CM Punk, Change, and the Fresh-Faced WWE Champions of 2012

Last Monday’s RAW (19/12/11) was one of the best shows of the year, and showcased what could be, and definitely should be the future of the WWE. Here is the opening segment, in which C.M. Punk helped to ‘make this fun again …

This segment set the tone for the whole show. Punk didn’t simply ‘mail it in’, he showed his genuine enthusiasm for his win and championship reign (“… or was it THE BEST WRESTLER IN THE WORRRRRRLD? The answer is *music hits* … MEEEEEEEEEEEE” being one of my favourite feel-good moments of the year that actually made me sit up to watch – this is CM Punk at his best). Punk then introduced two other victors from the TLC PPV, two other internet babyfaces: Zack Ryder and Daniel Bryan.

Maybe its familiarity which leaves people like John Cena treat the Championship titles as a prop, but for these three, who have scratched and clawed to make it, and who love the business without condition (not that Cena doesn’t), even the way they treated the Championship titles, wearing them with pride, displaying them, loving them, made them seem instantly more important than they have in a long time. This was just a subtle ingredient in what would become a show-manifesto for a new direction for the WWE.

Confronted by The Miz, Dolph Ziggler and Alberto Del Rio, they would go on to compete in a RAW main event comprising of six young talents (some established (Punk, Miz, Del Rio) and the others up-and-comers (Ziggler, Ryder, Bryan)), but notably, all six were new, or relatively new to the spotlight, and were trusted to carry it without the babysitting of names like Cena, Orton, or HHH, all of whom had much lower-profile business to be involved in that night. For the first time (with Punk probably excluded), these guys were being given the ball at the very top, and they carried it very competently.

To add to the interest, the babyface champions were not only treated as new leaders, but they were treated as what they are: new grass-roots leaders; figures who have forced the WWE’s hand with the help of the so-called WWE Universe – the only way, seemingly, that the WWE would be coerced away from its established main eventers for even the shortest time. Indeed, all three, I believe, at some point in the past week, have made striking, and not always subtle visual statements about how they are supported by the people, and dare we say it, representatives of the people, or at least of what they want – the Voices of the Voiceless, if you will. This includes pointing the mic to the fans as they chant their names in approval, and on Smackdown, the special vignette detailing this role for Punk, Ryder, and Bryan – as well as, of course, centring around the arrivals of Bryan and Ryder as Champions on the main stage (literally for Bryan, who won the main event by making Jack Swagger submit). Then, there was their, perhaps over-choreographed, but nonetheless striking entrance to the main event of RAW, in which all three emerge from the sea of humanity they represent to take on (successfully) the arrogant and distant heels.

Sometime around Summerslam, I posted an entry here about the so-called ‘Summer of Punk’ detailing the swell of support for CM Punk’s promised change. Since then, he got embroiled with the messy HHH/Nash storyline which sucked a lot of life out of the Summer of Punk (some believe intentionally) and got Punk embroiled in messy booking – that is, until a moment of clarity post-Hell in a Cell where Punk came out, no-nonsense, and demanded a rematch for the title at Survivor Series; a match that he won in considerable style and that helped him regain a lot of his electricity and momentum. In that period between Summerslam and Survivor Series, Punk came in for a lot of criticism: where is this ‘change’ he promised? Where are the pipebombs!? Why have WWE dropped the ball again!? There were legitimate questions, because we were promised a lot by Punk, and it didn’t seem forthcoming. But then I realised, the infamous shoot promo wasn’t so much an angle as a genesis of a new character. There were booking mishaps (Punk returning from his hiatus early (a hard necessity), Nash becoming an evil deux ex machina (a huge, almost critical mistake), but what did people expect? Him to come out and pipebomb every week? What could he say? That would have been just as boring and cynical; the equivalent of Steve Austin crashing in to the ring in a different vehicle every week, or someone new joining the nWo every week), and still to this day, when Punk does drop a pipebomb, or does something innovative, it feels special, original, and exciting – exactly the feeling Punk desires.

Punk has promised us change is coming, that he is the arbiter of change even, and between Summerslam and Survivor Series, this was starting to seem less and less credible, but suddenly, now, the WWE seems fundamentally changed, and refreshed. Its not all down to Punk, but as the announce team correctly assert, he is the ‘ringleader’. Before Money in the Bank, Punk had nothing to lose, and so treated us all to one of the most enrapturing doses of truth in the history of the business. This was great, but it was also revolutionary, because the fans identified, and if the fans buy revolution (literally), the WWE will listen. Without Punk’s waxing, and the huge fan-response to it, I seriously doubt whether WWE would have continued to listen and give people like Ryder and Bryan the serious chance they have now. More directly, though John Cena has received a lot of deserved credit for Ryder’s push, a lot of the practical, backstage credit, has gone to Punk himself for using his newfound voice to push management to give Ryder his shot – as well, of course, as mentioning Ryder repeatedly in his promos. Punk set the tone, and set the first domino falling, and after rejuvinating his cause at Survivor Series, they seem to be tumbling. One of Punk’s main criticisms was about a status quo of non-caring big guys dominating the main event in ‘the land of the giants’, with John Cena a constant. But at the PPV after Survivor Series, TLC, John Cena wasn’t even on the card – surely just an experiment, but one telling of the changes taking place. Punk recognised this, tweeting this after Survivor Series:

“Very proud right now. Proud of @WWEDanielBryan proud of@ZackRyder proud of my crew of young, talented hard workers.@findevan @TrueKofi and a ton of others. Tonight was a great step toward the future of the wrestling business. That change I’ve been talking about? Started.”

And indeed, look at the current roster of champions (seen in the header to this article). A lot was made of the two top titles being held by former-ROH talent, which indeed shows the wealth of wrestling talent in that company; but I think that aspect covered up the greater talking point: it consists solely of young, passionate talent and not of the former status quo. It is fresh. It is the future of a healthy WWE.

There is now talk (admittedly in the dirt-sheets) that low ratings on RAW are making WWE consider having Punk drop the belt. This has happened before. When ratings fell during Del Rio’s reign, we were ‘treated’ to more hot-potato championship booking and a nonsensical one month title reign for John Cena. This didn’t particularly affect ratings. If this rumour about Punk is true, it is a worrying sign. Cena is being used as a cosy fall-back, but that is the opposite to what pro-wrestling needs right now. It needs change. It needs Punk and others similar. Cost tv isn’t ‘must-watch’, and it certainly doesn’t make for great wrestling. It is also incredibly short-sighted. I like John Cena, but he wont be around forever. How long can they rely on him? WWE even baulked recently (again, trusting dirt-sheets) at making Orton the face of RAW and drafting Cena to Smackdown due to ratings worries. Is Cena really the only reason people, even Cena fans, watch pro-wrestling in 2011? Lets wait and see the TLC buyrate, but with respect, I didn’t even notice his absence, so routine has his performances become. This attention defecit from modern day WWE is, frankly, damaging and short-sighted. In the current climate, it is impossible for anyone else to reach Cena’s level; and you’d think WWE would know better given their own rich past in building stars during the Attitude Era, I know quote, directly, former WWE creative member, Seth Mates, who is a passionate fan and writer, and wants both of those areas to improve:

“Oy, enough about the Raw ratings please. So a show that hasn’t had storyline continuity in years and has invested in one superstar in the past 10 years and whose lead announcer does more harm than good and whose main star has already been yanked around in the eyes of the fans twice this summer is doing subpar in a metric that’s completely irrelevant in 2011, in 1 of the 2 worst business months of the yr in wrestling (Jul, Dec)? Thank goodness there was no Twitter in 1997. Stone Cold’s push would have ended by Cold Day In Hell.”

Amen. I am confident, however, that Punk will be more Stone Cold than Cold Day in Hell. He is super over with live-crowds, selling merchandise like there’s no tomorrow, and will be able to draw ratings even more as the public realise the difference between him and most of the other WWE superstars: unpredictability, fun … change.

Lets just call 2012 (and hope it comes to pass) the year of Punk, change, and fresh-faced champions.

Added Note from RTV: For those reading the night this goes out, RAW hails from Chicago tonight, with Punker as champ. Expect some great wrestling, and some great TV.

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TLC Review, 2011: Bryan Cashes in and Punk Breaks Out

Punk celebrates atop of the ladder which he climbed to victory

Before TLC, there were backstage worries that the buyrate for TLC would be low, and I hope those worries don’t turn out to be well-founded, because the TLC PPV was another excellent PPV offering from the 2011-12 ‘season’ and deserves to be considered a success, featuring as it did, lots of good matches, two underdog crowd-favourites reaching new championship heights, and the best TLC match in years which saw the ultimate cult of wrestling personality stay atop the mountain.

Match 1) Zack Ryder def. Dolph Ziggler to Become the WWE United States Champion
This match, in terms of in ring technicality, was good, but in terms of sheer storytelling, it was … dare I say it … ‘perfection’. For months, Ryder and Ziggler have been feuding in ring and out, on TV and off, and have become perfect counterparts, with Ziggler as the best heel on TV against the underdog with the most meteoric rise in recent wrestling history. Ziggler was doing anything to put down this ‘kid’, leaning on the ropes for leverage, pulling tights, all the while, trying to embarrass Ryder by showing off. After a while though, his manager Vickie Guerrero became too intrusive in the match, saving Ziggler from a pinfall by placing his foot on the rope for him. This saw her ejected from ringside – a big indicator that Ryder was going to win, accented nicely with her screaming back to Dolph in warning. Ziggler continued to dominate offense, but Ryder continued to stay in the match, and eventually gained momentum on the champion. As Ryder reached Ziggler’s l;evel in the match, the pace quickened as the two wrestlers who by now know each other extremely well traded attempts at roll-ups and finisher attempts before Ziggler finally ran towards his fate. Indeed, Ziggler whipped Ryder to the corner, and as soon as this happened, his fate was sealed. I really did know what was coming: he ran in to Ryder’s knees, almost comically stumbled backwards in to the perfect position for the Rough Ryder, and got git with a Rough Ryder for the loss. Now i’ve said a few times that milestones in the match pointed to Ziggler’s loss and Ryder’s victory, and this might be seen as me calling it predictable. That is no bad thing – if something is the right result, and wanted by the people (on the whole), it will be enjoyed whether predictable or not. This was the perfect performance of not only good overcoming evil (so to speak), but of a downtrodden underdog completing a journey from obscurity to championship gold. As for Ziggler, that man is (almost) perfection (whether his song says it or not). He is destined not only for the main event, but for a WWE Championship in the future. Unfortunately, to take that step up, you have to drop the weight of the midcard – go from a big fish in a small pond to a big fish in a big pond. You need to lose to progress, but this doesn’t affect Ziggler in any bad way; it just recognises Zack Ryder, officially, as a success.

Match 2) AirBoom (Kofi Kingston & Evan Bourne) def. Epico & Primo to Retain the WWE Tag Team Championships
I was a big fan of this match being added because, due to Evan Bourn’e suspension, the re-flourishing tag team division had taken a knock in quality (perhaps condemning WWE’s decision to not have AirBoom drop the titles), and so it was important to re-establish the two as a great team and great champions. As for Epico and Primo, they have come from nowhere to become another really formidable and accomplished tag team. I’ve always wanted to see Primo back on WWETV because he categorically deserves it, but I was also massively impressed with Epico, who performed a number of unbroken, really impressive, beautiful maneuvers, including a double back-suplex followed by a German suplex. The tag champs, while away, must have been working together as they innovated some more double teams, including an amazing move where Kofi swung Evan in to his opponent, who then hit the hurricanrana on said opponent. These two teams really showcased the spectacular skills which could save the tag division, and the end of the match was a fantastic, fast-moving flourish as Kofi got a hot tag and became a hous of fire, hitting a sweet spingboard crossbody from the turnbuckle to Primo. While Bourne took out Epico on the outside, Primo was surprised by Kofi, who in a nice variation of his finishing spot, pushed Primo in to the ropes and hit him with the Trouble in Paradise for the retention. Its a shame Primo & Epico had to lose, but they did so in style, and hopefully they wont be precluded from the tag team picture going forward, which is starting to look more and more attractive.

Note from RTV: I’ve just seen the time. I wont be around the computer tomorrow, so expect some quicker reports so this is published in any sort of timely fashion at all.

Match 3) Randy Orton def. Wade Barrett in a Tables Match
I did enjoy this match, but perhaps given some of the other matches, this was pale a little in comparison. There was some very impressive storytelling surrounding the tables, which is right given the stipulation of the match. I liked the idea of the superplex from the stairs to the table on the floor spot, even if we didn’t see it. I liked even more Barrett’s intelligent approach to the match, as he managed to avoid Orton’s offense for a long time around the tables, the best time being at the stage area, where Orton looked ready to pounce with Barrett near a table, which Barrett responded to by pushing the table over and therefore neutralising it. A really nice embracement of the table stipulation. The end of the match was also pretty good, with Barrett placing Orton on the table, perfectly placed for a dive through it on top of Orton, but with Orton playing possum, Barrett instead dived in to an RKO through the table, which looked cool, even if Barrett’s knee did awkwardly go through the tabl before Orton even touched him. The only problem with it is the relative obviousness of Barrett’s fate, which came, unlike Ryder, not at the end of a mammoth journey. Also, I don’t think I agree with Orton winning. It’s always difficult when a guy like Barrett is getting a ‘wins all the time’ push, but its even worse for Barrett given that the ‘Barrett Barrage’ is the whole basis for his prominence. As the announcers debated afterwards whether the Barrett Barrage had been stopped or merely slowed, I did wonder how Barrett would come back from this. Though that’s not to say I think he’s a hopeless case; he just maybe should have won on Sunday.

Match 4) Beth Phoenix def. Kelly Kelly To Retain the WWE Divas Championship
This was the second of three (yeah, seriously) impromptu matches of the night, and it was surprisingly good. This story was different to most divas matches of late, and infinitely better as Beth Phoenix absolutely obliterated Kelly for the most part, and despite a few moments where Kelly botched it up, this was a very pleasing match. Indeed, Kelly did a great job being beaten up, and seeming genuinely terrified and in pain. Indeed, Kelly is much better at being beaten up, than beating people up. Her moves look like she’s just a passanger, especially when compared to the power behind Beth’s offense, which included a Spinebuster! Also, this match went far longer than most divas matches, allowing it the kind of drama that the division seriously needs. Feeling #PinUpStrong have started to fall flat of late, I worried they’d give the title back to Kelly as a divas reboot, but instead, though they teased that with a roll-through from the Glam Slam, Phoenix fought against it and beat Kelly with a nice version of an Electric Chair Drop. A well earned victory in a competitive match from a dominant diva. THIS IS WHAT WE WANT!

Match 5) Triple H def. Kevin Nash in a Sledgehammer Ladder Match
This match was pretty much mocked going in with both being derided as dinosaurs, but after this match, I had a lot of renewed respect for both. This match was absolute brutality, a real pier six brawl, if you will, as both moving better than expected, and taking big hard bumps. Indeed, their aged bodies looked even more poetic in suffering I have to say. The use of the ladder was good, especially the awesome figure four through the ladder (which is much more arresting than the arm-breaker through the ladder), but I must say, I wasn’t pleased that the ladder could be used as a weapon. When the ladder is to facilitate retrieving a title, fair enough, but when the goal is another weapon, it seems to water down the victory of reaching it. Imagine how I felt then, when a table was introduced! That had nothing to do with anything! Nash bumping from the ladder through the table was very impressive though I guess. The botched Pedigree, where Nash kinda collapsed aside, the finish was very nicely done too. With Nash begging for a friend’s forgiveness, holding up the Kliq/Wolfpac signal as Trips stood over him with the fatal sledgehammer, Triple H would not show that weakness (as befits the character of ‘The Game’), he blasted him with the sledgehammer for the win, and surely the blowoff of this blown feud, of which this match was by far the highlight.

Match 6) Sheamus def. Jack Swagger
Though this was a good match, it was my least favourite of the card, just because it didn’t seem very meaningful – probably just a way to get two bigger stars (especially Sheamus) on the show. Sheamus won in the end with a Brogue Kick, as he tends to do, but I don’t want to say more about it (partly for brevity, and partly because it didn’t move me very much). It was indeed a good match, but what comes from it? At least if Swagger could have won, via cheating, he would have something to brag about for a while, while Sheamus would have a legitimate ‘beef’ with him, allowing for a decent mini-feud going forward.

Match 7) Big Show def. Mark Henry to Win the World Heavyweight Championship
This was a short match, but a gem in many ways. It started off with the bold visual statement of Show tossing chairs in to the ring, EC-DUB style (sorta I guess), at which Henry baulked and tried to leave. Show, however, wouldn’t let his chance at his first top championship gold in nine years just walk away, and he took to beating on Henry with chairs and his faux-boxer punches. Impressively (which could have been Henry’s middle name this year), Henry recovered from this quickly and managed to turn the match around instantly with one, smart move, a chairshot to Show’s hand, the centrepiece of his most powerful offense. After this, Henry was in complete control, teasing Show and brutalising him more, and even when Show seemed to recover, he couldn’t use any of his offense on Henry, with the World’s Strongest Man brushing Show aside. But as he went for another swinging chair shot, Show reached deep down, beyond the pain to hit his WMD for the win. Just as I was enjoying the match, and the story behind it, I was furious, not only about Show winning, but about it being cut short so abruptly. In retrospect, it appears Henry is injured, making this more acceptable, especially given the next result …

Match 8) Daniel Bryan def. The Big Show After Cashing in His Money in the Bank Briefcase to Become the World Heavyweight Champion
After losing the World title, a bitter Mark Henry attacked Show from behind with a chair before DDTing him on to more chairs, at which point, the crowd started chanting ‘Daniel Bryan! Daniel Bryan!’ to which I kinda scoffed, before seconds later, his music hit! All he had to do was pin Show, and before Show was obviously cleared to compete that night (I find that’s the best way to rationalise his first cash-in being nixed in a sensible list of rules surrounding the case), it counted! After years of being arguably the best wrestler in the world, he finally fulfilled his dream – one that he sorely deserves, and his emotion, and the fans emotion, was palpable. His sticking it to Cole too was a great feel-good moment. Not only is D. Bryan being champion being very pleasing. but its also very intriguing as there’s a bit of a championship mess going forward. Not only is Henry owed a rematch, but so is Show. Not only that, but Bryan took the championship from a babyface who had a emotional longing for the title. It’ll be interesting to see what happens between them: which of them will turn heel? Will either of them? Depending on Henry’s health, I guess we can expect a triple threat match for the title at the Royal Rumble, and I just hope Bryan can hold the title for a while, hopefully through to WrestleMania, and he’s given a chance to showcase his skills even better than before!

Match 9) Cody Rhodes def. Booker T to Retain the Intercontinental Championship
I said in my preview that this match was one of the more hotly anticipated, by me at least, and by this point, I wasn’t sure if we’d even see it; but we did, and man, how well was it built! After the first match, Rhodes had beat-down Booker backstage, after which there were doubts as to whether he could compete, then later, as a defiant Booker came out to face Rhodes, he was brutally again attacked from behind by Rhodes, this time even worse as he was thrown in to the barricades by Rhodes. This just shows how great Rhodes is as a smart, cocky heel. Knowing he could essentially do what he wanted to Booker before the bell rung to both injure him and get in his head, he kept on being one step ahead of Book until they finally had the match (I guess they had Rhodes come out first to guarantee it actually happening). This also made look great, as he showed up for a match after two beatings throughout the night, and again, showed he hasn’t missed a step in that ring as the ‘You still got it’ chants rung out. His flamboyant style complemented Rhodes’ flamboyant heelism very very well, and the two, as expected, had an excellent match. Despite his (kayfabe) physical condition, Booker gave a game showing, and the two, it seemed, were consciously trying to appear for a while to be exact equivalent forces.The finish was strange but interesting as the two traded blows; Booker went for and missed his Scissor Kick before running in to a Beautiful Disaster for a good near-fall. At this point, Rhodes took time to talk to the referee, as if he had been slightly inconvenienced before hitting a second Beautiful Disaster for the win. Rhodes’ cocky demeanor here was conscious and cool, just as if Booker was being obstinate in not staying down while Rhodes didn’t seem to want to use CrossRhodes on Booker, as if he didn’t deserve it. It is this kind of storytelling which makes Rhodes so great. Hats off to Booker too, who can hang with anyone still it seems, and is giving Cody a great rub.

Match 10) CM Punk def. The Miz and Alberto Del Rio in a TLC Match to Retain the WWE Championship
As I said in the opening, this was the best TLC match i’ve seen in years. Central to this match was Punk being against the odds, but crucially, in a much more interesting way than John Cena ever is, and not only that, but he overcame them in a much more interesting way. I mentioned in the opening how I was worried about the heels ganging up, and Punk beating them both up and winning anyway, Cena style, but luckily, that’s not what happened. While the heels teased working together for a while, that soon broke down. I don’t want to go too much in to the match-details (again, for brevity and not because I didn’t enjoy it!), but Punk went through a period of wrestling where he was on top, and certainly centre-stage, seeming like a true champion. After the heels alliance broke down, Punk faced his second form of adversity as Ricardo Rodriguez, who was trying to get the belt for his employer, got in to a scrap with Punk, and though coming off second best, managed to handcuff Punk to the ladder, at which point I truly became worried for Punk’s prospects. In fact, it reminded me of when Punk was trapped in the ladder many years ago by Jeff Hardy in a losing effort, and now, being attacked by a furious Del Rio, Punk’s position seemed helpless. If this was Cena, he’s have used brute strength to tear the handcuffs away from the ladder, or even dragged it around him for the rest of the match (which would, I add, be pretty sweet for Cena), but Punk, the more cerebral superstar, just kicked the brace to free himself, before using the cuffs as a weapon himself. There then followed a period of great TLC action including all implements, most effectively, by Alberto Del Rio. In retrospect, and memory jogged by regular friend to the blog, Luke Healey, Del Rio had been in an especially foul mood throughout the night, and it was now that this really came out. Firstly, as Miz was preparing to superplex Punk through the table at the outside, Del Rio hit a sharp enziguiri to Punk which sent him through the same title he was destined for. After this, Del Rio smashed Miz with a ladder and then a chair, before using his cross arm breaker on the prone Punk through the chair, before laying a chair over Punk and hitting him with another. Del Rio was dominant at this point, but when trying to capitalise, he was foiled while on the ladder, with Punk and Miz making an unlikely and desperate pairing to tip the ladder and send Del Rio crotch-first in to the ropes. Shortly after, Ricardo Rodriguez proved loyal again, climbing the ladder for the title. This time, Miz and Punk worked together again to tip Rodriguez over for an even more spectacular spot; a throwback to the early noughties as he fell from the top of the ladder to the tables outside the ring. Somewhat upsettingly, he missed one of the two tables, making for a much more painful seeming spot. Down to Miz and Punk for now, and Miz took centre stage (the way the three shared centre stage was really impressive) as he managed to handcuff Punk to the corner turnbuckle before goading Punk, so confident was he that this spelled victory. Howevr, while he was out of arm-reach, he wasn’t out of kick-reach (if you will) and he nailed Miz with his roundhouse. Now Punk really seemed trapped, and it was even more urgent as Del Rio and later Miz fought for his title. Again, Cena would have ripped the turnbuckle away. Punk however, as an indy ‘schmuk’ knows how to dismantle a ring, and did so to escape and interrupt their attempts. So desperate was Punk that he fought with even more passion, hitting both with rights. This knocked Del Rio down before he pulled Miz down for a GTS, allowing him to climb the ladder for his title. This wasn’t Cena taking offense all day and winning out of nowhere, this was Punk scrapping through a brutal match, and using his skill and wiles to come out victorious. After all, he is the best in the world, and this match showcased that. Del Rio and Miz looked great too, and more competitive than they do against Cena – its matches like this which make the WWE Championship interesting again.

TLC Preview and Predictions, 2011

TLC, December 18th, 2011, from the 1st Mariner Arena, Baltimore, MD

This is an interesting PPV for several reasons. Not only does it feature some of the most spectacular match stipulations in wrestling, but more shockingly, its the first PPV in forever that Jeeeeeerrrrrn Ceeeeeeenaahhh isn’t booked to feature on. It’ll be interesting to see is this affects the buys in a negative way, or possibly even, in a good way. The fact he isn’t booked, though, doesn’t mean he wont appear. In fact, Cena tweeting about watching from home makes me worry that the lady doth protest too much. If he does appear, here’s what might happen. Given the re-debut of 1997 Kane on RAW, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him involved in a match (Mark Henry’s again?) which would draw out indignant honor-lover John Cena to confront the Big Red Machine, successfully or not. The other lingering question is whether the tag titles will be defended as Epico and Primo (who need some sort of ‘Puerto Rican Connexion’ type name) have been raging towards the titles of late picking up high-profile victories against the Usos and champions, AirBoom. If this happens, it could go either way, and is likely to be a wonderful, explosive match.

Match 1) Chairs Match for the World Heavyweight Championship: Mark Henry (c) vs The Big Show
I think the TLC, tables, and ladder matches will all be later on the card, while thinking that WWE will want to assert the PPV theme early on, so I predict that the chairs match will start out the match. Two giants wielding chairs is certainly a draw, but i’m unsure as to how good this will be. I don’t have a problem with the sensible limitations put on the use of chairs these days in WWE, but in a match where they are the only legal weapons, there is a risk of one-dimensionality. Still, if not Big Show, Henry can be trusted to do remarkable things with weapons at PPV, so he may be able to provide a saving grace. I think my reasoning behind my prediction for this match is based on the impact Big Show has had on Mark Henry, i.e. upset a lot of his momentum and reputation as unstoppable by … stopping him several times. Nonetheless, Henry still remains, thanks to his own way of carrying himself, a dangerous-seeming, powerful champion. Indeed, while Henry remains magnificent, it is in spite of Big Show, and for that reason i’d be amazed if WWE had any faith at all in him as champion. I think this’ll be the end of this feud, and Henry will move on to another challenger.

Winner: Mark Henry

Match 2) Intercontinental Championship Match: Cody Rhodes (c) vs Booker T
I said during my twitter-view of this week’s Smackdown (@RTVWOW by the way) that this match is one of the ones i’m most looking forward to on the card simply because the interactions between Booker and Cody has been surprising, fresh, and engaging. Booker as the consummate semi-retired legend with the ‘itch’ for the ring and expecting respect, against the brash and talented upstart. Apart from the fact that Cody at least is so much more than that. He is an exact mix of his ‘dashing’ and ‘grotesque’ gimmicks, with some amazing fresh talent mixed in. His berating Booker as ‘a lowly ANNOUNCER’ while Booker wrestled with himself whether or not to respond has been on of the best things on WWETV of late. Rhodes is obviously dependable in the ring, but Booker definitely looks like he’s still ‘got it’. Even better though, seeing Booker wrestle a full match again, and Cody wrestling someone completely new to him is also a big draw. The only reason this match is happening, however, is to get Cody over, so i’d be surprised to see Booker put down the upstart with a win. Cody will win, but it doesn’t need to be clean – in fact, a dirty victory might be ideal as it would give currency to a continued feud between the two while making Rhodes look great.

Winner: Cody Rhodes

Match 3) Tables Match: Randy Orton vs Wade Barrett
Another intriguing story has been developing between Orton and Barrett. It’s a bit of a wrestling cliché, but never before has anyone seemingly gotten in Orton’s head like Barrett has with his Buzzword Barrage. His outsmarting of Orton on his irresistible charge to the top has been great, and again, refreshing on TV as Orton has been humbled without being weakened. Both are good wrestlers, but I must say i’m not too sure about how good this match will be. Though Orton has a moveset that suits a tables match, he seems to only wheel out his powerbomb when he’s building to and wrestling in tables matches, while Barrett’s moveset is even more awkward for a tables match. I like the feud though, and hope to see this continue as a feud for a while. This was one of the harder matches to predict, but I think the Barrett Barrage has too much momentum right now to stutter, and indeed, would suffer too much from a loss.

Winner: Wade Barrett

Match 4) United States Championship Match: Dolph Ziggler (c) vs Zack Ryder
This match is the culmination (so far, at least) of one of the most natural storylines in wrestling recently, as the self-professed, self-made ‘Internet Champion’ Zack Ryder has been on the face-chase against wonderfully internet savvy #heel Dolph Ziggler. Indeed, their feud has been going on for quite some time now and has been incorporated nicely in to the Z True Long Island Story web-series. Despite them trying to stretch history, this is not Ryder’s first title shot, and if he doesn’t win on this second occasion, its difficult to see how he’ll get a third shot. For a while, I imagined WWE keeping up the face chase for a while, but I now see Ryder taking the title finally this sunday. Not only do I know how they would legitimize a third shot for Ryder, but I see Ziggler featuring on the outskirts (at least) of the title picture going forward. The way I see it, Ziggler drops the title on Sunday, fails in his rematch, participates in the Royal Rumble (maybe doing double-duty at that event), competing for the WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber, and from there, wherever! These two should have a great match, especially Ziggler who has been consistently stealing the show for months now. I placed this so high up the card because of the feel-good-factor of Ryder finally winning his first singles championship, and maybe taking it all the way to WrestleMania.

Winner: Zack Ryder

Match 5) Sledgehammer Ladder Match: Triple H vs Kevin Nash
This is probably the least anticipated match on the card for everyone. Nash coming back didn’t do any favours to the ‘Summer of Punk’, and has then been stuck in a post-attitude era quagmire in a feud that happened simply because of too many loose ends being left after his failed involvement in the angles of the summer. Despite some real attempts at serious drama and eye-catching brutality, the personal issue between the two simply hasn’t caught the imagination of the WWE Faniverse. I must say, however, even if Nash’s (and to a lesser extent, Hunter’s) body can’t take all of what a ladder match promises, this unique new match-type involving the sledgehammer does interest me. I hope the ladder itself isn’t legal as a weapon, but if it isn’t, there are lots of great storyline possibilities for either HHH or Nash when either of them get the sledgehammer. Both are certainly capable of living up to the brutality of the weapon and stipulation, and the finality of that as a weapon (especially when it has been treated as more devestating than before of late) means that this could well be the culmination of this feud, which in itself promises another wrestling cliché of ‘it all being left in the ring’. This’ll be an excuse to end the feud, but maybe this match could be a bright spark out of the ashes of this misfiring feud. This doesn’t necessarily point to a winner, but simply because I don’t see Nash sticking around, wrestling on the TV, I see him being put down by Trips.

Winner: Triple H

Match 6) TLC Match for the WWE Championship: CM Punk (c) vs Alberto Del Rio vs The Miz
For a while, I was worried about Punk being booked too similarly to the SuperCena style of being almost invincible, but I was heartened by his booking on RAW as he was pinned clean by Miz before being beatdown and having his arm worked by both Miz and Del Rio. A vulnerable champion is infinitely more interesting than a superhero, and that is what Punk has promised, and that has made this match much more unpredictable too, which can only be a good thing. It looks like Punker’s damaged arm will be the central story of the match, for him at least. As for Miz and Del Rio, I imagine they’ll do the classic ‘hey, lets work together against the good guy, but wait … who’s gonna win … oh snap, let’s fight!’ While i’m sure they’ll put on their parts of an excellent match, i’m unable to shake the feeling that they’re just championship fodder for Punk. Del Rio will certainly be moving on to pastures new, while Miz may well stick around the title picture through to the Rumble. That being the case, perhaps it’ll come down to Punk and Miz, with Punk going over. This wont be good because of the great technical acumen of Punk, Del Rio and (to a lesser extent), The Miz, but it should be good because of the talent of all three in the unpredictable, violent, and breathtaking environment. The build has been pretty good, but this match always promises much in terms of quality and excitement. Punk wont be losing the title this week, and I doubt he’ll be losing the title until WrestleMania, at the very earliest, as (hopefully) the first truly memorable and interesting champions in quite a while.

Winner: CM Punk

RAW View: Slammy’s Pre-Drinks and Serious Questions

Ok, so the Slammy’s are pretty cool. There’s no denying. Some of the categories, however, leave a bit to be desired in terms of gravitas. So as a quick preview, I thought I’d ask some salient questions by way of … AWARD CEREMONY! And let’s get interactive, like WWE undoubtedly will, by having polls!

Enjoy the speculation! Please comment, subscribe, and follow me on twitter (@RTVWOW) where I will be live-tweeting the Slammys tonight!

RTV’s State of the WOW Address

Hello loyal readers!

Regular readers may be expecting a Smackdown review at this point. But that in itself is the reason for this post: at the minute, there aren’t enough regular readers for my review posts, especially the Smackdown ones. The readership for those are significantly below the more specialised articles I write.

This, mixed with the fact that the review posts involve a lot more work, means i’m considering if there are any ways I can ‘change it up’ at all. You may have also noticed a change in style for parts of the posts; partly inspired by the style of Brandon Stroud (@MrBrandonStroud) though mixed with my more ‘critical’ style; and partly inspired by less time being available to me/the laws of time and space, which has necessitated shorter posts.

All this in mind, i’ve decided to start, at least for a while, only posting reviews of wrestling shows when they are particularly notable (be it for the right or the wrong reasons). I will, however, keep previewing and reviewing every WWE PPV, because they are obviously more meaningful events, whilst also coming along less frequently. I’ll also continue to write specialist articles – in fact, there will probably be more of those coming – including one i’m planning called ‘Big Bad Boyz’ to coincide with the eventual re-debut of Brodus Clay. And even more! Remember I promised an RTV-Hall of Fame? I will still do that, and now i’m doing fewer weekly reviews, i’ll be able to keep it going!

Meanwhile, I will still live-tweet RAW, and I will also tweet about Smackdown after it airs, which i’ll go and do after publishing this! Given this new approach, following me on twitter is even more important, so do so @RTVWOW where you can expect reaction and other stuff related to the World of Wrestling.

If you all approve of this, then great! If you don’t, I will respond to people power, Zack Ryder style, and reconsider. Just let me know!

Keep on Truckin’
RTV

The RAW View (05/12/2011): That’s Fightin’ Talk

CM Punk, annoyed at John Laurinaitis's photo op

John Cena, Alberto Del Rio, The Miz, and Dolph Ziggler All Lay Claim to the WWE Championship
I’m rather partial to these ‘state of the WWE Championship’ openings when used sparingly, and it’s certainly not happened in a while. What is better is this one seemed to really freshen up the title scene, eventhough it involved Cena and Del Rio! The reason for this is it brought an air of competition back to the title, which was lost when Cena and Del Rio were feuding and regained at Survivor Series, before being built upon with a successful retention on RAW last week and now this. Its especially good because Miz and Ziggler were involved and freshen the whole scene up an awful lot! What’s even better is Dolph hung with all of them, and indeed, outshone them all, especially with the line ‘who has the most entertaining matches every week … on purpose!’ I also liked the ‘win and you’re in’ stipulation Johnny Ace gave them all in reaction to CM Punk’s accusations of being boring. Punk has made change happen! Johnny Ace made those matches because Punk challenged him to be entertaining – even if Ace is only doing it to oneup Punk.

The Miz def. Randy Orton
Randall is practically a jobber now. I’m not complaining because, essentially, Orton is the ideal jobber: a great wrestler who can make people look good and is incredibly high profile. This, however, didn’t quite work in making Miz look great. I don’t think it’s that big a problem though: Miz is already over and it gives him something to brag about in the future without revisionism. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the mindgames of Wade Barrett. His distraction cost Orton the match, and then when Orton turned his back to go after Miz, Barrett got a double-whammy by attacking him from behind with just one shot, not to beat him up, but to show him he could. The problem with this, though, was that this was the first of 3 run in finishes. Not so good.

Alberto Del Rio def. Daniel Bryan
Ok, so Bryan lost to Del Rio, and rather quickly, but for similar reasons to the previous match, I didn’t mind that – it was all part of the making the WWE Championship more prestigious excercise. Also, Bryan was selling the World’s Stronger Strongest Slam less than a week ago, and so it didn’t damage him to lose that much. Also, it plays in to the idea that Johnny Ace wants Del Rio as champion, and so gave him a match against an injured man. Del Rio looked good again following recent losses, so pretty much everything was fine here.

Kelly Kelly & Eve Torres w/ Alicia Fox def. Beth Phoenix & Natalya
This achieved nothing. I don’t know what else to say. Though the Divas of Destruction have been having better fortunes of late, they’ve not been that impressive, and this return to cheap face roll-up victories set them all the way back. I have a feeling that this match was just booked to provide a vehicle for the Y2J/Undertaker return videos – which is even worse because it came in the middle of the Divas of Doom’s own mouth-piece vignette!

John Cena def. Zack Ryder
I really liked the psychology here, originally. Both guys like each other, but fight because they are both chasing respective gold. The first problem was that they almost didn’t seem willing wrestle, despite both being pro-wrestlers who should fight whoever they are told to. The match was probably the longest of the night, and was probably the best match Zack Ryder has had – really taking it to John Cena, and even setting up for a Rough Ryder – though it was then reversed in to an Attitude Adjustment for the win. I also liked Ryder’s emotion, but to be upset at someone beating him fairly seemed a little ridiculous.

Zack Ryder def. Mark Henry
Ok, so John Cena fought his friend because he, naturally, wanted a shot at the WWE Championship, but because he cost Zack Ryder his shot and upset his broski, he went back on it, and gave up his title shot because he’s a 10 time champion. EVEN HE’S BORED OF HIM BEING CHAMPION! Way to make the title seem important. Seriously, part of the reason he gets booed is because he’s too nice – he’d never get the girls if he was that nice in real life. There has been some complaints about how Ryder won, with Cena’s interference, but it made sense to me. If you’re going to cost yourself a title match, you might as well make sure the good part of the bargain happens, especially when the deck has been unfairly stacked against the good guy. The only problem is the whole thing seems a little patronising to Ryder – and make him seem kinda weak (though it was against Henry, so not too bad).

Kevin Nash def. Santino Marella
I don’t like Kevin Nash being on TV that much, but if he must be used, this is the right way to use him; sparingly and brutally … and against Santino. I think it’s hilarious that Kevin Nash is having a mini-feud with Santino, the power-walking, hand-sock wearing jobber. Nash has been righteously mocked for his physical shape in the past, but to his credit has gotten back in shape, and looked ok moving in the ring, though it was only for a few minutes. His work withe the sledgehammer was good too, making it seem actually more dangerous than your average weapon by laying it on the announce table like a time-bomb, and by not using it on Santino, and just letting Santino look terrified by it. Nice work here with Nash keeping his mouth shut and looking psychopathic.

Sheamus def. Dolph Ziggler
Before the match, there was a nice little backstage segment with Dolph, Vickie and Swagger where Ziggler again continued to show himself off as an individual, as he chastised Vickie for not gaining him an advantage and had a nice sarcastic bromance moment as he told Swagger he didn’t need him at ringside. The Oyster’s Earrings own Luke Healey summed it up when he said “for a moment there, Dolph Ziggler resembled one of those arrogant Owen Wilson characters from a Wes Anderson movie.” True dat. As for the match, it was a highly competent affair, with all the flair that Ziggler gives, gelling very well with Sheamus. It was a very even match, and Ziggler looked Sheamus’s equal, and even his better, without cheating. But with Ziggler in control, Zack Ryder’s music hit again, for like the 80th time, as we saw the third run-in to cause a distraction-victory of the night. In a sense, this was good, because it made Ziggler look like he had to be distracted to lose to the powerful Great White. A bit more formulaic tension added between champion and contender here, which gives Ziggler something to react to; and this was all that was needed as the two of them now have a long history together.

John Laurinaitis Oversaw the Contract Signing for the TLC Main Event With The Miz, Alberto Del Rio, and CM Punk
CM Punk continued as he left off for his other contract signings, with his electric mic skills, and by not playing along with the staged rigmarole and moving the table and chairs out of the way and suggesting just getting to fighting; but consummate middle-management bureaucrat John Laurinaitis wouldn’t let that happen. Indeed, Johnny Ace has really grown in to his character, deliberately uncharismatic (well, maybe not deliberately), and the inclusion of a photograph before the contracts were signed made him (and the heels who participated) very easy to hate as they seemed to treat it all like a corporate business deal, while the bewildered, bellicose champion looked on. The heels seemed quite fearsome at first, even apparently threatening to make sure Punk didn’t leave as champion, whichever of them won (perhaps a strange idea, but it makes sense that they both dislike Punk). However, when they finally got to that ‘pier six brawl’, they were meant to look a little less fearsome as Punk managed to take both heels out and leave them piled up in the middle of the ring. Now, before I start talking about this, a caveat: this beat-down wasn’t the same as when Cena SuperCena’d The Awesome Truth going in to Survivor Series. Then, Miz and Truth were working together to take out Cena and failed. Here, Miz and Del Rio were trying to beat up Punk, but they were also working against each other at the same time. Punk didn’t beat up two people alone, he simply came out on top out of the three. Nonetheless, I have worried here before about Punk being booked like Cena of late, and there was certainly a whiff of that here. What didn’t happen, like when Cena destroyed the Awesome Truth, was the heels didn’t look a threat; I would certainly say Miz and Del Rio look a threat to Punk, while Punk is being shown as fighting passionately and well against the odds of corporate WWE that doesn’t want him as champion. After coming out on top, the way Punk treated the title was great. Just the way he displays it, clutching it to him and swinging it around his head with joy makes it look more prestigious. More of that please folks – oh, and a new title, which I think there is a ground-swell of opinion for. A nice way to set up the tension between all involved, especially given Miz wasn’t even near the title picture until this week – there is now tangible dislike between the three.

Smack of the Week (29/11/2011): No World Championship Under Bryan’s Tree

Henry hits the World's Strongest Slam from the turnbuckle to end Bryan's championship aspirations, for now

Note from RTV, your fearless leader: Like with RAW earlier this week, I could only watch Smackdown a day later, thereby also delaying this review. With that in mind, I will keep the more abridged approach to review in this post, only talking about the main things I liked and didn’t while avoiding most of the technical wrestling detail. I’m also less motivated because the Christmas gimmick of the show really brought the quality down.

Mick Foley Welcomed Us to The Smackdown Christmas Special, Cody Rhodes Confronts Booker T
There’s no getting around the fact that Josh Matthews as Elf, Michael Cole as Rudolph (with ‘investigative journalist’ tie), and Booker T as Santa (with his white-haired dreads) looked HILARIOUS. By the time Booker was Spinarooni-ying, it had dragged though, and the deux ex machina of Cody Rhodes was a welcome and fantastic dose of (a strange version of) pro-wrestling reality. Dressed in perfect white to not only match his belt, but also the glaring Christmas setting behind him), he told Booker T, who claimed he ‘aint got no beef wit you, son’, to ‘shhhhh’ before telling him ‘you lie, announcer.’ This led to ‘Saint Mick’ making a match between Rhodes and Booker, which Booker sold brilliantly as something he was actually quite worried about to get Rhodes over. The match wouldn’t happen though. After a more confident Booker T had a backstage promo, he was attacked from behind by Rhodes, and in yet another beautiful tick from Rhodes, he offered his hand to the stricken former King of the Ring mocking him with a pretend handshake/attempt to help him up while grinning as wide as possible before darting off-screen.

Brie Bella Won a Mistletoe On a Pole Match to Win a Kiss With Any WWE Superstar
Wut. I think the best review of this match is simply reading the subtitle above in the most deadpan, sarcastic tone possible. I like a fun, holiday edition of Smackdown, with Christmassy tints to existing stipulations, but this was (almost) literally meaningless. It also made a mockery of the ‘Smart’ part of the ‘Smart, Sexy, and Powerful’ tagline by making them fight for a kiss like they’re characters in a particularly regressive nursery rhyme. #IWantWrestling

Justin Gabriel def. Jinder Mahal
As I said a week or two ago, i’m glad Mahal is being given another chance. He had a nice match against Gabriel, and showed some nice technical moves (if a little clinically for a good story – he would do a suplex, and then do a different suplex, and so on), at least showing that he can work. Hald-way through the match, DiBiase’s (still heel!) music hit. Presumably he just couldn’t wait another second for another Posse Party because he came out skipping dressed as yet another Santa giving out presents. Naturally, this all distracted Mahal, who had gotten the advantage over the (now) hopeless Justin Gabriel, only to turn around in to the weakest STO of all time and a 45o Splash for the win. A fair enough bit of progression in their storyline, with DiBiase being a man of the people (it was a nice touch to discuss him donating money to charity and being a philanthropist, in that vein), but hang on! Isn’t this all a bit unfair on Jinder? All Jinder has done is berate Ted (admittedly not nice, but you’d expect a baybface to RISE ABOVE the HATE), and Ted retaliated by completely interrupting him, mid-match. Still, it didn’t come across as that damaging, so no harm, no foul.

GOLDUST IN CHRISTMAS JUMPER, HAS SEGMENT WITH DUSTY

Kofi Kingston def. Tyson Kidd
These two were great together, and had a nice match. Now Evan Bourne is due back, Kingston had to start looking strong again, explaining this result. It’s just a shame Tyson is a jobber as of now. The guy has tore it up when given the chance, and I think could do some good stuff on TV. During this match I thought i’d like to see WWE give a proper storyline to two fresh up and comers against each other and see if it works. A big, proper Kidd-Baretta feud on Smackdown would be very refreshing!

Randy Orton def. David Otunga in a Miracle On 34th Street Fight
With Otunga now largely a backstage character, it would be easy to forget his in-ring work (indeed, I hadn’t heard his Disney film entrance music for some time now). I like Otunga (see my NXT posts when I still cared (I will when Seth Rollins, Antonio Cesaro, Xavier Woods etc are on it)), he’s charismatic and can play a character well. He’s not as cookie-cutter as most developmental guys. I enjoyed his gentrified entrance here which makes sense given his Harvard Law School background. However, his lack of ring-time means he didn’t really have much to lose from this match, while Orton has been putting people over a lot recently, so he could do with a bit of a showing. This is exactly what he got, throwing Otunga around for the most part (though Otunga had his moments, and looked to have improved an awful lot in the ring at the same time), throwing him through Christmas trees and hanging wreaths on him and stuff before RKOing him for the win in quite a nice, playful, though slightly ridiculous, match. Wade Barrett tried to disrupt the Viper’s feeding, but he didn’t try hard enough, basically, leaving after a ringpost shot and ONE BIG BOOT. At least it gives Orton a bit of momentum against Barrett despite Barrett not looking weaker.

Hornswoggle Won the ‘All I Want for Christmas’ Battle Royale and Won the Ability to Talk
This was fun, and even funny, but it must have taken at least fifteen minutes, Sheamus was overpowered by Hornswoggle, and nothing was achieved. Do this fun stuff, sure, but make it meaningful. If you want Hornswoggle to talk, have Roddy Piper hit him on the head with a Lego coconut or something, and let Zack Ryder win the Battle Royal to make the Internet Title a legitimate title! #IWantWrestling

Mark Henry def. Daniel Bryan in a Steel Cage Match to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
In a week were both top titles were defended on their respective shows, Daniel Bryan received his first ever one-on-one World Championship match, showing just how far he’s come. I wont go too much in to the details of the match, but it had a very simple, powerful story of Bryan fighting the odds while locked in a cage with an actual monster; one who talks in brilliant southern barbs throughout, and this time, even shouted ‘Merry Christmas’ during one kick to the gut, before ‘and a Happy New Year’ after another. Henry dominated in terms of brutality, including a nice spot where he literally slingshotted Bryan in to the steel cage. Bryan fought resiliently though, scratching and clawing to stop Henry’s escape, and even beating Henry’s down by his weak leg to get him in to a LaBelle Lock and then an Ankle Lock, really showing his wrestling and submission prowess, and making submission a strong characteristic for him again, and making him seem close to or on Henry’s level. The finish of the match was also really good. With Henry trying to climb the cage, ‘DAT BOY D. BRYAN’ climbed over Henry, and came within a limb of of winning the match. Pulled back down, Bryan tried for a hurricanrana in what would have been THE MOST REMARKABLE WRESTLING SPECTACLE OF ALL TIME, but obviously little Daniel Bryan couldn’t get the massive champion over, and was held for a super World’s Strongest Slam from the turnbuckle for the pinfall victory to Henry. Very good match, and I just hope it showed WWE officials what it showed everyone else – that Bryan can hang as a legitimate main event guy. I think he could, and hopefully will, carry that championship with pride one day! As for Henry, he beat AmDrag on a hurt leg, and did so with an authoritative move. Its good that he was allowed to look dominant again. Big Show has rather damaged him of late. I’m glad Big Show didn’t come down, dressed as Santa, to ruin it all with a giftwrapped WMD or the like!

Apart from the World title match, there was nothing really of note here. It’s a worrying sign for Smackdown in a way; it’s strength has always been that it is less overwritten than RAW and focuses more on in-ring work, if it goes live on Tuesdays, this might change…

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