong, but Rhodes and Christian showed some great, heelish tag team skills, distracting, interfering, and frustrating the faces in order to get the upper hand. Orton and Rhodes have some of the best timing in the business, and this was certainly shown in this match; firstly when Orton reversed Christian’s double axe handle with a perfect dropkick, and while Rhodes has an equally lovely dropkick, I was particularly taken with his Beautiful Disaster to Sheamus, which he started at the other side of the ring, but hit perfectly by the time Sheamus reached him. His second attempt at this though, would cost him after Sheamus, who had apparently learned his lesson, and hit the Brogue Kick, which seemed to hit him on the … knee? Maybe it was because Rhodes couldn’t go down to that, but Sheamus picked him up and hit the Celtic Cross, which was very reminiscent this time of the Razor’s Edge – perhaps a not to Scott Hall after his heartwrenching appearance on E:60? Anyway, a good opener for us, but I was disappointed that Rhodes and Christian weren’t afforded a victory here after losing at Vengeance. At least they looked good against the top faces.

John Laurinaits, David Otunga, John Cena Backstage Pretape
I tend to ignore most pretapes in these posts because they are rarely worthy of note in terms of storyline on their own. There were some interesting things here though. First off, and primarily, the fact that Johnny Ace was on the phone to Stephanie McMahon, who was seemingly blaming Ace for her husband’s attack, but who also seemed like she and him may be in regular contact regarding the programme. Steph wont be mentioned lightly, and hopefully, we’ll see her back on TV soon. I’d also like to point out how much I marked out for Cena here (yeah …). Whatever you think of Cena, he really can be funny, and he was here, calling Otunga Carlton Banks and telling him to find out how Uncle Phil and the rest of the Bel Air folk are doing. Ace informed Cena that he would be taking on Miz and Truth in a tag match tonight, tagging with a partner of his choosing, to which Cena responded, as long as his partner wasn’t carrying a skateboard. I literally lolled for that. Google ‘The Dynamic Dudes’ is you’re unfamiliar …

Dolph Ziggler def. Santino Marella
A word first on star-making choreography. When Dolph Ziggler made his entrance to the ring, the guy exuded money. He came out, with Vickie and Swagger either side of him and behind, and in formation, they stood tall on the stage until the breakdown of his song, where Ziggler exclaimed, marking himself as dominant, where they all started walking to the ring at the same time, still in formation, with Ziggler the centre of attention. Again, the little things being done right are what make stars in wrestling. Now I like Santino, he’s great, but I don’t like how he was used here. If wanted, Santino could be a serious wrestler, but for now, he’s doing great as a comedy wrestler, and here, the intensity of Ziggler kinda clashed with the comic spots of Santino. There was a bit on nonsense centred around The Cobra, which Dolph managed to avoid before taking complete control. This was only with the help and distraction of Swagger though, which allowed Ziggler to hit the Zig Zag for a quick win. I don’t have a problem with Santino getting some offense in on Ziggler, but the idea that Ziggler could only get over with Swagger’s help doesn’t put him in too shining a light. Great heat for Team Vickie pounding on Santino after the match in a move which stunk of bitter heel embarrassment, as befitted the situation. But then, to make the save, we had Mason “Triceptacular” Ryan come out to break up the attack and put the boot, literally, to Swagger. It seems Ryan is being parked in the US title picture, and i’m not a fan. He’s getting ok reactions just now, but that’s because Team Vickie are such great heels. Put him against weaker heels and you lose a lot of interest. The guy fundamentally isn’t ready, either in the ring or out, and certainly can’t live up to Ryder in terms of drawing power and interest.

CM Punk Interrupts Alberto Del Rio’s Celebration and Demands a WWE Championship Match
Really enjoyed Alberto Del Rio’s promo when celebrating his title retention from Vengeance, and I especially liked Del Rio saying he’s done with John Cena, confirming that the Cena status-quo will be away from the title picture for the forseeable future. I also liked his boasts that there is no-one better than him, and that the WWE Universe would have to get used to him as champion for a very long time. Of course this drew out ‘The Best in the World’, CM Punk. Re-watching it, I notice Punk confidently twirling the mic in his hands as he approached the ring, and in retrospect, it was a sign of good things. After all, Punk had been largely off the mic for a couple of weeks, but last night, not only was he back on the mic, but he was back on top pipebombing form. Punk made the legitimate claim that not only did he ever receive his one-on-one title rematch after Del Rio cashed in on him, but also that he beat the champion on RAW recently. Unsurprisingly, Del Rio wasn’t amenable to this, perhaps showing that he FEARS Punk. Punk continued spouting when out came the Funk Man, Johnny Ace to, surprisingly, award Punk his title match. Punk, however, was right to be suspicious of Ace, who wanted Punk to say he respected him before he would give him the match. This was when the real pipebombing Punk returned. Not only could he not stoop to that level of brown-nosery, but he couldn’t help himself from mocking Johny Ace, chastising him for his lack of skills and soulless corporate sucking up, before telling him, categorically, that ‘never has some one with so little, made it so far in this business.’ Again, unsurprisingly, Ace wasn’t too amenable to giving Punk his title opportunity in the wake of this, and indeed, King even suggested that Punk’s pipebomb might just have cost him an opportunity. But this is part of why Punk is so popular; he is completely honest, and always does what he thinks is best for the business, because that’s what the business needs, and the fans know it. The Dynamic Dude said he would hold off a decision on the WWE Championship match until next week, but until then, Punk gave him something to ‘think about’ by beating Del Rio down before the champion escaped, leaving Ricardo Rodriguez to be sacrificed to a GTS. I’ll talk more about the title picture in the final section of the write-up, but there were some more interesting staging points i’d like to mention, but they are in better context when considering a ‘wwe.com exclusive’ I just saw. It was Punker talking about Johnny Ace and whether he’ll get his championship shot. My favourite thing about the central storylines of late as been the simple idea that there is someone/some people who want Del Rio as champion, and don’t want Punk as champion, and this was something Punk explicitly said in this backstage interview. That role makes Punk subversive, as he should be, and makes for a much simpler, entertaining ‘conspiracy’ storyline. Maybe this is what is forming before us, and it could traverse a number of storylines across WWE. Another thing Punk said was that he was suspicious of ‘suits’, and that made me think of the staging of this promo segment. Del Rio and Laurinaitis, both in suits, were stood almost together, both trying to frustrate and humiliate Punk while also trying to rob him of his credentials as the ‘voice of the voiceless’ by getting him to suck up. It was a nice aesthtic representation of what Punk is up again, and ass-kissing boys club. I trust, however, he will overcome, and be very entertaining doing so.

Alicia Fox def. Natalya
Yesterday, I asked who will be stepping up for a Divas Championship shot next after Eve fell to Beth Phoenix. It seems that answer, surprisingly, is Alicia Fox (not least because I thought she’s a heel!). The match wasn’t much. Fox is ok, but this match was a little awkward (possibly because these two simply haven’t been working together for a while and Nattie is presumably very much used to Kelly or Eve). I’m not a big fan of Alicia going over either. Of course Nattie was dominant, and Fox’s win was rather fluky, but it’s not great for Nattie’s apparent strength. I understand she needs to make a splash to be at all credible against Beth, but the Divas of Doom seem to be having to work too hard to get victories, especially Natalya, and they seem to fall to losses too often – again, especially Natalya. I’d have preferred Fox to have a #1 Contender’s match with someone like a Bella twin (who have more credibility anyway) and win. This draws Beth and Nattie to the ring to intimidate with the threat of tears before Alicia completely blindsides them with a protective cheap-shot to one of them before departing the ring. This sets up some tension while getting Fox over as a tough challenge, without damaging either Sister of Salvation.

Wade Barrett def. John Morrison
Barrett-Morrison was a pretty enjoyable affair, but I think the outcome could have been guessed by most before the start of the match. Again, however, this was no simple burial. Morrison got his shots in and looked credible – the real burial is that his moves just don’t do the job anymore. His Shining Wizard-esque finisher used to get 3 counts every time, but, for the first time in this match, I saw someone kick out of it. It was an enjoyable, brutally ‘physical’ (like any match isn’t, but you know what I mean …) affair, but ultimately, it was for the benefit of Barrett. I suppose that does make JoMo a jobber … I don’t particularly like the guy, and I don’t think he’s main event calibre, but he has something to offer for sure. As for Barrett, this was another step in his ‘second coming’ as he’s now terming it (Jericho wont be happy! (kayfabe)). Barrett is indeed going through a deserved renaissance in fortunes. This hasn’t translated that much to his in-ring work though. I notice he’s using a new signature – that big boot when the opponent is in the ropes which sends them impressively to the floor, but aside from that, nothing much. He needs to change things up a little more I think. As I say, this was a good match, sullied a little, unfortunately by the botched Wasteland at the end, which was meant to follow from Barrett catching Morrison as he was attempting his Chuck Kick and would have made for a nice finish. I wonder if Morrison will get blamed? A final thought on this: I would have liked to see Daniel Bryan involved in this is in some way, maybe have him save Morrison from a post-match beat down or something. Without him, he is getting a bit lost, and needs the attention as much as Barrett in their feud.

Michael Cole Called Out J.R.
I don’t want to dwell on this too much; I, like most fans, are sick and tired of Cole’s antics with J.R. and WWE’s constant attempts to ridicule the greatest announcer in the history of the business and consummate company man and professional. You think they’d be more respectful given reports that ratings actually dropped when he was ‘fired’ a couple of weeks back, and a big section of the WWE Universe gave some very negative feedback to the move. It was also reported that management wanted J.R. back in the wake of this news, which makes Cole’s challenge very interesting. He claimed that if he loses, he will quit WWE and J.R. can have his chair at the booth back. Now i’m certainly worried WWE will just screw J.R. over again, but that information gives me hope that J.R. could return. I don’t know about Cole though – he will be on programming, and it would take some creative booking to keep him in the wake of his own stipulation if he were to lose. Cole can be a great announcer, and is the only play by play guy anywhere near J.R. these days at WWE, with the ability to make situations come alive and memorable, so I wouldn’t want to lose him – i’d just want to change him. Send him to Smackdown exclusively and end the nonsense.

John Cena def. The Miz and R-Truth via DQ
Before the match, Zack Ryder was cutting a promo as he was supposed to tag with Cena. I was excited about this prospect, especially seen as he may have lost his US title shot to Mason “Gloryhole” Ryan, and needed, and deserved, the exposure. His promo possibly exposed a weakness in Ryder though. It was a near-directionless list of his popular catchphrases. Perhaps this is because he just had to get over his sheer excitement at the situation while essentially filling time until The Awesome Truth assaulted him, but it did raise a question mark about how deep Ryder’s character can go. Indeed, Truth and Miz took Ryder out, and ‘by order of’ Johnny Ace, Cena was compelled to face the heels alone. This was quite a nicely booked version of Cena holding off the two heels, but nothing much of note other than Cena’s literal struggle. Unable to control Cena, Truth fethed his surely entirely symbolic bottle of water and smacked Cena with it, earning a DQ. The Awesome Truth then beat on him some more, hitting their respective finishers before going to get chairs. Surprisingly, because he had left Cena in that predicament, Johnny Ace then came out to stop Miz and Truth’s vociferous attack, saying that their actions were disrespecting him, and asked them to leave. But then, halfway up the ramp, he called them back and booked them in a match with Cena at Survivor Series against a partner of his choosing. Funkhauser seemingly turned on a sixpence again, not only bringing Miz and Truth back, but booking them in a big match at a major PPV. The squirmy malleability of Ace’s loyalties certainly are a good and intriguing thing, but this all seemed to blow up on the heels as after some consideration, (and some slabbering), Cena picked THE ROCK! (Except this wasn’t that much of a surprise given that WWE had announced they would be tagging together several weeks ago … a bit of continuity silliness there!). This is great and all. Rocky returning to the ring is certainly a HUGE draw, and tagging with Cena will also do wonders for the tension between the two. It’s a shame the way Cena framed all this though, as if The Rock was the only one who could help him defeat two guys he was already dong ok against on his own. He said that his partner ‘is going to have to be someone who’s gunna bring it.’ Now obviously this was hinting at The Rock, but it also suggested that none of the other regular babyfaces (Orton, Sheamus, etc) couldn’t bring it enough for the challenge. This is almost certainly nit-picky, and it was unintentional, but to some, this will have buried some of WWE’s regular talent. I would rather he had framed it mischievously, as if he wanted to test The Rock. Despite this misgiving, it’s all certainly very exciting, and will make for some great, complicated tension between the two in the coming weeks. Until now, we had been told they would tag together in a traditional Survivor Series match, but this seems to be a straight 2-on-2 tag match, which is in some ways a disappointment; after all, after everything Punk’s said about “D-wayne”, I wanna see them share a stage. It could still happen however! Remember Johnny Ace saying he’d ‘think’ about the status of the WWE Championship match? Maybe after Punk’s pipebombs, he’ll be less inclined to give him the opportunity and instead, place him in a Survivor Series match. We can only wait and see. Luckily, I think either option would be amenable to me!

Vengeance 2011: John Cena’s Hopes Collapse Underneath Him

The Awesome Truth beat down Cena among the chaos of a broken ring

Match 1) AirBoom def. Dolph Ziggler & Jack Swagger to Retain the WWE Tag Team Championships
These four have faced off so many times recently, you might expect people to get bored of it; but that couldn’t be further from the truth! These guys really light up the ring every time they get the chance! I recently ‘anointed’ Dolph Ziggler, and part of the reason was his great, Michaels-esque, bumping and selling, and Ziggler showed this early on as Kingston Monkey-flipped him from the turnbuckle, which sent Ziggler in to a massive double flip across the ring. Ziggler, who was explosive all night, wasn’t the only star though, AirBoom showed again how great a tag team they are becoming with more new double teams, including a double dropkick to the corner, and a footstomp to their opponent who is perched on the top rope. All the while, Ziggler and Swagger kept kicking out, and Vickie did a great job of amping up the crowd even more by laughing at the crowd for biting on near-falls. After a failed Shooting Star Press though, where Swagger got his knees up for a pretty sick spot, Team Vickie were back in charge, and they themselves were showing great tag team instincts b isolating Evan Bourne by powerful attacks and frequent tags. Bourne however returned the knees to Swagger when he was attempting a Vader-bomb in a nice piece of circularity which led to the match breaking down. After a trademark GIANT cross-body, Kingston went about trying to hit Trouble in Paradise. The heels were elusive at first, but after some nice tag team chaos, Kingston managed to connect to Ziggler before tagging Bourne in for AirBourne and the win. Excellently paced match which had the fans making a lot of noise by the end. These guys really get it done every time. This was definitely the right booking, as AirBoom need to keep the titles for quite some time for the good of the division. The only problem is who will challenge them next? Surely not Swagger and Ziggler again?

Dolph Ziggler def. Zack Ryder to Retain the United States Championship
It really was a great idea to have Ziggler’s two matches one after the other, which, in itself made for a great atmosphere for the start of the PPV. Because it was Ziggler that took both the Trouble in Paradise and Airbourne, he was understandably in quite a vulnerable state, so when Zack Ryder’s music hit, the situation was very reminiscent of a money in the bank situation. With that in mind, and given the build to the match, it might have been considered a ‘gimme’ for the Woo Woo Woo Kid. He certainly took the offensive initiative with lots of powerful moves in quick succession. In danger, Ziggler tried to flee with his title, crawling up the ramp; but luckily for the Internet Champ, the tag champions had stayed for the show, to even out the numbers against Swagger and Vickie, and they were kind enough to deliver Ziggler back to the ring. For this they were, rightly – by the rules – ejected from ringside. If they hadn’t been there to start with it wouldn’t be so pronounced, but because the numbers were even, and then suddenly not, a sense of foreboding came over the match for Ziggler. Ziggler managed to get back in to the contest, but not with the help of his associates, it was through sheer guile. Ryder, attempting a splash-type move to Ziggler against the middle of the ropes, missed as Ryder dove out of the way, leading to a slightly awkward bump against the ropes for Ryder. This, mixed with the rest of Team Vickie taking advantage of their numbers by distracting the ref, meant that Ryder faced an uphill struggle. Despite this, after a great progression in which Ryder was trying to fend off Swagger, whilst keeping Ziggler down, it seemed like the Rough Ryder and the win was inevitable. Unfortunately though, the numbers were too much and Ryder couldn’t quite fully rid himself of Swagger, and after one too many distractions, he turned around in to a huge superkick (in Shawn Michaels’s own San Antonio no less, surely a show of respect) and got the 3-count. I know a lot of people will be upset with this result, but I think, ultimately, it was the right thing. The only downside for Ryder is that, perhaps he should have been able to finish Ziggler off considering he had just taken two finishers, but at the same time, his loss was definitely an unfair one given the interference of Swagger. I think this should be sold as part of Ryder gaining experience going up the ladder, while building support for his cause. As for Ziggler, I one day see the WWE Championship around his waist, but because we’re approaching WrestleMania season, I don’t see it happening for around six months at least. For that reason, he will benefit from keeping the title around his waist for a while longer, which will benefit everyone. Because of the way he lost, I expect Ryder to keep up the face chase as part of one of the more memorable feuds of the year.

Beth Phoenix def. Eve Torres to Retain the Divas Championship
An interesting start to the match as it was announced that both Kelly Kelly and Natalya would be banned from ringside, meaning, therefore, that the winner would need to earn their victory. Phoenix was using her new, even more rough-house style against Eve, bossing her around the ring, but Eve managed to match Beth rather well. Indeed, i’ve thought Eve was improving for quite some time, but for the first time, she looked really dangerous and technically skilful in the ring. Her move-set as a whole grew more sophisticated – some strong-style kicks, enziguiris, and a new submission that looked like a version of a triangle choke mixed with an arm-bar. Despite all this, Phoenix remained hugely impressive, sweeping Eve’s legs away on the apron and pressing her on to the barricade. Dumping her back in the ring, Beth seemed to want to finish Eve off, but she was taking Torres too lightly while asking her to cry – an aspect of the Divas of Doom that I really like. Eve, spurred on by this disrespect, fought back, and got a great near-fall when reversing an attempt at a Glam Slam. Trying to capitalise, Eve looked for her moonsault, but Beth had scouted it, and now she was an easy target for a Glam Slam which saw Beth retain her title. The weird, short-lived, handcuffing Beth to the ropes spot aside, this was one of the better divas matches of the year, which I hope is a good sign for the division, and both wrestlers looked very good. To use a cliche, Eve had nothing to be ashamed of, and is certainly for real. As for Beth, while she wasn’t spectacular, she was noticeably skillful in the ring, and winning without the help of Nattie can only be good for her credibility. Walking away, she boasted that she would never lose her title, and indeed, the next big question is who will be next to face her?

Match 4) Sheamus def. Christian
This year, you can count on Christian to deliver a top quality match, and Sheamus has been performing well too. The two of them had a decent match for the first half, with Christian using defense as the greatest offense, consistently frustrating Sheamus’s furious momentum, while sticking and moving. There was some nice back-and-forth between the two, but the match only got really good in the second half. The match became another great when Sheamus attempted a Brogue Kick, only to be met by a big Spear for a good, convincing near-fall. At this point, the atmosphere of the match became that one of being on a knife-edge. The end of the match came with a nice piece of circularity; Christian, attempting his finisher was met with a Brogue Kick (the opposite of the earlier spot), but this time, it was enough for a 3 count. Another good match. If it would have had another few minutes, it would have been even better. Sheamus, given his meteoric growth of late, couldn’t lose. I’m just pleased that Christian came out looking strong, and on a contemporary level to that of Sheamus. It seems that all of these big matches simply must lead to Sheamus becoming the next #1 contender.


Match 5) The Miz & R-Truth def. CM Punk & Triple H
Man was I wrong about this being the main event! Before the match, we had a really good VT which kept Punk at the centre of the chaos, making clear that Punk was the agitator who started it, and how he has, arguably, lost control of the chaos. It also pointed out the involvement of Kevin Nash in the whole conspiracy angle – an inclusion which, in retrospect, was a big hint. This was another good match, and actually a rather old-skool tag match with the way they worked together and isolated their opponent. Though there was a hot tag or two, it was much more cerebral, slow process. It certainly contrasted  with The Awesome Truth’s utterly modern (and acceptable) approach. It was certainly interesting to see Trips and Punk breaking the rules with the use of leverage – justified with the fact that Miz and Truth were hardly the most honest of competitors. There was a lot of good back and forth here, and importantly, both Miz and Truth get some good ring time with, but as the match broke down, it finally seemed that Punk was about to put the match away with a GTS to Miz. However, with HHH holding off Truth at the outside, he was suddenly attacked, again, by Kevin Nash. With Nash attacking Hunter, and the referee distracted, Truth was able to break up the GTS attempt, and Miz and Truth together to hit the awesome double-team combination of both of their finishers called ‘Little Jimmy’s Finalé’. The ref paying attention again, he counted to three for a win for The Awesome Truth. Nash continued to beat down Trips, sending him in to the ring-steps before hitting his Jacknife Powerbomb on him, providing him with a very uncomfortable-seeming bump which may have legitimately hurt Hunter. It’ll be interesting to see whether he’s carrying any injuries tonight. A good match, but perhaps not quite up to the quality of Punk’s recent outings. Nash’s involvement didn’t, in itself, particularly interest me as his appearances seem routine now. However, his appearance did add another question and another aspect to the whole conspiracy/higher power angle, which I am interested in provided the payoff is good. It seems to me that, instead of facing Punk, Nash is now focusing solely on HHH, and I prefer it that way. I have no interest in seeing Punk get bogged-down in Nash, and he certainly doesn’t need the rub. It wasn’t much of a striking stoyline progression though, explaining why this match, rightly, wasn’t the main event.

Match 6) Randy Orton def. Cody Rhodes
The San Antonio crowd seemed pretty up for the PPV most of the night, and you would expect that Randy Orton, an unpenetrable fan favourite, would bring a lot of noise and atmosphere, but alas, for some reason, the crowd really weren’t that in to this, and it certainly hurt the match a little. It’s a shame, too, because I was really looking forward to the match, and it was really rather good. These two work well together, even if they haven’t quite got the chemistry yet to create anything too special. One of the things that excites me about this feud is their attention to their shared history. This was displayed nicely with Rhodes mimicking Orton’s trademark methodical stomping (though as a face, he tends not to use it as much). Rhodes really enjoyed a lot of the ascension for a while, hitting an Alabama Slam for a good 2 before attempting a moonsault. Now this was, legitimately the highest moonsault I’ve ever seen, and it was so perfect! Absolutely beautiful, even if Orton moved out of the way, and I hope he continues to use it. At this point, the match was getting really good, and Rhodes and Orton were trading blows and reversals all the time, leading the match towards its crescendo. They reached the point where signature moves became the currency – Orton with his special backbreaker, Rhodes with his moonsault press for another good near-fall. The real breakdown came when Orton was in control, and Cody’s baggers came to the fore. The distraction allowed Cody to hit CrossRhodes, and I totally bit on the near fall. Orton kicking out isn’t great fro Rhodes, but, then again, Rhodes has beaten Orton in the past, so it can’t be that bad for him. The baggers eventually became Rhodes’s Achilles heel as Orton pushed Rhodes in to one, allowing him to hit an RKO on Rhodes for the win. A really good match by the end, hampered by the dulled crowd. I just hope this isn’t the end for the Orton-Rhodes feud.

Match 7) Mark Henry Retained His World Heavyweight Championship Against The Big Show in a No Contest
There’s not too much to say about this match. I don’t mean that to seem flippant though, they had a good match. It lived up to their monster vs monster outing at Money in the Bank which deftly avoided being a turgid affair. There was some really nice moments though, and some nice tension too. The central story was Henry’s working on Show’s leg, given that he’s just gotten back from an injury to his leg, afforded by Mark Henry himself. Now, in the run up to this match, i’ve been disappointed by Big Show bossing Henry, but though he got in a lot of offense, Henry again proved unstoppable, kicking out of not only a Chokeslam, but a Super-Chokeslam too! I was so convinced Henry was going down to the Super-Chokeslam that I disappointedly had my head in my hands. Amazingly, Henry kicked out, to again show how unstopabble he is. I was worried for a minute they were going to derail him! One moment, however, will rightly rise to the top of everyone’s memory, and which may well help make the PPV as a whole memorable too. Big Show, running out of ideas, started to climb the turnbuckle, and from there, we all knew it wasn’t going to end well! When Henry got a front facelock on Show, I thought to myself that the ring had better collapse if it did when Lesnar superplexed Show, and duly, it did, in spectacular fashion. Initially, this struck me as rather unimaginative. I mean, it is just a repeated spot. I would have liked Henry to manage to rollover and cover Show, but instead, both were ruled incapable to continue. I liked that because it got over the power of the move, but I fear that the No Contest ending leaves Big Show open for another title shot down the line. At least Henry was able to walk out under his own power in a way Show wasn’t. I can just hope its part of the rumoured scramble match at Survivor Series. Despite my dislike of Big Show lately, this was the best match they could have had, with a beautiful ending.

Match 8) Alberto Del Rio def. John Cena in a Last Man Standing Match to Retain the WWE Championship
I once heard a wonderful quote about the city of Baltimore, that it ‘falls down beautifully’. I’ve always thought that wrestling is, in part, the art of falling down beautifully, and WWE always does a great job of showing this, as well as showing scenes of destruction. Remember back to the original Nexus invasion. Well, like that, the now empty collapsed ring was a vision of something sacred that had fallen down beautifully, and I loved the idea of a match taking place in that environment. I loved how Del Rio came out and was disgusted by the busted ring, while Cena was confronted by it interrupting his usual entrance. All the while, Cena was wearing his new merch – traditionally a sign that he is to remain face for a while. I thought that for a while, but then I realised it might not be quite so obvious; after all, it’s black like a heels and instead of saying ‘Never Give Up’, it says ‘Rise Above Hate’ (maybe Cena will start giving up now) – in itself a positive message, but then again, heels don’t like haters, right? Maybe i’m clutching at straws. Anyway, once the match actually started, it was a genuinely unique affair, almost catch-as-catch-can. It was interesting that they started in the ring – it seemed like they were just going with their collective natural instincts, which was an interesting atmosphere; considering they are adversaries, their mutual agreement that they should start traditionally, in the ring. They incorporated the collapsed ring really well, like when Del Rio placed Cena under one of the collapsed ringposts before standing on it. Even better though was when Cena threw Del Rio, as if in to the ropes, but without the ropes there, Del Rio went flying straight in to the outside barricade spectacularly. Del Rio was great in this environment. For the most part, wrestlers in last man standing matches try to achieve the count-out with blunt violvence, Del Rio however, came close to the the ten count with a Sleeper Hold to Cena. Leaving the ring, the two went backstage for some more, unique, offense. After Cena essentially tried to kill Del Rio by dropping a huge stack of storage units on Del Rio, but in a nice bit of camerawork, it was revealed that Del Rio had avoided the stack, and attacked Cena from behind. He took the advantage of this by throwing a stack of well placed metal screens on Cena, one after the other in a semi-circle for another near fall (?). Back outside, Cene was thrown through the giant ‘V’ on the stage. I would describe this as a classic ‘Cena spot’, for a last man standing match at least. He loves incorporating the stage, think back to when he AA’d Batista through the stage, or dumped all the chairs from the stage on top of Wade Barrett. Big, and a spot that’s been available in plain sight throughout the night. Finally, making it back to the ring, Cena seemed finally in control, setting up the ring steps next to the poor, unfortunate Spanish announce table, and AAing Del Rio through it. It seemed inevitable that Cena would win, and I had my head in my hands again, but again, we were saved from frustrating pro-face booking as Miz and R-Truth reappeared to make the save, distracting the ref from his 10 count for Del Rio, and beating Cena down mercilessly and hitting each of their finishers. Still, this only kept Cena down for 9. Unluckily for him, Del Rio was recovered, and had his championship belt, which he used to powerfully hit Cena with it to keep him down for 10. This was a good finish, not because it saved Cena from looking weak, but because it gave Del Rio the telling blow and allowed him some credibility in victory. The question now is, why did The Awesome Truth attack Cena, especially after promising John Laurinaitis they wouldn’t interfere? Well, i’ve always noted how Del Rio seems to be being protected by this conspiracy. If it does turn out that this is central to the conspiracy then i’ll be very pleased because it plays in to the Reality Era ideas of ideal champions. My only worry is that Cena might be made central to it, and not Punk. We can only wait and see about that. Benefit of the doubt time. It was definitely a very enjoyable main event whetever happens afterwards.

This was a very good PPV for the most part, and definitely adds to the idea that 2011-12 is going to be a vintage year for PPVs. A little less over-conceited than the poorer efforts this year, if not quite as impactful, it really had a unique feel to it, helped by Ziggler’s double duty, the collapsing ring spot, and the fact that the main event took place around the broken ring. Aesthetically beautiful, and memorably enjoyable.

I’ll be live-tweeting RAW tonight, and if you like my style, follow me there (@RTVWOW)

Vengeance Preview & Predictions, 2011

Vengeance, October 23, 2011, from the AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX

Vengeance comes  at the end of a sequence of PPV’s that have come in very quick succession; most people would say in too quick succession. Happily, after Vengeance we will have a longer build for Survivor Series which will include The Rock and will therefore have a lot of attention on it. That being said, WWE will need a strong event to work off to keep us going until the Fall Classic, and that gives me hope for another good PPV event for the year. Also, for the most part, i’m a big fan of the card, which features some double duty, and some mouth-watering match-ups.

Match 1) WWE Tag Team Championships Match: AirBoom (Kofi Kingston & Evan Bourne) (c) vs Dolph Ziggler & Jack Swagger
I think this match has to start us off tonight as Dolph Ziggler is doing double-duty. A lot of my prediction here is based in the bigger picture of what will also happen in the later US Championship match. I expect another good match between these four, but I think it’ll probably be the same result as the last time. AirBoom have defended the championships at two PPVs now, which is starting to become respectable, but because of the congested PPV schedule, that only translates to a two month of a reign, and considering that WWE are trying to add credibility to the division, it would seem short-sighted to have AirBoom drop the titles so early. Expect interference from Mason ‘Chronically Large’ Ryan or even Zack Ryder, in the wake of some heelistic tactics from Team Vickie.

Winners: AirBoom

Match 2) Sheamus vs Christian
I’m a big fan of this pairing, and expect a good match between the two. This match however, does seem to be a little bit of throw-away booking to make sure both are on PPV. I imagine they’ll be facing off again next month as part of PPV teams, but until then, I can’t see Sheamus losing, at least not clean. Personally, I would like to see Christian go over, but I can’t see it happening this time. Later on the card, there is another match where the face can’t lose clean but the heel would benefit from the win, and I think the need is more immediate for the heel, so I think Sheamus will take it this time. Christian wont be buried though. He’ll need to be thrown a bone, and considering the amount of MOTY quality matches he’s had this year, I expect management to allow him the time for another.

Winner: Sheamus

Match 3) Randy Orton vs Cody Rhodes
The ‘other match’ I was just referring to was this one. Rhodes is one of the brightest stars in the company right now, and I think he’s at the stage where this would make for a WrestleMania worthy main event. Rhodes has matured enough now to ‘hang’ with Orton, and this really could be the match of the night if given the time. I expect Orton to be his usual, frothing,  unstoppable self, but i’m sure Rhodes will break out in the sense that he will take Orton to his limits. Most people seem to expect that Orton will win, but I believe that this could not only be the start of a bigger feud, but another real breakout moment for Rhodes. For that reason, I expect Rhodes to win somehow, perhaps with the use of his mask, or the ringbell.

Winner: Cody Rhodes

Match 4) Divas Championship Match: Beth Phoenix (c) vs Eve Torres
Eve Torres really held her own her own on the mic with the ‘Divas of Doom’ on Smackdown, and while I expect her to do so, to some extent, in the ring too tonight, I don’t think she’ll take the championship from Beth. Beth only won the title a few weeks ago, and I can’t imagine her losing it just yet. I imagine, however, that Beth will only retain with the help of Natalya, in order to keep the momentum that Eve has gained by her run with the ‘Sisters of Salvation’. Though I believe that will be how it happens, I would probably rather a clean victory for Beth for the good of her credibility; I suppose Eve’s loss should mirror Kelly’s. Who knows, maybe Kelly could even turn on Eve for taking over her opportunity as #1 contender and in doing so, help cost her the match?

Winner: Beth Phoenix

Match 5) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Mark Henry (c) vs The Big Show
I’m loath to discuss this match because, for me, The Big Show has drained it of any interest. The man simnply isn’t entertaining anymore – an aging, uncharismatic attraction. Nonetheless, these two had a very good match at Money in the Bank, and if they can manage another good monster vs monster match tonight, i’ll be happy; that is, unless Show goes over. I very much doubt he will though. I think WWE has more faith in Henry right now, and though Show has kinda had Henry’s number of late (something i’ve been unhappy about but perhaps a necessary evil to draw interest in the match), I think it’s a bit of textbook build: the man who will lose looking strong going in to the event. I don’t think it would be the end of the world if Henry didn’t go over clean, but I would certainly prefer it, preferably following one of Henry’s trademark ‘strong spots’.

Winner: Mark Henry

Match 6) United States Championship Match: Dolph Ziggler (c) vs Zack Ryder
This booking makes me happy for so many reasons. Firstly, I love it when wrestlers do double-duty – it allows for so many booking possibilities; secondly, I am very happy that the person doing double-duty is Ziggler, because it shows that WWE have faith in him to put him on twice at PPV and suggests that he might be being tested for a push; and also because Zack Ryder is finally getting the ball and being put on PPV! Even with all of this out of the equation, the two have great chemistry together, both in terms of their characters and in the ring. We will have one of two kinds of matches I think. Either they will be given time to shine, which they most certainly would do; or, after losing the first match, Ziggler’s disappointment could be compounded by a quick result, like the one Ryder gained over Swagger on RAW. Indeed, i’m pretty sure Ryder will be going over tonight and realising the end of a road that has so far lasted 37 weeks since the start of Z: True Long Island Story, and however it happens, i’ll be happy.

Winner: Zack Ryder

Match 7) WWE Championship Match: Alberto Del Rio (c) vs John Cena
This is another title match i’m not too interested in. How about that? The two world title matches are two of the least interesting matches on the card. Nonetheless, seen as this match is a world title match, which should get a good 20-30 minutes and both guys are (though in very different ways) very accomplished performers, i’m sure they’ll have a good or at least passable match. You then add in the Last Man Standing stipulation, and there is even more potential for a memorable match. Del Rio is all about finesse, but lately, he’s been showing one of those all-desirable ‘mean streaks’, and that, mixed with his characteristic slimy wilyness, and the x-factor of Ricardo Rodriguez, means that he could do some cool, unique stuff in this environment. I’m also sure Cena will give us some nice spots, like he did when he beat Batista by using Duct-tape a couple of years ago. Cena, however, wont win. He can’t win! Not only can the title itself not change hands again, for the good of its credibility, but Cena can’t be champion again, partly because it would be so unpopular, and partly because he has to start focusing on The Rock. And so, it will be quite fun seeing someone like Cena, who ‘never gives up’ not answer a 10 count. I’m sure Del Rio will have to do something memorable to affect that. So, the build and the booking isn’t inspiring, but the match could be!

Winner: Alberto Del Rio

Match 8) Triple H & CM Punk vs The Miz & R-Truth
It may be surprising that a tag match could close out this PPV, but this story, and these stars have certainly been centre-stage going in to this event. This is, however, the most difficult match to call on the card, not only because the storyline is the most, for lack of a better word, confusing, but because I have absolutely no idea where the storyline might be going. I can smell a heel-turn though. I’m not sure who from, other than it wont be Punk. HHH seems the biggest suspect, or it could be someone not involved in the match. Whoever it is, I just have a feeling it will happen, or at least some sort of big betrayal or unscrupulous tactics; and heel-turns usually equate to heel wins. For the sake of argument, if it is HHH, I had this idea that he might be told if he screws over Punk and protects the so-called status quo, he will be rewarded by being put back in control of RAW, and we could see the show close with Trips, Johnny Ace, and the Awesome Truth raising each others hands in victory. This would be good in the sense that it would place Punk as the central hero of the company again – alone, seemingly against the world because he is trying to change things as ‘The Voice of the Voiceless’, and the WWE doesn’t want to change. Not necessarily contradictory could be involvement from Del Rio. For ages, i’ve been suggesting that Del Rio has been, on the whole, benefiting from the chaos Punk created, and that perhaps someone has a vested interest in Del Rio being champion. Perhaps then, instead of/as well as HHH turning heel, Del Rio could show up to support The Awesome Truth and help them win. It is really difficult to know. Whatever happens though, as long as it’s not overbooked, I expect a good match here, especially because Punk is involved, but also because HHH is. The heels have something to prove as portends to ‘big matches’, but perhaps they will rise to the levels of the faces. Though the rest of the PPV should be great anyway, I think the ultimate success of this PPV depends not necessarily on the quality of the in-ring action, but on the excitement and interest of the angle which closes the show. Whatever happens, I expect Punk to come out centre-stage. I just hope he’s given the ‘pipebombs’ to make it work.

Winners: The Miz & R-Truth

Smack of the Week (21/10/2011): The Mark Henry Steamroller KO’d?

Show celebrating after knocking out The World's Strongest Man

Alberto Del Rio Addresses His Audience
That may seem like an odd subtitle for a heel, but in Mexico City, Del Rio, understandably, had the audience in the palm of his hands, for the most part at least. Apart for some characteristic arrogance (calling himself ‘Mexico’s greatest hero’ for instance, which the fans actually seemed to take to nonetheless), everything he said was rather populist. I suppose his apparent attempt to get out of competing was heelish, but even then, it was in the semantics of the home-town hero, saying how much he wanted to compete for them. This was the first time i’ve ever seen what it might be like to have a babyface Alberto Del Rio. Luckily for storyline purposes, the mention of the Big Show also got a (surprisingly, to me) pop, when he was mentioned in conjunction to the main event.

Mark Henry def. John Morrison
John Morrison has had a lot of matches with the World Heavyweight Champion, hasn’t he? This could be because he’s actually not going to job for the rest of his (WWE) career, or because he’s just a good toy for Mark Henry. The answer would be more clear if he didn’t keep getting offense in on the man. More than once he’s hit Starship Pain on the champion, which has to be some sort of plus point. It’s tinged, however, with the negative of never nearly putting Henry down. Perhaps it could lead to JoMo standing up more to Henry? I doubt it, but you never know! This seemed like a combination of their two previous encounters; the first where he hit a Starship Pain before being crushed, and the second where he was pressed in to the air, caught, and hit with a World’s Strongest Slam. I don’t mind this because it makes Henry look unbeatable (if not impenetrable – who is?), and very dangerous at the same time. The only improvement is that, after Henry pressing Morrison in to the air, I would have liked him to catch him as he hits the World’s Strongest Slam. It’s a relatively minor point, but I think the press seems a little superfluous without it – the second time at least.

Wade Barrett def. Daniel Bryan
Barrett and Bryan had a very good match this week which mixed Barrett’s smashmouth style against Bryan’s technicality. Barret took the initiative early with a big boot to Bryan in the ropes, which was not only very powerful, but made Bryan fall rather awkwardly. Bryan by no means looked weak during the match, but I would say Barrett was in control for the most part. That was until Bryan rallied with some strong strikes and hard, fast, running attacks. Indeed, one clothesline was so fast-paced that they seemed to lose control and just clash. I don’t know whether this was a botch or intentionally realistically clumsy, but it allowed Bryan to capitalise and hit once of his best moves – his running dropkick to the turnbuckle for a good near fall.Trying to finish Barrett, he dived at him, but was caught on his shoulders in position for the Wasteland, which saw Barrett get the win. I’m happy for Barrett as he’s been a little lost in the shuffle lately, but as for Bryan, his unfortunate run continues. This doesn’t please me, but i’m not worried about him because the announcers are treating it like an angle. I said a while ago that I thought Bryan would either lose the briefcase to Barrett or turn heel, and while i’d rather he kept it as a babyface, if he’s going to keep losing, I’d rather whatever change happened sooner rather than later, preferably, Bryan turning heel.

Sheamus & Zack Ryder def. Dolph Ziggler & Christian
I don’t have too much to say about this match other than it was of pretty high quality and fun. What I did want to quickly mention were the afters. Last week, I worried that Sheamus surviving two Spears, almost without reprisals, was bad for Christian’s credibility. Well, after this week’s match, Christian snuck up on Sheamus as he was leaving with a Spear  on the stage, and this time, he stayed down. What was also good about this was the way it was shown. Instead of showing it after the match, it was shown in the next segment, as ‘what happened next’ clip that we were lucky to catch, which just made the whole thing seem a little more realistic.

Cody Rhodes and Randy Orton Confronted Each Other
I really enjoyed Rhodes’s promo on Randy Orton. He summed up very well his history with Orton all the way back to Legacy, explaining how Orton ‘used and abused’ him before punting him in the head, and more recently tore his head open with the ring bell. As a classic heel, he of course didn’t mention the ‘bad’ things he’s done, or at least framed them as righteous, and altogether, he really came over as a star. Apart from showing how his championship fortunes now trump Orton’s, what helped him get over as a star even more though was that Rhodes called The Viper out, and he was acknowledged; more than that, he had gotten to Orton. The Apex Predator went after Rhodes but in a pretty cool conceit, The Intercontinental Champion’s faceless baggers prevented Orton, sacrificing themselves  in an continuous stream until Rhodes could escape. The match-up itself is mouth-watering enough, but this segment set up why they are in a perfect storm to clash and also had a ‘let them fight’ feel to it. Great build.

Sin Cara (Azul) def. Sin Cara (Negro) in a Mask vs Mask Luchas de Apuestas Match
I wish I had more time to talk about this match (I’m really against time now to get my Vengeance preview out!). In many ways, this was a typical Cara vs Cara match – high quality and something different for WWE. Perhaps it’s too different though, because the fans really don’t seem to get behind these matches, which really is a shame. They go all out and there are some great progressions and spots that deserve more attention, and lack of fan interest does have negative repercussions – it just goes to show how fans can kill as well as make a match. I liked how Negro heeled it up by constantly ignoring the rules and traditions of this kind of match; firstly trying to remove Azul’s mask, and then refusing to remove his own after losing and making Azul take it with force. A nice story, but did it all happen too soon? I mean a mask vs mask match seems like a match which requires more build due solely to it’s magnitude. Saying that, I don’t know what else could have passed between them before the match. Going forward i’d like to see Negro return in his developmental identity, Hunico, and say that while he may have lost the Sin Cara mask, Hunico will take Azul’s at any cost.

Eve Help Her Own With The Divas of Doom
I was ecstatic to see Beth and Natalya out cutting a promo, and a meaningful one too. Besides decent ring-time, the main thing lacking from the divas division is meaningful, well though-out stories, and this is, for the most part, that very thing. The DoD’s talked pretty much their usual trash about being the ideal divas who could make you cry, literally, in the ring, whilst still being ‘prettier’ that the rest. This brought out a distinctly brave Eve Torres who warned the Sisters of Salvation that she is anything but just a barbie doll. Beth and Nattie continued to taunt Eve until she could take no more and pushed the Divas Champion over, embarrassing her – especially because of a (possibly coordinated, it seemed to me) near wardrobe malfunction for Beth. Some more good build here as Eve looked brave and credible by merely standing up to the divas, but without the necessity of making the heels look weak – after all, they weren’t expecting a shove.

Big Show def. Alberto Del Rio via DQ
I’m going to talk more about this in my Vengeance preview, but I really can’t get excited about anything that Big Show is involved in these days. I thought this was a decent enough match though. Show dominated for the most part, as he probably should have, incorporating one or two new moves against Del Rio – as he definitely should – like his modified Cobra Clutch and his running splash to the turnbuckle. For His part, Del Rio was doing his best to ‘survive’, with the trusty Ricardo Rodriguez always on hand to help and cool him down with his trademark white scarf – a touch which I really liked, no matter how much he did it for several reasons, mostly because it just adds to Del Rio’s holier than thou aura. The most memorable moment of the match was when Del Rio managed to get his cross arm-breaker (with all the beautiful trimmings) on Big Show. Now I don’t know whether this was a sheer size-related botch or not, but Show didn’t get on to his back, leaving his arm in a very awkward, painful looking position. Show’s escape from this was also pretty cool, picking the Mexican Aristocrat up and dumping him on his back. At this time, a concerned Rodriguez mounted Big Show to save his employer and end the match. Show then knocked Rodriguez out (fair enough), but then knocked out the WWE Champion too. I’m a bit more uneasy about that considering the champion shouldn’t be compromised so easily in such a throw-away moment. It was good for build though as it certainly shows Big Show as a credible main event challenger. However, this was followed with some OTT, less helpful build. As is familiar, Henry’s music hit, signifying that he wanted to pick up the scraps, but then he walked straight in to a knockout punch (I refuse to call it the WMD) and was left lying on his back. Admittedly, this all happened very quickly, and that makes it less telling as it was so unexpected. I just hate that Henry’s momentum is being affected so easily by Big Show. Even if he does win at Vengeance, will people be able to see a man who has been dominated by Big Show so easily in the past in the same way as the screen-filling, unstoppable monster, the World’s Strongest Champion? I’m not sure.

The RAW View (17/10/2011): Cena Left Standing in the WWE Championship Hunt

Cena has Del Rio out for the count as they prepare for a last man standing match

John Laurinaitis Brought J.R. Back to RAW to Wrestle In the Main Event
On his own, speaking in the ring, Johnny Ace is a charisma vacuum; he could barely even get heat by joking about Rey Mysterio’s injury, in Mexico. But when J.R. joined him in the ring, he was the most affecting he’s been since his triumphant return to TV. As soon as J.R. enteres the ring, Laurinaitis enveloped Ross with a hug. Given the disingenuousness of Laurinaitis’s character, it was a beautiful display of cynical corporate bureaucracy, making an over the top show for the cameras (y’know, like WWE supporting ‘Be a Star’ despite widespread knowledge about backstage ribs and hazing (for the record, i’m a big fan of Be a Star and it’s motto)). Despite this rare success from the Laurinaitis character, after waxing emptily apologetic, he went and made what is surely one of the worst main events in RAW history: John Cena & J.R. vs Alberto Del Rio & Cole. It’s even more of a shame, however, that J.R. wont be on commentary for the forseable future. One last point I have relates to Del Rio’s response to this. He protested to Johnny Ace about the match being below him (it is), but was placated when Funkhauser told him that the winner would choose the stipulation for his match at Vengeance. This struck me as weird; the only reason Del Rio would be pleased at this is if he was sure he would win, which in turn (bear with me) means that he, and Ace, were genuinely sure that Cole was tougher than J.R. Ross too wasn’t sure about his ability, voicing concerns to Cena in a backstage pretape. What i’m getting at is that there was a mini-story here, of J.R. not overcoming adversity, but overcoming the sort of negativity that surrounds his character by beating Cole; making him submit in fact! Intentional or not, its a nice touch.

Mark Henry, Cody Rhodes & Christian def. John Morrison, Sheamus & Randy Orton
This was a nice match with some inventive booking. There was some nice chemistry between all six in this match, but the real plaudits should go to the agents as it was their structure which made it so unique. Rhodes, in control against Sheamus, hit Orton with a big cheap shot before tagging out. An infuriated Viper (infamous for his anger ‘issues’) ran around the ring to meet Rhodes with a thunderous clothesline, leading to a brawl out of the arena. This left us with a two-on-two match, and again, the heels were performing excellently. Veteran heel Christian gave us a great classic heel spot in frustrating the formulaic ‘hot tag’ by pulling Sheamus from the apron before he could tag in. Again, this led to the heel being chased off, leaving us with Mark Henry against John Morrison, leaving no one in any doubt about the result of the match. HOWEVER, JoMo looked better than he has of late against Henry, taking it to the World’s Strongest Champion quite well. Him not winning doesn’t reflect badly on him. The only people who could beat him clean would be the top, top guys, so JoMo failing failing to do that is no poke in the eye. The end of the match was another amazing strong-man spot where Henry threw him in to the air with a press, and caught him for the World’s Strongest Slam. So good to see Henry looking purely dominant again going in to Sunday.

Eve Torres def. Natalya
Usually, I would have not been too pleased with Natalya losing right now, but I am a fan of Eve Torres getting a title shot, so I had little problem with it other than the quickness of the match and victory. My problem with the whole thing was that Eve was announced as #1 contender before the match, at a time when she hadn’t really done much to earn the spot, and then she went on to earn her spot by beating Natalya. I would have preferred Eve to win the match, and then either after the match, via Johnny Ace, or in the next segment, announce that Eve is the #1 contender.

CM Punk w/ HHH def. The Miz w/ R-Truth
Out came Punk to an amazing reaction, only to be met with the Miz/Truth rap w/ sprinkling of Spanish insults, which was awesome. Miz and Truth berated and even threatened Punk, using their actions at Hell in a Cell as currency, and this led to HHH coming out to back Punk up. I thought this was good, dramatic way to draw the lines for Vengeance, showing the pragmatic, respectful relationship the two have developed. The match was ok, and Punk was really displaying some fine wrestling and unique wrestling holds in the match. The match was good, but it was interrupted by Johnny Ace, who wanted to remove HHH from ringside, and did so with a spurious immigration issue, meaning Triple H had to leave the arena, and Punk on his own. The match managed to re-start though, and while it was enjoyable, it was missing a magic. Punker has clear form of 5-star matches, but whether it was Funkhauser’s fault or Miz’s, it was not that memorable. I’m a big fan of Miz, and he’s certainly always improving in the ring, but if there’s one thing he’s lacking, it’s a back-catalogue of memorable matches – one of the few weaknesses of Miz’s game. Without backup, Punk had to fight off Truth as well as Miz, and the Best in the World was successful by throwing Miz in to the interfering Truth before rolling Miz up for the win. A nice finish, keeping Punk looking strong, but soon, Punk’s celebrations were cut short by the beat-down of the Awesome Truth, and a brutal one it was too, with sustained mounted punches to the face, and either man’s finisher in between ‘cooperating’ with security, using their distraction to harm Punk more – a variation of the heel move behind the ref’s back. This obviously builds more of an ‘issue’ between the two groups, but I don’t think anything distinct enough happened to really make it complete build. As for the whole immigration angle, I guess you can file it in the same place as ‘Who sent the text?’, ‘Who raised the Cell?’ and ‘Who messed with HHH’s immigration papers?’ – it’s looking increasingly not like it’s Johnny Ace, or at least that he’s not the ‘higher power’ behind it all. If we get closure on all of this, then they may be able to make a great storyline out of it. FINALLY, a quick word on CM Punk needing a CM Punk of his own (i.e. a voice of the voiceless, because he didn’t talk, you see). There has been a bit of criticism i’ve seen about Punker not talking this week (and last week too, really), and I noticed it too, and wasn’t too happy about it. But then I thought, what would Punk really have to say? Some stuff about Johnny Ace perhaps? Maybe, but the fact is that the current story is kinda in the middle of nowhere, and there’s no solid foundation for Punk to drop pipebombs from. It would be counter-productive for him to talk too much at the minute; because it’s about some pretty unclear stuff, it might just come across as whiny. You don’t want to overdo it, and it’s unfair to expect really explosive pipebombs every time he even appears. Punk, however, is as popular as ever, and I do believe that in the lead up to Survivor Series, the stories will be simplified and energised by the insertion of The Rock. I think in the wake of this, we could well see a dynamic voice for the voiceless return. I will say more about this in my Vengeance preview …

Team Vickie Give a Class in Promo (even Swagger)
Next up, out came Team Vickie, with Vickie dressed in some kind of traditional Mexican dress, to show us quite a broad spectrum of promo excellence. Guerrero never ceases to amaze me. Well known as the widow of legendary Mexican Icon Eddie Guerrero (and co-Mexican herself of course), she managed to come out and not only get heat, but arguably more heat than she does in the States, and all she has to do is come out and tell the fans to excuse her while she brags, often incoherently (she claimed this week that she is lucha royalty and the Angelina Jolie of Mexico City). I guess the heat was to do with her perfectly timed shrill voice, as it often is, mixed with an apparent (WWE-esque) paying of mere lip-service to the rich wrestling culture in Mexico and Mexican culture generally with her unwarranted use of the word lucha, and decision to wear the dress without explaining anything about it. Guerrero’s ability, mixed with the fact that she’s one of the very few strong and successful female managers in wrestling history, I think makes her a candidate for the Hall of Fame in the future. Next up was Dolph Ziggler, who performed one of the best promos of his career, if not the best. He has recently been part of a segment on Z: True Long Island Story called ‘Ask the Heel’, and in that format, has been delivering amazing, unique promos. For the first time, he replicated this style on WWETV and smashed it out the park. Ryder may be the ‘Internet Champion’ because he uses the internet so well, but Ziggler is the wrestler in the world who is most in-tune with the internet. Just look at his promos (at least his one from RAW); watching him is like being on the internet. He spits out opinions at mechanical speed, they include smarky memes (as with his Titus O’Neill comment), yet at the same time, show a cavalier inattentiveness to the subjects he’s speaking of, like he’s casually browsing different sites without much interest – one minute he’s burying O’Neill, the next, he’s talking about ‘scarves on men’, and you hate him for it. He even uses the cathphrase (on Ryder’s show at least) ‘#Heel’! This is all delivered in a quick-fire, clinical, and highly-polished manner that is indicative of ‘perfection’. He is like a promo machine. I think he has legitimately innovated a new, modern type of promo, and it’s just another string to his bow. Complimenting this was a more classic my-country-is-better-than-your-country promo from Jack Swagger, which saw him sing the US national anthem, and sing it so badly that it almost rubbed in the arrogance of the sentiment. And indeed, Swagger got some nuclear heat for it (and even trended on twitter). Then, frustrated at the crowd’s boos interrupting him, Swagger, like a patronising parent, said he was going to start over. This was some of Swagger’s best work, but before he could continue, out came Zack Ryder, the interventionist hero.

Zack Ryder def. Jack Swagger
Well this was strange to see. I was tweeting something at the start of the match, and before i’d finished, Zack Ryder had won. This wasn’t a squash to Swagger though (if anything, he’s been receiving himself a push again of late), it was all about Ryder getting over as a credible face, deadly at any given moment, Orton-style. As Orton can hit that RKO at any time, Ryder is being booked to be able to hit his Rough Ryder at any time. This is what happened here. Ryder continues to be on his way to the US Title.

Dolph Ziggler def. Mason Ryan via DQ
Mason Ryan is a neanderthal. Dolph Ziggler is near-perfection. Nonetheless, Ryan is a babyface, and bigger than Ziggler, and so he is being booked strongly against him. Ryan still can’t move very well, but Ziggler is a modern day Shawn Michaels in the sense that he can bump with exaggerated brilliance. While HBK used this for almost comic quality, Ziggler reigns it in a little, and just makes people like Ryan look like monsters. This match was, therefore, ok, and showcased both well. After Vickie slapped Ryan on the outside, that is precisely what the Welshman became (does he have a nickname? ‘The Welsh Wizard’? ‘The Welsh MAN!’?)  and he entered the ring, obliterating the cowardly Ziggler. So far so good – the bad guy getting his comeuppance, but wait, Ryan didn’t stop. Not only is it kinda outdated to attack a man for the trespasses of his woman (so to speak), but to then behave categorically as a heel by displaying brutal, unsportsmanlike conduct, seemed very misguided. Vickie slapping him doesn’t merit it, and it certainly isn’t enough for the basis of a ‘personal issue’, as J.R. would term it. Given that Ryan has only just turned face, and isn’t over as one, his behaving like a heel is just a confusing way to use him. Save the nuance for characters interesting enough to hold our attention.

John Cena & J.R. def. Alberto Del Rio & Michael Cole
Apart from the absurdity of announcers being in the main event with the WWE Champion and #1 Contender, there was another big problem with this main event. Because J.R. and Cole, with the best will in the world, don’t really know how to wrestle, this match was basically Cena vs Del Rio (with some Ross-Cole spots thrown in), but hang on, isn’t this the main event people are going to have to pay for on Sunday?! Tag matches often provide textbook good build for PPV’s, but only because the two main combatants don’t have to appear in the ring together and spoil any anticipation (in fact, the heel will often tag out to frustrate this need (hopefully) to see them fight, and thus create even more anticipation for seeing the good guy get his hands on him). Here, this dynamic wasn’t in play. Cena came out to one of the biggest pops he’s ever had; it really was amazing, but then something interesting happened, as soon as Del Rio arrived and the match got underway, all this support dissipated and reverted to support for Del Rio. Nothing surprising about that, but the apparent fickleness of support for Cena is interesting. I have a theory actually that Cena’s pops are empty-cheering. His music almost demands a cheer as he bursts out a crescendo, but that noise is rarely, if ever, sustained. It’s like kids being excited at Christmas before just playing with the packaging. Brandon Stroud also has an interesting and , depressingly, probably accurate theory about this: that a collection of modern WWE fans are there to see wrestlers, not wrestling. Don’t get me wrong, i’m there for wrestlers, but wrestlers that wrestle! The match was ok. Both are very good workers (though obviously in very different ways), but does seeing them have an ok match really build for another match between them? I did, however, like J.R. getting the win over Cole with the ankle lock, a nice bit of circularity from Cole’s various humiliations of the Sooner legend. It went some way to allowing Ross a bit of dignity back after last week.

John Cena Beats Down Alberto Del Rio and Announces The Stipulation for Their Match at Vengeance
After the match, we saw a brutal beat-down from Cena to Del Rio. An important caveat is that Del Rio instigated the violence, but Cena definitely finished it. He gave Del Rio an AA on the outside and started counting. At this point, it was clear what the stipulation is that he’s chosen. More about the Last Man Standing match in the Vengeance preview. When Del Rio got back up, Cena again attacked him, but this time upped the ante by charging him with the ring steps, obliterating him with them. This time, as Cena dispassionately counted, Del Rio didn’t get up, and as the chorus of boos continued, I realised that this is what life would have been like if Cena ever does turn heel. In fact, he was behaving exactly like a heel; attacking someone after a match and using it as a metaphor for how he will definitely win is practically out of the heel textbook. I suppose WWE agents thought that, as long as Del Rio initiated it, any actions from Cena would be justified, but they were wrong. Cena’s actions were obviously pre-meditated – he had clearly thought of how he could dramatically show the fans what stipulation he had chosen. It was overly-violent, and if anything, may have developed some sympathy for Del Rio. All in all then, a pretty poor attempt at building the Vengeance main event; the only upside being that a Lasy Man Standing match promises some good old-fashioned brutality.

To again quote Brandon Stroud, he sums up the short-sightedness of this booking (also talking about Mason ‘Ugg’ Ryan’s behaviour) in his latest blog http://withleather.uproxx.com/2011/10/the-best-and-worst-of-wwe-raw-1017-el-mejor-y-peor:

“Speaking of cheering and chanting, I need to present a list of facts and have you accept and consider them.

1. Beth Phoenix tries to attack Eve after the match because she’s a heel. We should boo her.
2. Miz and R-Truth viciously beat down CM Punk after the match because they’re heels. We should boo them.
3. Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger go after Zack Ryder after the match, because they’re heels. We should boo them.
4. Mason Ryan won’t stop attacking Ziggler during and after the match because…. Ziggler was a heel? We should cheer him.
5. John Cena absolutely will. not. stop. attacking Alberto Del Rio until he literally cannot stand up, because Cena wants to let us know about his match stipulation. We should cheer for him.”