Extreme Rules Preview & Predictions, 2012

Extreme Rules, 29/04/2012, from the All State Arena, Chicago, IL

Extreme Rules, 29/04/2012, from the All State Arena, Chicago, IL

Chicago audiences are amongst the best in the world, and among the very best in the US. Passionate and loud, they are an extra performer in any wrestling show, and invariably, one that improves the show. It’s just a shame that Chicago’s favourite son, and the crowd’s most over babyface generally, almost certainly wont be in the main event and isn’t featured on the poster. I understand it, but it doesn’t make it right. But I shouldn’t rant on Lesnar just yet. His match with John Cena is a bonafide attraction, even if it’s not one i’m personally too interested in. I’ll be live-tweeting the event, so follow me for that, and more personal insight @RTVWOW!

Preshow) United States Championship Match: Santino Marella (c) vs The Miz
This is a fairly new feature to WWE, and obviously it has a different function to the other matches, to whet the appetite for people undecided as to whether to buy the PPV and to get the crowd hot, and that affects somewhat the booking, and therefore, the predictions for the match. The other primary aspect of pediction is what is currently happening to The Miz. The former WWE Champion and ‘Next Big Thing’ (pardon the pun) now finds himself struggling to make PPV, to get wins, and to get anywhere near the title picture. His cause hasn’t been helped by starts like The Rock or Brock Lesnar returning, but it also is a possibility that Miz’s downfall is to be used as a storyline. He had a resurgence at WrestleMania, getting the pin to establish ‘People Power’ under John Laurinaitis, but he’s again disappeared. Perhaps this is all leading to a response from The Miz that will see him re-surge to the top, possibly – possibly – as a babyface. I don’t think that starts with him taking the US title from the hugely beloved Santino Marella; it would just be more middling for The Miz. Not only that, but remember the function of the match. If they want a hot crowd, get the babyface over; if they want to whet the appetite, have a championship match, not a championship changing hands. So because it’s essentially a dark match for the PPV, and because they don’t want to give away a championship change for free, I see a Santino retention here. I have no idea how, but I hope it isn’t clean via Cobra! Now the only question here is, do I include this in my prediction stats, it being a preshow match. I suspect that will depend on how right I am!

Santino Marella

Match 1) Falls Count Anywhere Match: Randy Orton vs Kane
I mentioned on twitter how hard I was finding picking the opening bout, and was close to predicting Punk-Jericho. In the end, I plumped for this match because of the Randy Orton pop being a strong enough start to the PPV. As for the match, I have among the least to say about it. I’ve said before that Orton is the inheritor of the Shawn Michaels ability to not put on a bad match, and like at WrestleMania, i’m sure this will be a good match for what it will be: brawling. I think the real success of the match will hang on the inventiveness of the booking outside of the ring. If they do unique things backstage and really push the boat out, it could be great; if it doesn’t go far beyond the ring, it could be disappointing. I think the result is pretty clear. After losing at Mania, I don’t see Orton losing this match. This should be the end of this feud, which has really ran out of material I think, and so Orton should win, and move on. That doesn’t rule out a swerve of course, as happened (arguably) at WrestleMania, but I see less value in Kane going over this time now that he has a high-profile victory over Orton.

Winner: Randy Orton

Match 2) Intercontinental Championship with Stipulation To Be Determined By Roulette Wheel: Big Show (c) vs Cody Rhodes
Since Rhodes dropped the title to Big Show at WrestleMania, the value of both Rhodes and the championship has depreciated, and that in itself suggests that Rhodes re-winning the title would be the right way to go. I don’t see it happening though, not to the Big Show. I’d be pleased, but it doesn’t mean as much for Cody as a win at WrestleMania would, and the bright side is that if he loses, he can move towards the spot he deserves – the World Title picture. The quality of the match of course depends on what stipulation it is given, and, though there is absolutely no real logic to this, I have a feeling it’ll be a goofy stipulation rather than an ‘extreme’ one – something like a pillow fight. It would be a shame for the wrestling purist, but there would be a plus side. It would give Rhodes an excuse of sorts for the loss while giving Show a stipulation he can have a bit of fun with (e.g. WMD through pillow). Of course, they could be given a cage match or something, which would be pretty cool, but whatever happens, I doubt it’ll affect the result.

Winner: The Big Show

Match 3) 2 Out of 3 Falls Match for the World Heavyweight Championship: Sheamus (c) vs Daniel Bryan
The most immediate thing i’d like to say about this is that Daniel Bryan will be the de fact babyface here, and Sheamus the heel, just because of the crowd. This match could be absolutely great is the second thing i’ll say. 2 out of 3 falls matches always invite interesting booking, and there’s a lot to play off between these two, especially with the 18 second loss at WrestleMania. I don’t think we’ll get a 36 second retention here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the champion gets the first first fall in up to 18 seconds. It would be a nice echo of their recent psychology without actually costing Bryan the match early. After that, obviously Bryan will get fall 2, and I think it will be relatively clean, though a lot of that depends on it there are any DQ’s. If so, Bryan might try and get himself a DQ fall, if not, he might to it via weapon. Although falls are easier to come by in these matches, I can’t see Sheamus going down straight up to any Bryan offense, so it’ll be interesting to see how it comes about. I like what Seth Mates has suggested for the third fall, especially after what Bryan did to Sheamus on RAW, that Bryan becomes obsessed with making Sheamus tap out to one of his 100+ submissions (as acknowledged by WWE announcers) and in so doing, ends up losing the final fall. That would make Bryan look great, while explaining his loss. Whatever happens, this will be one of the best matches on the card. I can’t see Sheamus losing though – they’ll want to get him over as a champ against Del Rio going forward.

Winner: Sheamus

Match 4) Divas Championship Match: Nikki Bella (c) vs Beth Phoenix
I am very vocal in my praise for the Bellas. As twins, they make a unique attraction and are underrated as wrestlers (I also unashamedly really, really fancy them), and I think Nikki would make a good champion. Unfortunately for her, this match has nothing to do with her. The return of Kharma has been much anticipated, and we saw at the Royal Rumble four months ago that she was on her way back. It seems Nikki Bella has the title so that Beth Phoenix doesn’t have to lose it to the returning Kharma, and that makes sense. It seems the story will be Nikki retains against the injured Phoenix before Kharma reappears and destroys Nikki with Beth looking on. Kharma actually has unfinished business with the Bellas after the way they berated her when she left, so I see Kharma getting the belt back at Over the Limit, dominating the diva scene before a Phoenix return for the dream feud we’ve all been waiting for can begin. Letting Nikki keep the belt for a month will also make Kharma’s victory seem a little more meaningful (though that all depends on The Bellas’ contract status). For what it’s worth, it’d be nice to see Nikki and Beth having some time for a good match; it would be good for everyone: It makes Beth look brave and strong, fighting through her injury, while Nikki will be allowed a good victory on PPV, which again will benefit Kharma when she eventually wins the title.

Match 5) Chicago Street Fight for the WWE Championship: CM Punk (c) vs Chris Jericho
This, again, is obviously the match i’ll be most looking forward too. This will be a brawl more than a traditional, scientific wrestling match like at WrestleMania, but I trust these two to make gold of anything. One of my favourite moments ever is watching Punk emerge to face John Cena in Chicago last year to a thunderous ovation. This will happen again, and that is a great thing. I have no idea what to expect from the match itself, but their feud is personal, that if they can fight with that urgency, it will be fantastic. That is easy to predict, what isn’t so easy is the winner. Jericho certainly could win, but then either Punk would just win the title back, rendering it a little needless, or Lesnar would challenge him (see next match prediction) and that would be a heel vs heel feud with no build. So what is Punk wins? Does Jericho win another battle royal to get in the title picture? Maybe. Wrestling can facilitate anything, but it would be quite cynical to do it two months in a row. Would Lesnar take on and beat Punk for the title? After Lesnar is down with Cena, the only thing it would make sense for him to pursue would be the Championship. That could be great, but I don’t know how wise it would be to have Lesnar go over Punk with ease. These are some of  the calculations in the complicated title picture, but it makes it hard to predict. Ultimately, despite WWE’s history of jobbing out home town stars, I just can’t see them doing it to Punk in Chicago. If it is Lesnar’s destiny to take the title, Punk will need the best reign possible before dropping it, and at the least, dropping it to Lesnar is better than dropping it to most other heels on the roster just because of his monster-esque booking and a feud with him could allow Punk to flourish on the mic, especially since it seems he has some shoots in hand for Lesnar. All this nonsense aside, the match in hand will no-doubt steal the show, especially with Punk’s family to be at ringside. They are a big part of the feud, and as master psychologists, Punk and Jericho will make the most of it before handing Punk another memorable victory.

Winner: CM Punk

Match 6) Extreme Rules Match: John Cena vs Brock Lesnar
I’m intrigued by this match, but I wouldn’t say i’m looking forward to it. I’ve made my feelings about Brock Lesnar abundantly clear both here and on twitter (@RTVWOW), and I don’t relish seeing him wrestle, especially in those goofy MMA-inspired shorts which suggest its only real when it’s Lesnar. As usual, Cena is handling this all brilliantly, and it’s been refreshing seeing the attitude adjustments (cheap pop) in Cena’s character – even showing straight fear for the first time in pretty much ever. For some reason though, i’m just not pumped for the match. I think it’s partly because the result seems so sure, and also because of my worry that Lesnar will be doing MMA style grapples and beating the s**t out of Cena for a lot of the time. That style is not something I think lends itself to pro wrestling, and it isn’t one I want to see. The only result that makes any sense is Lesnar winning, and that’s fine; Cena going through a crisis of confidence is interesting, but Lesnar winning wont be of interest to me. Again, Seth Mates has come up with the sort of scenario which makes me wish he was still on WWE Creative: that after Lesnar eventually, inevitably decimates Cena, Cena is either written off TV through injury, or simply by ‘walking away’ in shame and a lack of confidence. Lesnar goes on to run rampant while Cena takes a much deserved rest until finally Cena returns to a huge reaction to save the day. It would be genuinely different and surely not that much of a risk with people like Punk, Orton and Sheamus around on the babyface side. That’s all wishful thinking though; lets just hope something more interesting than Brock Lesnar = beast that’s always on our TV happens.

Winner: Brock Lesnar

With the crowd on it’s side, I expect this PPV to be a big hit for the most part, and who knows, if the crowd is hot enough, I may even enjoy the main event (which shouldn’t be the main event) more than expected! One more time, for live tweets and more, follow @RTVWOW on twitter!

 

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Professional Wrestling May Not Be a ‘Real’ Sport, But It’s Infinitely More Legitimate Than MMA

Brock Lesnar, in his new, MMA-inspired ring gear

Brock Lesnar, in his new, MMA-inspired ring gear

Since the return of Brock Lesnar to the WWE, I have been a small but outspoken voice against Brock Lesnar.

This stemmed from finding him overrated during his original run, and being unimpressed, to say the least. with the way his first WWE run ended. As a wrestler, his rise as “The Next Big Thing” was certainly striking, and his abilities in the ring were equally acceptable; and this, when mixed with the expert, respected management of Paul Heyman, destined him for the top. That was what exactly what he got – a direct route to the top, being handed victories against Hulk Hogan, The Rock (which saw him become the youngest WWE Champion ever, and to this day), The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, John Cena, as well as King of the Ring and Royal Rumble victories. All this happened in the space of roughly a year, which is absolutely unprecedented support for a superstar in this era. Lesnar was hot property, there’s no denying that, but as a character, he hadn’t impressed me. Weak on the mic, seeing him in non-fighting segments was always something rather forgettable, and rarely anything that would get me much invested in him as character, or in what he did or happened to him. In short, I saw Brock Lesnar as a man who had been given the keys to the kingdom, despite not really deserving it.

That was one thing, but my opinion of him lessened even more when he left WWE. Having being strapped to a rocket to the stars, Lesnar decided he would rather try NFL, and left. Just like that. The fans at least shared my disapproval this time, making his WrestleMania XX match with Goldberg a farce by booing them both out of the building and cheering only when Stone Cold Stunned them both back in their place.  I don’t have a problem with Lesnar wanting to be in the NFL. I love the NFL. But wrestling is something I love more is wrestling, and that is because it engenders more respect, and more emotional commitment than anything else, and to give up on it after only a couple of years, shows a real lack of respect and love for the business and the hard work it requires, something which is needed to keep the business going. So not only was Brock Lesnar a man who had been given the keys to the kingdom, despite not really deserving it, but he was a man who had been given the keys to the kingdom, despite not really deserving it, who couldn’t hack it.

Lesnar’s NFL career fizzled out quickly, but he did find success in MMA, signing for the UFC and becoming their champion. As a personal achievement, it’s impressive, but it doesn’t make me respect him as a man. While professional wrestling and MMA look similar, and MMA is a true sport while professional wrestling is scripted, but these are, in fact, the very reasons why I love professional wrestling, and dislike MMA. In my opinion, professional wrestling is one of the greatest, most relevent mediums of art there is today, and it is so because it gives the appearance of conflict. It hurts, it’s about sacrifice, but ultimately, the players are trying to protect each other in the pursuit of there art. MMA is the opposite this. For pay, men try to seriously hurt each other; it’s demeaning and devoid of anything artful. Yes, sport is a beautiful thing, but not this sport, not to me.

Even that’s fine; it doesn’t affect me – I don’t watch MMA. While I didn’t like him a year ago, Lesnar wasn’t really affecting my life. But now he’s returned to WWE, and he’s returned to ‘bring legitimacy’ to the WWE. Well that’s where, frankly, the man can f**k off. Professional wrestling is lots of great things, but it categorically isn’t a sport, and shouldn’t be treated like one. In fact, the success of wrestling lives and dies on the ability to suspend your disbelief. Even for ‘smart’ fans, we have to believe in the basic dynamic before us (mainly, the people interacting, and the moves being performed), and this is made easy by the fact that what happens does hurt, and is, at least in a pure sense, real (in that the actions are controlled, but not faked). Brock Lesnar coming back, highlighting his background in competitive fighting, saying he wants to bring ‘legitimacy’ to the WWE, and wearing MMA-style sponsored shorts which look different to everyone else completely undermines that. He’s basically saying “When i’m around, it’s real, when i’m not, it’s not,” and that hurts everyone, apart from Brock Lesnar. Now I’ve actually quite liked him (in a limited way) since his return, but he’s currently helping nobody but Brock Lesnar, and that’s a problem.

When The Rock came back, he was thrust in to the spotlight, and aspects of that made me unhappy. But at least The Rock was … THE ROCK, an icon, a charismatic force, who had a great story to tell with John Cena. But then, instantly afterwards Brock Lesnar comes out, makes that last year something of an afterthought, and takes up more spots from people like CM Punk, who should be one of the guys. Indeed, Punk is that in a sense; he is the WWE Champion and is booked very strong with lots of mic time. But Punk, who is infinitely better in every way than Lesnar, hasn’t been in a main event segment in a very long time – thanks, in part, to Lesnar.

MMA may well be a real sport, but that is where it’s ‘legitimacy’ over pro wrestling ends. Professional wrestling is not necessarily a pursuit of money, but a pursuit of happiness. It necessitates sacrifice and makes art possible. I have no problem in admitting that wrestling has brought me to tears (indeed, this blog was created on the wave of such emotion); I don’t believe MMA is capable of that, and I respect a man like Punk, who has given his life for this business, and is only now reaping the rewards, far more than a man like Lesnar, who is only interested in what Brock Lesnar can gain from his ventures.

I wish him the best, because I respect any professional wrestler, have enjoyed aspects of his return, and want him to make my viewing possible, but his being here doesn’t make the spectacle more ‘legitimate’; if anything, his approach undermines much of what makes professional wrestling a legitimately beautiful thing.

The LIVE RAW View (17/04/2012): Lord Tensai Moves Up The Card – In the Flesh!

My view of Lord Tensai clawing at John Cena's face

Ok, so this RAW View will obviously employ a different approach than usual because I had the pleasure of viewing the taping LIVE at the O2 in London, so while i’m going to talk about RAW as a broadcast, I will be focusing too on the live experience.

Before the Show
Coming out of the tube station at North Greenwich, I started feeling the electricity. Wrestling fans are the greatest, and being among thousands of them and chatting about our passion is the greatest. In terms of merchandise, I said on twitter that I thought Punk edged Cena, but looking around the arena when everyone was sat down, there was a sea of green Cena shirts, so i’d say that the two are about even, and quite far ahead of anyone else. There were smatterings of Ryder, Mysterio, Kingston, and Ziggler, but they simply weren’t on the same level.

There’s been a lot of talk about the ‘Yes!’ chants replacing the ‘What?’ chants, but that isn’t the case. ‘Yes!’ (and also ‘No!’) are specific preferential responses to what the fans see; like the ‘Yes!’s when Bryan was kicking Kofi, and the ‘No!’s when Kingston was on top. ‘What?’ is something the fans chant to psyche out characters they don’t like. What ‘Yes!’ may be replacing, from my experience on Monday, is the ‘woos’ i’ve often heard before live shows. There were still smatterings of ‘woos’ before the event, but they were dwarfed in popularity by spontaneous ‘YES!’s’ before the event, especially when they finally opened the doors.

It’s an infectious atmosphere, and while it makes little sense, the chants that happen around the arena before anyone’s even appeared are great, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them – like the ‘Let’s Go Cena’ chants being dominated by the ‘Cena Sucks!’

Dark Match: Dean Ambrose def. Alex Riley
Alex Riley is either still over and potentially deserving of some renewed TV time, or the crowd was hot and would have popped huge for whoever came out first, but Riley got a great reception when he came out for the dark match. Meanwhile Ambrose came out and cut a great heel promo, telling everyone to quiet down by the time he got to the ring, while calling himself the real ‘Hardcore Legend’, which was obviously a knock on Mick Foley as a part of the burgeoning feud; one that I would actually really enjoy watching. The match itself was fine, but I don’t know whether it was the green-ness of ‘A-Ry’ or what, but it didn’t impress me quite as I expected. Ambrose eventually went over with a Regal-esque running knee (another wrestler he’s been linking himself with) to get good heat.

Superstars Match: Eve Torres def. Kelly Kelly
Surprising reaction for Kelly Kelly. It was certainly positive, but it was also kinda muted, and there were smatterings of boos, most probably from the ‘smart’ fans (more on them as the report goes on). Eve, meanwhile, got some strong heat, though I hate the ‘Hoeski’ chants that were most popular for her, because especially when you’re encouraged by your peers, it really does feel that machismo bullying. Of course its good for fans to mock the heels, but when it’s such an offensive, sexist term, it’s not really acceptable to me. While Eve is improving, and Kelly was trying hard, the match was pretty flat to be honest, and I was glad to see it end to be honest. I don’t know how well the cameras caught it, but the finish, with Eve using the ropes to assist her pin was really quite sloppy. Still, the match had the desired effect of getting heat for Eve and sympathy for Kelly.

Superstars Match: R-Truth def. Jack Swagger
This match must have been the main event for this week’s Superstars simply due to the profile of the superstars involved. Something that speaks to that is the reactions each man got. Truth is incredibly over in his niche and got a nice pop mixed with some chuckles as he mimed playing with Lil Jimmy. Meanwhile, Swagger got a lot of heat, making for a great, old-fashioned wrestling dynamic. The match was very good, with the two of them gelling well – even if the match wasn’t that spectacular. What made it good was it’s length and the well manufactured near-falls. After a few of these on either side, making each man loog strong, Truth finally hit the Little Jimmy for the win, pleasing the crowd greatly.

RAW
CM Punk def. Mark Henry to Retain the WWE Championship
First of all, I should mention the pyro! Seeing it live is amazing and really gets you (even more) excited for the show – and the bonus this time was that it wasn’t so loud that it legitimately shook me up. What was strange though that this all came after Mark Henry had come to the ring. Did he get a jobber’s entrance? I haven’t watched back to keep this live report pure … Anyway, the pop Punk got was HUGE, and surely the biggest of the night. I really hope that came over on TV, because it was great to be a part of. On the other hand, sometimes crowds can start to spoil the spectacle somewhat by completely ignoring the action or characters in favour of jokes – like the ‘Sexual Chocolate’ chant that fans seem to love now. I suppose it works in that it belittles the heel, but at the same time, it also undermines his current incarnation as an unstoppable strong machine! But I digress. The match was fantastic, and played really well on their recent history and the match stipulation. My one criticism would be that Punk never seems to learn about stuff like crossbodys simply not working on the behemoth. Still, as I say, at least that played on their two previous matches and gave Punk a real narrative mountain to climb as he kept on literally running in to a human wall, yet still coming back and back. They also used the no count out stipulation well, with Henry brutalising Punk on the outside and frustrating most of Punk’s more spectacular high-flying moves, apart, that is, from the suicide dive, which is always great to see live. There is one different aspect about  watching live though – I feel you get so swept up in the live experience that some of the intricacies of the match don’t register as much in favour of a much more visceral response; and consequently, i’ll be doing much less hold for hold reviewing here. In the general progression of the match, however, it built fantastically as Punk managed to grind down Henry, and was finally rewarded for his resilience (including surviving a vile chair shot form Henry straight to his back) when he managed to knock down the World’s Strongest Man by sending him in to a chair wedged in the turnbuckle (by Henry himself, unsurprisingly). This left Henry down and the crowd chanting for Macho Man, which Punk provided with the added punch of the same chair. He connected, and that was good for the three count, which I really enjoyed. It played to the stipulation by incorporating the chair, and it gave us a finish that wasn’t necessarily a finisher, which is something I always enjoy being surprised by. It made total sense too as Henry submitting to an Anaconda Vice would kill him as a monster and there was no way (I pressume!) that Punk could get him up for the GTS! Really good match then, by the guy who was probably most over in the company (well, save for Daniel Bryan perhaps!). Just one thing then …

This is a WWE Championship match, the most important match the WWE can show, featuring one of your top guys in CM Punk, a guy who could legitimately be the guy is positioned correctly, on a night when Brock Lesnar wouldn’t be appearing in person, and it goes on first, and isn’t really followed up on later on? There is absolutely no reason why this match shouldn’t have closed the show. I know Cena losing was a shock, and gave Tensai a good rub, but that being the case, leave Tensai going over for next week! CM Punk, your next big guy, in a WWE Championship match which he wins after a lot of toil, when Lesnar isn’t there and doesn’t have to be the centre of attention, absolutely has to be the main event. There is simply no good argument about that.

Chris Jericho Confronted CM Punk About Going In To a Pub
At least this was up next and continued their story. With Punk stood proud in the ring with his Championship which he had finally retained fairly against a monster, I liked the way Jericho used a genuinely suspicious bit of footage of Punk entering a pub because it adds that cloud of doubt over whether or not Punk is actually being affected in his emotional and personal lifestyle by Jericho. That being said, I can’t stress enough that Punk should on no account ‘turn alcoholic’ or something like that. While i’m sure they would portray it well, and it would be revolutionary, I don’t think wrestling is the right arena for that sort of narrative. The idea that Punk may be faltering is much more powerful than wrestling-tinted soap alcoholism. Punk’s response was very good too. While the ‘its not about me being the Best in the World any more, it’s about kicking your ass’ line was a repeat, the rest of what he said was great, about how Jericho was going to get hurt in a Chicago street fight because he will be in front of his family and friends, and most powerfully, his father and sister, who have been so central to all of this. It’s powerful, and while Jericho is the monotone, incessant roll, Punk only becomes more humanised, and more ‘real’ every week. Not only that, but referencing fish and chips was a great move, and led to a wonderful, much more acceptable ‘fish and chips’ chant.

Santino Marella def. David Otunga to Retain the United States Championship
David Otunga is a very good character, is a great talker, and is improving as a wrestler. This could be seen in his in-ring work this week, but what also could be seen this week was that this improvement isn’t an exact science as he got a good near-fall following a horrible looking version of his spinebuster. The near fall was good, but it would have been great had the move been executed right. At first, from the crowd, I didn’t realise Santino had his foot on the ropes to save the pin, which is actually quite a good aspect to the performance – I was sold on the Otunga victory, and was quite pleased about it actually, but with your attention not being directed for you, it makes false finishes like that all the more confusing and surprising, which is of course, the exact effect they aim at. Following the related confusion, Santino managed to take control and hit a Cobra for the retention. I was also happy about this outcome, because Santino is great and really over as champion.

Brock Lesnar Revealed Why He Returned to WWE In Shocking Fashion
It’s hard for me to admit because I don’t like any bit of Brock Lesnar, but this was … really good. Not because it was a great promo, and not even because Lesnar delivered it well, but because it was different, aggressive, and delivered just as Brock Lesnar should deliver it: thoughtlessly crassly. I hate this idea that he brings legitimacy to the WWE because he was an ultimate fighter because WRESTLING CATEGORICALLY ISN’T A SPORT AND SHOULDN’T BE TREATED AS SUCH BECAUSE IT RUINS WHAT WRESTLING REALLY IS: A FIGHTING SPECTACLE. Still, the sheer brazen dickishness of Lesnar’s interview suited him down to the ground, as did his cheap swearing; seriously, the line: “I don’t know what’s running through Cena’s head. What’s important is what’s running down his leg. Piss.” was fantastic, and then he took it one further, like a total idiot jock (which again suits him) by adding that Cena is shitting himself. There was really a much more ‘Attitunal’ (for lack of a much better phrase) feel about it, and that was fresh. From the crowd’s perspective, Cena was already getting nuclear heat whenever his face was on the tron, and this only made Lesnar more popular. In that sense, as good as this interview was, I don’t know how wise it was seen as Lesnar’s supposed to certainly be the heel to Cena’s face in a way The Rock never was. On another, more confident stance is that I hate, like many people do, the billing of him as the saviour to legitimise the WWE because, as everyone realises, that buries the whole company and the whole business even, and wrongly so. MMA is only more legitimate than wrestling when considered as a sport; but worse, it just points out that the rest of what we are seeing is a scripted non-sport, and that’s just terrible for the whole suspension of disbelief. I still don’t like Lesnar, but I have to say, this showed me that he can, potentially, be used well. Finally, with Lesnar not obliged to appear on every RAW, this is the right way to use him when he’s not on RAW – i.e. covering up his absence.

Kane vs Zack Ryder Ended in a No-Contest
This was a real waste of time. This was an example of how no commentary can hinder the live experience (of a TV taping specifically). Before hand, they showed footage of Kane terrorising Ryder from the Road to WrestleMania, but then they also showed Kane’s engagement with Randy Orton from last week’s Smackdown, but all without contextualising commentary. And then in the match, Kane Chokeslams Ryder and that’s just it? I would have liked to have seen a pin. It wouldn’t have hurt anybody and would have saved the confusion. In the stands there was certainly a lot of indignant confusion. And then Kane just cut basically the same promo as he did from last week and didn’t progress anything. A waste of time others could have worked with. Still, Kane’s pyro live is still the best!

Daniel Bryan def. Kofi Kingston With the Renamed YES Lock
First off, renaming the move the LaBell Lock the YES Lock makes an awful lot of sense. Not only did it give Bryan currency to get heel heat by mocking his mentor, but most importantly, it is a sign that WWE aren’t trying to quash his success in favour of their picked champion, Sheamus. It wont stop the crowd from chanting ‘YES!’ a lot, but it will concentrate it a little in an appropriate moment of the match – when a man may actually say ‘YES!’ to submitting. This was coupled with a great moment of sheer insolence from Bryan as he firstly accused Kofi of moving in on his ex-girlfriend before threatening to make him submit; and in doing so stood right in front of him shouting yes, with arm gestures, and when Kofi tried to leave, Bryan moved in his was an continued. Unbelievable douchebaggery, not that it’ll make him less popular. Seriously, from a fan’s point of view, Bryan was getting the biggest and most sustained reaction of the night. Counteractively, I don’t think he’s more over than, say, Punk, but he is certainly over as whatever he is now. Ultimately, surely he’s simply a face now; just a face with with a … unique character. I mean, look at this, from the show:

Yes! Chants in London

As for the match, it was one of the two best alongside Punk-Henry, and it made Bryan look fantastic. The first half of the match was Bryan dominating Kingston (as he should as a former World Champion), hitting all his strongest moves very powerfully, and in the mean time, Bryan was taunting away. In the second half of the match, Kingston did deservedly get some offense in, and even a strong near-fall following an SOS, to show the legitimacy of Kingston somewhat. Finally though, he missed a crossbody and Bryan took control with the YES lock for the win as the crowd chanted Yes! along with Kingston! After the match, too, Bryan locked Kingston in the YES Lock. For the first time, the fans didn’t know how to react. They were supporting Bryan throughout the match, but despite their nominal booing of Kingston, the fans are well disposed to him and weren’t going to cheer it. They didn’t boo it either though, so it was effective in curbing the super overness of the heel. However, if this is an attempt to get him over as a heel, I think it’ll be pretty fruitless.

Brodus Clay def. Dolph Ziggler via DQ
This was a piece of nothing significant. A way to get a Funkasaurus pop and some Ziggler heat, and while the DQ managed to nominally further the mini feud between Clay and Vickie’s team, it barely did anything. Saying all this: FUNKASAURUS.

Big Show & The Great Khali def. Primo & Epico
I don’t know if there is a redeeming factor to this … and I don’t particularly want to talk about it. On the plus side, the giants winning made a lot of fans happy.

Lord Tensai def. John Cena
Earlier on, Cena had cut a pretty good promo that was classic heartfelt and intense Cena, reassuring us he will fight. This was good, but it pales in memory to the Brock Lesnar interview. This was a weird match to watch. It was a good match, but it was power vs power, and it perhaps didn’t seem as fresh as it should for that reason. Cena helped Tensai looked great, but I didn’t feel I was watching something new, which is unfortunate, since I was. God I hate the ‘Albert/A Train’ chants. That’s an example of a damaging chant – in wrestling we need to suspend our disbelief, and that shouldn’t even be hard here because as cartoonish as Tensai looks, he has a legitimate Japanese background and his backstory is basically drawn from reality. Stop this please. Whether you like Tensai or not initially, he deserves a chance to work in this character. Back to the match, it was pretty good. Cena sold more than he was on the offense, but he had his moments, and there were some good near finishes, including when Cena had the STF on Tensai. It was here that the finish came in to motion as Big Johnny sent David Otunga to interrupt. Otunga got an obligatory Attitude Adjustment, but the confusion allowed Tensai to get Cena with the green mist! I love the use of the green mist in wrestling, and this allowed Tensai to hit what used to be known as the Baldo Bomb (it must have a new name, surely!) Now i’ve heard a lot about the crowd not reacting to that. All I can say is the crowd was hot all night and weren’t suddenly cold. I think we were just shocked to see it. Also, with Cena getting so much heat (that added to much more for Tensai who instills more awe than anything …), it was hard to gauge who the fans really wanted to win, only adding to the confusion. I think that explains the reaction. As for me, i’m not even sure … I think it was way too early for Tensai to be in a match of this magnitude; it’s too soon to go from dominating jobbers to beating the company’s top star clean in the main event of your flagship show. I was actually convinced Laurinaitis would give Cena Jericho, and Punk would come out and get a measure of revenge. Perhaps that would have been better.

But wait …

Dark Main Event: WWE Championship Match – CM Punk (c) vs Chris Jericho Led to a No-Contest
So far, I had seen my three favourite wrestlers, but I hadn’t seen one of them wrestle. Well perhaps the fans felt the same way, or perhaps Jericho is as loved by everyone else as he is by me, but when his music hit, he got a pop comparable to that of Punk, which is impressive given that it was a dark match (though at the same time, i’m not sure how clear it is to some of the fans what is on TV and what isn’t). Nonetheless, I knew fine well the taping was over, but my favourite wrestler ever got a huge pop from me! It being a dark main event, it wasn’t designed as a great match. Punk did what I expected to see on TV, which was attack Jericho at the end of the night, this time as Jericho was approaching the ring. The two brawled for a while before Daniel Bryan came out. My three favourites wrestling each other! Though Bryan and Jericho were teaming up on Punk. From here on in, it was an entrance and finisher fest. Sheamus repeated his run in from earlier on in the night to even the odds, and then out came Rhodes, evened by The Big Show, and then out came Alberto Del Rio to a big pop, and finally, that was evened by Orton. By this point, Jericho and Punk had brawled to the back, but the action continued with Brogue Kicks, Chokeslams, and finally an RKO to send everyone home happy.

This was a very good RAW in which I got to see my three favourite wrestlers ever – something which is truly a privilege; and especially when among a hot crowd like that, it’s just the best experience, for me at least. Genuinely one of the main things I live for.

The RAW View (02/04/2012): YES! YES! YES!

Brock Lesnar was obviously the closing talking point of RAW, but I refuse to acknowledge it as good. This will be an unfortunate trend in this post.

Brock Lesnar was obviously the closing talking point of RAW, but I refuse to acknowledge it as good. This will be an unfortunate trend in this post.

This week’s episode of RAW was hot. It showed perfectly how a great crowd can make for great action, and the fans, mixed with some big re-debuts, made for one of the best RAW’s in recent memory. Hey, i’m writing about it, aren’t I!? I really only write about specific shows when they feature something notable these days. Speaking of which, I will be ATTENDING the RAW taping in London on the 16th, so i’ll be writing about that and the live experience soon after. Now, to business …

John Laurinaitis Heralds a New Era of ‘People Power’
The opening shots of RAW struck me as very fresh-looking. When HHH, Shawn Michaels, and The Undertaker soaked in their deserved applause and adulation at WrestleMania XXVIII, it really felt like an era was ending, and I had speculated that, to even my surprise, that strapline might carry some significance for the WWE. Since the ‘Summer of Punk’, there has been a lot of talk about a ‘Reality Era’, and there was something more consciously realistic about the way the opening backstage segment was shot. It’s hard to approximate, but it reminded me somewhat of the way Curb Your Enthusiasm is shot – a sort of glossy realism. Not only that, but booking CM Punk against Mark Henry in front of the whole roster, and showing both men’s reaction also offered a strange emotional realism to the shot. Speaking of Punk, I liked the mischievous way he delivered his ‘toolbox’ line, though perhaps would have wished something a bit more meaningful. As for ‘People Power’, i’m sure Big Johnny will offer us quite the opposite, but that is exactly what we would expect from him. It felt like, perhaps we had a new era, one with Punk and Laurinaitis as it’s players. As you’ll soon see though, that fate remains up in the air.

Era’s Collided as The Rock Vowed to Become the WWE Champion Again. Yes! Yes! Yes! He Did
Rock’s promo was a lot of recycled goosebumps for quite a while, though at least he had the good grace to put Cena over in so far as saying he was the biggest challenge Rock has had to date. All pretty standard, but then two remarkable things happened; one intentional, and one unintentional. The first thing was most remarkable, unintentional thing to happen in wrestling in a long time. The Rock was talking away about an impossible dream, but when he asked the WWE universe whether they wanted to hear it, something unexpected happened and Rocky was no longer the centre of attention; the crowd started chanting the Daniel Bryan trademark ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ Like the chanting during the Orton-Kane match at WrestleMania, I believe this was being done in part as a show of solidarity for the apparently wronged Bryan, but more than that, it was a pure, organic show of support for Bryan, not just because he was ‘wronged’ at WrestleMania, but because he has captured their hearts. For that moment, Bryan, a full-time wrestler, was more over than The Rock, and this chant only got louder, and more spirited as the night went on, to the point where if Bryan would have come to the ring, the crowd would have full-blown Austin popped for him! Remarkable!

I’m sure The Rock wasn’t annoyed at what happened, but it can’t have been planned, and it slightly distracted from the second remarkable moment of the promo: Rock vowing to become WWE Champion again. Now this may be all smoke and mirrors, like it was when John Cena suggested that Rock vs Cena might be of the right stature if it was for the WWE Championship. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, and allowed Punk-Jericho to fight over the title, and hopefully this vow will be treated similarly. I understand the value of The Rock, but he starts to depreciate the value of the rest of the roster when he becomes their part-time champion. Think of it this way: CM Punk is our current champion, and in order for The Rock to get the title back, Punk is going to have to drop it for him, or even worse, to him. While The Rock facing Punk or another WWE star would be good for them, losing to The Rock doesn’t help them that much. What is worse is the person who would later re-debut, and the person rumoured to be Rock’s prospective opponent for the title at WrestleMania 29 …

Santino Marella def. Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler to Retain the United States Championship; Brodus Clay Backs Him Up
This match was a fun match, and designed to show Big Johnny’s abuse of power as well as babyface’s striving against their stacked deck to win through. All three are good workers, and so the match was technically good, but not allowed to get any better because of lack of time and commercial interruption. Santino prevailed via the classic triple threat story of the two heels being unable to cooperate, allowing the face to take advantage for the win; a win good for his, and the Championship’s credibility. This in itself wasn’t too noteworthy, but it became so when Ziggler and Swagger started to beat the United States Champion down. They chased Santino up the ramp, but then suddenly, as if from a nature documentary, THE FUNKASAURUS! We’ve been waiting for Clay to do something new for ages, and it seems that he’s been slipped up a gear following WrestleMania. Ok, so he only headbutted Ziggler (a headbutt which led to a sickening Ziggleresque bump on the steel ramp, no less!), but it is a signal that Clay could get involved in some sort of storyline with possibly Ziggler or Swagger, a prospect which is certainly interesting. Let’s hope the Funkasaurus can really bring the funk going forward.

Lord Tensai def. Alex Riley
Our first re-debut came from Lord Tensai, the former Prince Albert/A Train. There was a lot of anticipation about Tensai, being as he is a decorated Japanese veteran with a cool gimmick. Now don’t get me wrong, his power and his moves (especially the Double Underhook Stalled Suplex) gave him a unique, Japanese flavour, but I found something about Tensai a little unsettling, and not in the way that was intended. He was, perhaps, a little too gimmicky, a little goofy even, especially if his rumoured feud with gritty realist CM Punk is to go ahead. I don’t want to get ahead of myself though, Tensai is fresh and deserves a chance. He is what the nixed big bad Brodus Clay would have been, right down to the post-match head crush, but obviously more proficient. This is definitely a better version of that character. And oh yeah, Alex Riley deserves this.

Mark Henry def. CM Punk, Allowing CM Punk to Retain the WWE Championship
When this match was booked, I thought it was about repositioning Punk at the top of the card. What actually happened was it was top of the second hour; still decent positioning, but not the spotlight I thing was required. What was required, for both me, was a good match which made them both look good, and broadly, this achieved that. This match had a good story of Punk using his skilled strong style to try and chop the monolithic Henry down. It was the unstoppable (but believeable) force meeting the immovable object. The action wasn’t spectacular, but it was very well thought out, with Punk sometimes besting Henry with momentum, but Henry often being able withstand Punk’s attacks, and in moments of domination, we got the best of Henry’s scary unstoppable force persona characterised by his blunt, brutalist barks: “Who told you to move!? You move when I tell you!” Henry really is the scariest heel in recent memory. The crowd really added to all this, loudly supporting Punk (and, again, Daniel Bryan) with “Yes!’s” after every Punk strike and oohing after Henry’s knock-downs. This gave the match a feeling of building momentum, and the crescendo came when Punk seemed to be getting the best of Henry after a Macho Man elbow and a running knee. Punk sold the size of Henry’s threat by going after a second knee to further weaken him, but when he went for his customary bulldog, the World’s Strongest Man overpowered him and threw him over the top rope on to the champion’s back, which had been under attack since the night before. This final, shocking fall on his back was enough to keep Punk down for ten seconds and the count-out. Initially I was a little disappointed in this, thinking that it made Punk seem a little weak, but soon after, I realised the righteousness behind it all. Punk just won a classic title match on the grandest stage of them all against Jericho at WrestleMania, and so there’s no way he can realistically be described as weak; and on the other hand, I have been, like many, begging for Mark Henry to return to his days of unstoppable heel, and beating Punk this way is another step in that direction. Really good match.

Chris Jericho Assaulted the Downed CM Punk With Alcohol and an Alcohol Bottle
After the match, John Laurinaitis came out to add further insult to Punk, saying he will be giving the people what they want, CM Punk defending his championship on a regular basis, and that he sees dark clouds in Punk’s future, a natural disaster. Now, ironically, this is both what Punk, and what the fans will want, though Big Johnny is only doing it to try and get the title off of Punk. Apparently, this is supposed to relate to Lord Tensai, but I had thought after Henry’s win, he would be owed a title shot. And now, another contender entered the scene. Chris Jericho, the loser at WrestleMania, and he began to berate Punk, sarcastically referring to him as the winner at WrestleMania, and the WWE Champion before calling their match a classic, and saying he wanted to celebrate with a drink. Well, we knew where this was going, but it played out more effectively than I could have imagined. Jericho went and got a bottle of Jack Daniels (well, probably not real Jack Daniels) and poured it all over Punk and in to his mouth. After this, Jericho put the boots to Punk and, unfortunately, slipped in the puddle of alcohol. This was embarrassing, but Jericho covered it up as best he could on twitter saying he was impersonating the drunk CM Punk. All this was shocking enough, but it was about to get worse as Jericho got another bottle. Instead of pouring it all over Punk, he smashed it over Punk’s head, totally incapacitating him, leaving him in the care of medics, aand taking this whole feud to the next level. I said in my WrestleMania review that I kinda wished the Jericho-Punk feud would have been Best vs Best up until WrestleMania, and then progressed post-Mania to the Drunk ROH inspired stuff. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the power behind what happened on Monday, and thought it a good way to forward the Punk-Jericho feud, which could be a classic overall. Meanwhile, i’m sure Punk will have to defend his title almost every week against people like Henry and Tensai, and this will be great for Punk and the Championship as Punk continues to overcome the odds. If there is a new era of WWE, a huge Punk reign (already standing at 133 days as of WrestleMania), would be a great way to christen it. At the moment, however, there seem to be countless suitors, and that can only be a good thing.

Alberto Del Rio Confronted Sheamus
This saw the next stage of the remarkable Daniel Bryan Superova Express Train, as the fan’s embracing of him became a weird, and as far as I can tell, unprecedented double-turn based in no way on personal character traits. Sheamus, who had been super babyface, and had put down the weasily heel the night before was surely expected to come out to a chorus of cheers. Instead, he was met as if he was the top heel in the company! The smiling Irish giant was left in a very difficult position by this, having to act as if he was a man of the people, while the people were obviously not willing to support him. This was downright surreal, especially given how over Sheamus was before WrestleMania. If Bryan would have come out at this point, the roof would have come off the place! This phenomenon almost overshadowed the presence of ADR, who was entering the World Heavyweight Championship picture, and was given an awful lot of exciting fanfare to make his return seem significant, but which was forgotten amongst the Bryan support. With the crowd in sheer support of the American Dragon, they were left in the strange position of kinda having to prefer Del Rio to Sheamus, and this led to the best chant of the night: “Si! Si! Si!” God I love wrestling, and wrestling fans. Sheamus then got on the mic – big mistake as the fans booed him down, yet he tried to keep up the babyface pretense, saying that they wanted to see a Brogue Kick to someone. The camera, out of necessity, cut to Bryan, to show that he was still involved in the title picture, and eventhough he wasn’t even on stage, this led to a huge pop. They had to do it, but it only added to the fan-led undermining of each character’s role. Then, in a weird set up, Del Rio’s mic started cutting out, and when he got a new one, he turned round in to the foreseen Brogue Kick! I mean what can you say about this? I like the prospect of Del Rio entering the picture, but especially now, Bryan has to be a part of this, and maybe even the main bit. Could the unthinkable happen, and WWE be forced to officially double-turn on Sheamus and Bryan? I don’t think so, partly because a face Bryan chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” changes the dynamic of everything, so not yet at least.

Kofi Kingston def. Cody Rhodes
Not too much to discuss with the actual match. Cody looked good and strong, and looked to be heading for a relatively quick win, when Big Show came out and confronted Rhodes with an embarrassing WrestleMania moment of his own. Now I know turnaround is fair play and all that, but if it’s douchey when Cody does it, it’s douchey when you do it too, Show – and Cody’s the one who is supposed to be douchey, Show. You’re doing it wrong. Obviously, Cody then turned around in to a Trouble in Paradise for the lost. The upside of the this kinda mailed in story was that it gave Kofi an impressive win over Rhodes in a way that didn’t make Cody look bad and showed that his feud with Show would be continuing. Fine, but a little unspectacular.

Abraham Washington Offered Mark Henry His Managerial Services
The second re-debut of the night went to Abraham Washington, and he seemed to be setting up for becoming Mark Henry’s manager. Now, I see the potential in Washington, and I love the ideas of more managers kicking around, but I strongly feel like giving one to Henry is a bad idea! Henry is an almost unstoppable force, and the way he talks is more believeable and intimidating than any other heel on the roster. It suits him, and giving him a polished mouth-piece will detract from his image. With that in mind, i’d rather they left Henry alone, and gave Washington to someone who does need a mouthpiece, perhaps a newly heeled Ezekiel Jackson?

The Miz def. Zack Ryder
I usually don’t write about everything from RAW in my reports, but in this RAW, this is the only match that I don’t really have much to say about, but seen as it’s the only part of RAW without much to talk about, I feel bad leaving it out. So this wasn’t that long a match, but it was an entertaining brawl between the two more than anything. Miz continued his momentum from WrestleMania with another clean win, and seen as it was again against Ryder, perhaps those two will begin feuding. I quite like the sound of that actually.

John Cena Addressed the WWE Universe, Was Interrupted by the Returning Brock Lesnar
This was an odd segment. Cena came out to address his loss at WrestleMania to The Rock, and in the wake of that event, I was sure that we’d have to see some sort of change out of Cena; not necessarily a heel-turn, but some sort of change, leading to his return match with The Rock. What we got was an almost characature of SuperCena – humble, even thankful to The Rock for having the match with him, and promising to come back stronger and ‘Never Give Up’. He addressed fans like me who wondered how he was going to react to his loss, breaking the 4th wall somewhat to suggest that he might finally lash out at the fans, but again, reiterating that he would ‘Rise Above’ all of that. This was met, again, with “Yes! Yes! Yes!” By this point, Bryan was more over and important than everyone! Crazy! At first I thought Cena was getting a little repetitive and boring, possibly intentionally so, but as it turns out, John was stalling for the man who would returning to face him. Although he asked for The Rock, to congratulate him and tell him that the better man won (more “Yes! Yes! Yes!”), what he got was the returning Brock Lesnar! See that exclamation mark there? It was exciting, I did pop, but mainly for the surprise of it (I had avoided the spoilers), and his return is certainly intriguing. There’s no denying the huge pop. Lesnar was over and when Cena (kinda goofily) offered Lesnar his hand, and Lesnar punished him with a huge (if kinda sloppy) F5, they loved it even more, and with Lesnar walking off without saying anything, he certain left a lot of mystique behind him. That’s the good news.

Now for the bad news, and there’s a lot of it. I wont go too much in to my personal feelings about Brock Lesnar; i’ll set out what I see to be facts about him, and leave it there. When he arrived in WWE originally, he was a beast, genuinely intimidating like few others, and made to feel significant because of who he beat, which was basically everyone. He became the youngest ever WWE Champion and was only getting bigger – he was getting pushed to the stars. And then he apparently decided he wanted to reject all that and throw it all back in our face for a career in the NFL. The fans realised what he was doing, and realised that he wasn’t worth their attention at WrestleMania XX where they booed him and Goldberg out of the building. He failed in the NFL, broke a no-compete clause at New Japan – a further finger to the WWE, and went to UFC for years; a move which I can’t criticise other than saying that I hate the UFC and think it’s the stupidest, most needlessly sadistic sport in the world. People hurting each other artistically while trying to protect each other > People trying to kill each other. Brock Lesnar has now come crawling back to WWE for a paycheck following his UFC retirement, and that’s fine, I guess, but I don’t want to see him.

The guy is a good wrestler, fine, but he’s by no means the best, and the guy simply cannot talk charismatically or captivatingly. He simply doesn’t fulfil the characteristics of what makes someone a top wrestler, and I don’t understand why people liked him so much then, and are so excited about him now.

In recent months, i’ve been critical about The Rock as something of an asshole towards the incredibly genuine, if imperfect, Cena. Well, Lesnar is seemingly fulfilling the same role now as The Rock with the downside of absolutely not being in Rocky’s league. Even that, in itself, is ok, because I see the attraction of Lesnar facing Cena again, but here’s the problem with that: The point of The Rock returning, surely, was for Cena eventually to go over, but all of a sudden, Cena has to deal with Lesnar, and it is being rumoured that Lesnar will be taking on The Rock at WrestleMania 29. When is Cena going to get his moment!? At the very least, not to bury the whole full-time WWE roster, Cena nees to beat Rock still, and preferably twice!

I hinted there that Rock could be facing Lesnar at WrestleMania 29 in the main event. So, now that Lesnar’s back, are we seriously going to get a main event between two part time wrestlers who may instantly disappear? Apparantly, yes. And it gets even worse when you remember Rock’s vow to become WWE Champion again. Could that be out championship match!? Surely not! That’s the most misguided idea i’ve ever heard from the WWE! Two part timers fighting over the most prestigious title in the business, featuring none of the people who will be building the company once they leave, with-holding the star-making main event slot from the full-timers that really need it!

Indeed, to those of you that chant CM Punk, that chant Daniel Bryan, to those chanting “Yes!” who also chanted for Lesnar, do you not see what’s going to happen this year? Lesnar showing up every couple of weeks (admittedly more than Rocky, but still not full time), and stealing the show (not in an HBK way!) whenever he does, and being the main focus of the show; and where will that leave Bryan and Punk? Significant, but not as significant as they should be. To be fair, Punk is being given some mic time and a good reign, but he should be the company’s #1 focus right now for the future. Treat him right, and he’s going nowhere but the top! What i’d want at WrestleMania 29 is any of the following:

Cena-Rock III rubber match, second or third from last on the card
Punk-Bryan main event
Punk-Stone Cold for the WWE Championship – Punk over
Punk-Rock for the WWE Championship – Punk over and Bryan-Lesnar for the World Championship – Bryan over (WrestleMania 21 thematic replay)

But no, once again it seems that the full-time future stars of WWE (Punk, Bryan, Rhodes, Ziggler etc) will have to wait to be fully invested in, and it sucks. The nights started off feeling like one era had ended and another started. Perhaps that is true, but if we are entering a new era, it’s one that’s a lot like the one from around ten years ago …

This should, of course, come with a caveat that i’ve obviously seen nothing of what will happen with Rock, Lesnar, Cena and our favourites, and I am being too quick to condemn. I just have a bad feeling about this … Still, you know what makes me feel better? THE UNDENIABLE FACT THAT DANIEL BRYAN WAS MORE OVER THAN PRETY MUCH EVERYONE IN THE WORLD ON MONDAY!

If you agreed, or disagreed but was intrigued, by what I wrote, then come to @RTVWOW on twitter for more thoughts and livetweeting!

WrestleMania XXVIII Review: Rock Beats Cena! End of an Era?

An iconic image: A despondent Cena following his loss to The Rock on the grandest stage

An iconic image: A despondent Cena following his loss to The Rock on the grandest stage

With the caveat that I have enjoyed every recent WrestleMania, I can quite confidently say that this was the best WrestleMania in years, and can less confidently suggest (without the benefit of historical hindsight) that it will stand out as one of the best ever. That’s not to say it was perfect, but each of the top three matches delivered in their own unique way, while being backed up by decent enough to strong matches pretty much throughout. The set was also ‘da bomb’. But more on all that, well, NOW! (It should also be noted that I only predicted one match incorrectly here, so my opinion must be worth something, right?)

Match 1) Sheamus def. Daniel Bryan w/ AJ to Win the World Heavyweight Championship
What to say about this match? Well, nothing, as it lasted one move and eighteen seconds. That doesn’t, however mean there’s nothing to say. My initial reaction to Bryan being pinned before I was even really prepared (never mind Bryan!) was like everyone else on the internet -fury, indignation, a feeling of being cheated because Daniel Bryan deserves to show his wrestling wares on the grandest stage and be given time to shine. However, it is important to realise that the IWC isn’t the only audience, and is in fact probably the minority audience, especially for WrestleMania, when more people are watching generally. Daniel Bryan, completely unlike Daniel Bryan the wrestler, deserved what happened to him. His reign was characterised by escaping title defences in the least satisfying ways possible, and constantly dodging challenges. Sheamus, as Royal Rumble winner, and a very popular wrestler, was destined to finally end all that and deal out ‘Art of War’ style justice in blunt fashion, and this effect was achieved with perfection. Sheamus came out without too much pomp, but Bryan came out with a brand new robe for the occasion, chanting the now iconic ‘YES!’ chant, and insisted on an ceremonial kiss from AJ before the match, only for all that to be met with a kick to the face and pin to undermine it all. The more I think about it, the better it was for Bryan, allowing him a memorable moment that will actually add to his character and help him move to the next level, but more on that in my RAW post following this, where i’m sure ‘YES!’ will be typed a lot.

Match 2) Kane def. Randy Orton
This was the match I was looking forward to least going in to WrestleMania, and it seems the fans felt the same as the match started, showing solidarity with Daniel Bryan, who everyone felt slighted, by chanting his name just as they did when he was fired in 2010. It should be said though, that this match was pretty good. Not great, especially when compared to the top three matches, but good. The first half was some very equal and watchable brawling, and the match built in the second half, achieving a dramatic feel I wouldn’t have thought possible. After kicking out of a Chokeslam, I was sure of a tokenistic RKO victory, but instead it was just helping Orton’s reputation, as soon after he climbed to the second rope, only to be Chockeslammed again, this time from the greater elevation, a move he couldn’t kick out of. I think Kane winning makes a lot of difference here. In my preview, I spoke of how the story was boring and lazy, and that a Randy Orton win would only add to that, and at least a Kane victory would make people take notice and hopefully save the Kane character from industry burial (I differentiate because with Kane, ya never know!). Luckily, that is exactly what happened, and guess what? I’m actually interested in what happens next between them. This match did a good job of saving two cool characters from a lackluster feud.

Match 3) The Big Show def. Cody Rhodes to Win the Intercontinental Championship
And now to the only match the result of which I was wrong about. Rhodes-Big Show was thematically very similar to Bryan-Sheamus in that Rhodes had been scoring victories and psychological points against Big Show while usually avoiding a one-on-one physical confrontation. For that reason, the story of this match was Big Show finally getting his hands on Rhodes, just as the earlier story was Sheamus finally getting his hands on Daniel Bryan. The main difference between the matches (time aside) was that Rhodes was taking on a Giant. Rhodes had built to this in a very well-imagined match with The Great Khali in which he systematically took the Punjabi (Wrestling) Nightmare before beating him. In this match, Big Show swatted Rhodes away in the early going before Rhodes went back to his Khali strategy, targeting the leg of Show and applying heel hooks and other submissions to it. Of course The Giant wasn’t going to tap, but it weakened him, allowing Rhodes to hit more impact moves, including a thunderous Disaster Kick. Instead of going for the pin though, Rhodes went for another, only to be (kind of awkwardly but still devestatingly) speared by Big Show. This left him vulnerable to what Big Show has wanted to do for months: knock out Rhodes – which he did momentarily to win the Intercontinental Championship. A good match with a strong story there with Rhodes doing as well as he could against Big Show. I was disappointed that Rhodes lost, and lost his title, but I see this as an opportunity. He had the title for one of the longest reigns in it’s illustrious history, and that’s a good start; now he can take the traditional route of moving on to a top title. My worry is that the title will languish in the hands of the Big Show, but on the other hand, he is a big name to be holding the belt, and could only add to it’s prestige. Hopefully he can drop it to a hot up-and-comer like a Drew McIntyre.

Match 4) Maria Menounos & Kelly Kelly def. Beth Phoenix & Eve Torres
Where did it all go wrong? I remember Beth & Nattie tearing through the divas division for a while, and now Maria Menounos walks off a set with broken ribs and rolls up The Champazon on the biggest stage of them all. Now, credit where it’s due – I really like Maria Menounos; she seems really nice, she genuinely likes wrestling, and she’s actually at least as good as some of the divas currently employed, even selling her ribs rather well. She’s also really pretty, so strictly-speaking, she belongs in a WrestleMania divas match, but it was still unnerving. It again shows the state of the division that showing the strength of the celebrity comes before getting the champion over. Menounos gets her moment if she pins Eve or if Kelly Kelly pins either (Kelly being a former champ), but to have Menounos pin Beth clean was the worst outcome for the champion and the championship. Not only that, but it was pointed out to me that Beth and Eve came out to Eve’s music and not the champion Beth’s! Our dominant divas champion was literally the least important competitor in that match, and that makes it a travesty. It was fun, and seeing Menounos in a WWE ring is a boon, but these plusses are only momentary; the continued death of women’s wrestling on WWE is chronic. Please, please let us have Beth, Kharma and Nattie (or a combination thereof) work together in the near future! It’s desperately needed!

Match 5) The Undertaker def. Triple H in a Hell in a Cell Match with Special Guest Referee Shawn Michaels to Bring his WrestleMania Streak to 20-0
“Don’t worry, ‘The Streak’ always makes for a good match. It has to.” I said to best friend and Mania watching-mate Luke Healey before this match began. This was said because the build to this match had grown a little tiresome and staid in the weeks running up to WrestleMania, leading to it not being quite as anticipated by us as perhaps it should have been. Indeed, this match deserved all our attention, becoming as it did, an instant classic of wrestling, theatre and emotion. Not only that, but it will be instantly added to my list of nominees for 2012 Match of the Year, just as it’s predecessor was last year. HHH’s entrance was as grandiosely medieval as ever, and Undertaker’s was the same as always, never having to change to remain the most eerie, thrilling entrance in history. The only change, in fact, was Undertaker’s hair. Many knew he had shaved off his iconic jet black long hair, but I worried that this would make Taker look more elderly and vulnerable than phenom; boy was I wrong as, if anything, it made him look more threatening than ever, and provided a necessary alteration to the character that was needed to prefigure what would happen in the match. Indeed this, more than any other match I have seen, was incredibly self-referential in regards to their history and especially their WrestleMania match last year. No more was this more apparent, perhaps, than with the inclusion of the Hell in a Cell structure. Usually, this structure is intended to be used as a prop in an ultra-violent match, with people being thrown in to, off of, and through the walls and roof of the cell, all while providing a rather uneasy, ominous atmosphere to do it all in. The atmosphere was sure there in this match, but aside from a move or two, the cell played no part in the match; it was almost irrelevent to the physical match. It wasn’t, however, irrelevant. Instead, the cell was used as a scene-setting prop that helped ground the occasion as the end of an era that it is symbolic of. The cell was created for The Undertaker, and he has had numerous amazing, iconic, and important moments in it, while Triple H has become almost equally connected to the cell, being extremely successful in matches involving it. As the announcers pointed out, before this Sunday there had been 24 cell matches, with only 6 of them not featuring either Undertaker or HHH. Another piece of trivia: between them, Undertaker and Triple H have won 11 of the 24 matches. They own this match, and it is only right that the end of their era featured the cell. Not only all that, but as I said, the cell brings with it an ominous atmosphere; an atmosphere perfect for the constant, knife-edge jeopardy of ‘The Streak’.

The match itself started normally enough, with the two brawling in the ring, and a little outside with the cell, but it was notable that at this stage, Undertaker was in control, having his way with HHH and reasserting, crucially, his dominance after being humbled last year including using Old Skool, a move associated with the best of the Undertaker. The scene shifted though when Trips managed to reverse Taker in to a spinebuster on to the steel steps; a sickening bump made more sickening by the way Taker cracked his head on the steps. Following this, we went in to an almost hold for hold reply of segments from their match last year. With Taker down on the steps, Triple H approached him only to find himself caught in a Hell’s Gate. Last year, Triple H was supposed to pick Taker up and powerbomb him, but couldn’t due to exhaustion. This year, with a fresher Hunter and the boost of the steps, he managed the maneuver to finally take control of the match, and when he did, the scenes were eerily similar to last year. Triple H taking the opportunity to beat Taker down to a pulp, doing so with numerous, sickening times, leaving horrific welts on the Deadman’s body and a cut to his face. This was where Shawn Michaels came in. Up until now he had been simply fulfilling his duties, but Michaels is known for his incredibly earnest human emotion and conscience. Indeed, it is this trait which canonically contributed to him not being able to beat Taker on two separate occasions, and not one that his best friend shares. With Trips mercilessly pummeling Taker, Shawn was begging him to stop, and remarkably, Triple H was asking him to ring the bell: “You end it.” And indeed, HBK had the power to, and really looked like he may do it. The tension was unbelievable, Michaels was downright unstable, and somehow, someway, I was convinced, again, that The Streak could be in jeopardy. This was perhaps the best theatre WWE and wrestling has ever produced, and again, Shawn Michaels was stealing the show. HHH was telling Shawn to end it, Taker was telling him not to, and Shawn was conflicted between honour, compassion, and loyalty, and it was amazing. HHH then took it to the next level. He had seemingly learned from last year when even a glimmer of hesitation cost him the match, and this time he took no time in nailing Taker in the head with the sledgehammer. Even that couldn’t keep Taker down, so he moved to crush his head with a straight down-swing to Taker’s head, a motion which led to a gasp from the fans, genuine fear in JR and the announcer’s voices, and a thankful intervention from HBK. With things escalating, it looks like Shawn’s about to genuinely end it, leaving a somehow supernaturally Taker with no choice but to incapacitate him with a Hell’s Gate. HHH broke it up, but only ended up in the move himself. At this point, the callbacks continued as the finish of last year’s match was replayed. With HHH in the Hell’s Gate, he was reaching for his sledgehammer, but unable to get it, and looked like he might tap. From here, Taker regained the momentum, but couldn’t put HHH away with either a Chokeslam or a Tombstone Piledriver as the tension and drama only grew! Indeed, in the best near fall of the match, a conflicted Shawn Michaels  Sweet Chin Music’d Taker straight in to a Pedigree before counting him, but only for a two! Shawn looked shocked, at Taker kicking out, and at his own actions. Amazing storytelling. With both men spent, HHH tried to pick up the sledgehammer, but Taker stood on it to stop him, and this time, Taker was the one dishing out hard chair shots. Again, they started echoing last year’s match, but this time, with Taker in complete control, and HHH a spent, almost pathetic force. Like when HHH simply refused Taker Chokeslamming him last year, Taker simply refused HHH’s sledgehammer shot, catching it, shaking his head, and knocking him away. Now like Shawn at WrestleMania 26, HHH gave Taker one last sign of defiance, a crotch chop for him, which led to Taker nailing him with the sledgehammer before Tombstoning him decisively for the win, finally, counted by Shawn.

Unlike last year, Undertaker was the one standing as his record flashed up on the stage brandishing his remarkable 20-0 record. Taker looked emotional, and despite what has been speculated, it really felt like an ‘end’ for him, and for HHH too, just as it already is for HBK. These three men, so indelibly linked in their recent careers and in their generation, finally stood on the ramp together, looking back at the ring after Shawn and Taker had tenderly helped HHH up the ramp. Truly, this felt like the closing shot to an era. About that, we’ll see, but don’t you ever tell me wrestling isn’t real; this match is one of the realest things i’ve ever seen, and certainly some of the best art i’ve ever seen. A 5-star in anyone’s book.

Match 6) Team Johnny (The Miz, David Otunga, Mark Henry, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger & Drew McIntyre) def. Team Teddy (Zack Ryder, Santino Marella, R-Truth, Kofi Kingston, The Great Khali & Booker T) to Win Control of Both RAW and Smackdown
Well, after that mammoth write up for Taker-Trips, i’m going to take it easier with this match, partly because this match effectively did what it’s job was, a nice palette-cleanser following the intense Cell match, preparing us for the WWE Championship match. This was a really fun match and exactly what we needed. Dolph and Drew stood out to me, bumping around like masters and really selling the atmosphere of the match and making it exciting. After lots of trading of big moves, including a double plancha from Kofi and Ryder. Finally, Ryder was left in the ring with Ziggler. He fist pumped signalling the Broski Boot, it was his WrestleMania moment with Eve by his side. Unfortunately, this distracted Zack and he ended up taking a gorgeous Skull Crushing Finalé from The Miz to pick up the loss and hand all the power to John Laurinaitis. Obviously this was a great moment for Miz, and I see things only getting better for him (again, wait for my RAW write up), especially given the potential for Big Johnny to favour him following him taking him to victory. Meanwhile, Zack Ryder was a picture of defeat, especially when Eve kicked him in the grapefruits! Not to worry though, Ryder got his big Mania moment and will gain sympathy for how Eve has treated him (though the ‘hoeski’ chants were a little off – if you kick a man in the ballski’s, it doesn’t make you sexually promiscuous!) As for Eve, she’ll get more heat because of it, which will help her too. Everyone a winner!

Match 7) CM Punk def. Chris Jericho to Retain the WWE Championship
And so CM Punk has done it, he’s won the WWE Championship match in the main event of every one of the ‘Big 4’ PPV’s in the PPV calendar. I believe the only man to do that previously was … John Cena. Punk is certainly being positioned for that level of ‘guy’, and WrestleMania just showed again why he deserved it. There was a lot of talk of this match being akin to Savage/Steamboat, and indeed, it was. I wont actually compare the two separate matches, but they certainly had the same role at their respective WrestleManias, and they certainly were both fantastic matches. There was one problem with this match, and it was the recycled ‘if you get DQ’d, you lose your title’ stip added five seconds before. I realise it was to sell Punk’s absolute fury with Jericho and to add another layer of tension to the match, but it didn’t really pull that feeling off. The selling point of this specific match was that two of the best wrestlers ever were going to wrestle. Compared again to Savage/Steamboat, there was no DQ and you lose the Intercontinental Title to Steamboat at WrestleMania 3, and that was good because it kept the match a simple story of wrestling. Punk-Jericho could’ve done with that, and if i’m being overly-criticial, I would have liked them to have saved the entire ‘You’re a drunk’ stuff for after WrestleMania and kept this match pure, as it were. So while the first five minutes or so of this match was good, and told an interesting story about Jericho goading Punk and Punk controlling himself, it was only after that first portion that the match became great; and boy, was it great! In fact, i’ve said in the past that it doesn’t really make sense for two matches from the same show to be in Match of the Year contention, but after this event, I feel I have to ignore that this time. Yes, this will be the second match from WrestleMania 28 that will make the list of nominees for 2012 Match of the Year.

Once Punk dropped that chair, this match became 5-star worthy. Because of the sheer involvement of the moves, and the amount of time I spent writing about HHH-Taker, but mostly because in a pure wrestling match like this, writing about it doesn’t really do it justice, and so I wont be going over it hold for hold. Early on came a sickening sacrificial spot where Jericho hit the rarely seen actually-achieved suplex from the ring to the floor, the start of one of the sub-stories of the match – Jericho destroying Punk’s back throughout. We then entered an amazing section of hold and counter-hold, mostly seemingly improvised, punctuated by well-timed and dramatic near-falls. Each man also hit their most powerful moves, the GTS and the Codebreaker, but were unable to capitalise, but because of each man’s ingenuity and skill, rather than their own lack of luck or skill; after Punk hit the GTS, Jericho escaped losing because he was able to grab the rope while Punk was able to escape a pinfall after a Codebreaker because he managed to use the momentum from the move to take him out of the ring and out of harm’s way from pins. One of the greatest moments of the match came shortly after when Punk had Jericho sitting on the turnbuckle, and went for a Frankensteiner, only for Jericho to catch him, step off the ropes, and lock him in the Walls of Jericho to which Punk responded by showing a true champion’s grit and determination by slowly crawling to the safety of the ropes. Having escaped, thrown Jericho out, and hit a suicide dive, Punk then proceeded to hit a sickening version of his running knee, using it to smash Jericho’s head in to the ringpost. Indeed, for all the technical charm of this match, it was punctuated by appropriate brutality like this which made it stand out for other reasons. While earlier, both guys were allowed to escape the other’s finisher through ingenuity, Punk was about to be able to kick out of Kericho’s finisher, not to make Jericho look bad, but to make Punk look great, which he certainly did after springboarding towards Jericho only to be caught by a SuperCodebreaker, which Punk again kicked out of for a great near-fall. Soon after, we entered in to the final exchange of the match, and it was brilliant in terms of wrestling and storytelling. After a slightly presumptive shout of ‘Best in the World! from Punk (he don’t wear no white hat), Jericho reversed an attempted GTS into another Walls of Jericho (Liontamer version), and from here on in, the two were constantly connected in a chain of wrestling leading to the eventual finish of the match. After clawing towards the ropes and being pulled back, Punk rolled through between Jericho’s legs and traded small cradle attempts before Punk eventually managed to lock in the Anaconda Vice. Jericho rolled for another pin, but when unsuccessful, had to escape by kneeing Punk in the head – a really intuitive and good reversal to the move. Having weakened Punk, he rolled through going for the Walls of Jericho again, but Punk fought him off with kicks from his free leg before re-locking Jericho in the Vice. Jericho tried the same knees to Punk escape, but Punk was wise to it, and showing logical storytelling, shifted himself up Jericho’s body and out of reach of his knees. With Punk’s weight on him, and no way out, Jericho was forced to tap to hand Punk a famous and impressive match to be proud of (though Jericho of course should also be proud). The match started out well and grew phenomenally to the crescendo of a submission; the right way to finish a match about who the best wrestler in the world is, and you know what? Maybe Punk is exactly that.

FUNKASAURUS AND HIS MOMMA’S BRIDGE CLUB
I loved this, and am surprised to see the level of dissatisfaction with it. Funkasaurus is great, and fun, and is outrageously camp enough to warrant a place at WrestleMania. I didn’t want to see him job out Heath Slater, not at WrestleMania, I wanted Funkaspectacle, and that is what we were given. It also served it’s purpose; after an intense, 25 minute technical wrestling match, we needed another palette cleanser for the main event. This was it, and it was funny, so thanks.

Match 8) The Rock def. John Cena
Undertaker-HHH was about tension, history, and drama; Punk-Jericho was about breathtaking wrestling; and Rock-Cena was about two people from (slightly) different times who represent different things and don’t like each other. In some ways, this match wasn’t about what these guys did to each other, it was just about seeing them face off. The holds didn’t mean much. In fact, the biggest wrestling story came early on as the two locked up, finally visualising what their whole feud is, and reaching deadlock. This isn’t to play down the excitement of the match. While no Punk/Jericho, the wrestling was pretty good, and the match as a whole was great. What I mean by that is the atmosphere (embellishing the build and story of course) made this match great, and instantly iconic. Some of the ‘greatest’ matches in WWE history (Hulk/Andre, Rock/Hogan, for instance) weren’t good technical matches. This was better than those matches technically, and, I think, managed to match those two in stature. And like in a lot of these matches, it soon became something of a signature fest early on, with Rock and Cena kicking out of AAs and Rock Bottoms seemingly all over the place. As flippant as that sounds, the occasion made every single one dramatic, even if some where more believable than others. One criticism would be that both men’s submissions (the Sharpshooter and STF) were executed rather poorly, making those moments less believable. Nonetheless, as time ran, the tension was building. The finish to the match was very considered and very good. We should have known something was up when Rock climbed the turnbuckle. He leaped at Cena for a cross-body, but Cena rolled through and in a legitimately impressive feat, picked up the jacked People’s Champ and hit a big AA. A lot of people would have predicted the match over, including me, but it wasn’t. Cena got complacent, visibly so, wanting to make a statement to The Rock. This is uncharacteristic of Cena, but it fits him situationally after over a year of build between the two, and wanting to get one over on Rocky, Cena set up to finish him with his own People’s Elbow. But smirking, complacent Cena (representing what a lot of people dislike about him!) ran in to a Rock Bottom from the Rock, which, this time, saw him go down for three.

Now at the time, I had no problem with this; it was a great spectacle, and I knew it was just delaying Cena’s eventual overcoming of The Rock. I still feel that way, but i’m worried. I’m worried about how Brock Lesnar may ruin it all, but more on that in my RAW post too. If Cena does eventually overcome The Rock – which surely he must – then this match is justified as a classic to cement The Rock even further, but if he doesn’t, it shows a shocking disregard for Cena and the future of the WWE as it is pointless glorification of a man who doesn’t even work here being favoured to the guys who hold the future in their grapplin’ hands. We will see. But being confident that Cena will at least get to beat Rock clean (its only fair!), I would like to say I hope you guys enjoyed WrestleMania like I did. Of course, like any wrestling show, it wasn’t perfect, but as a spectacle, it was as sublime as we could want, and the three marquee matches were all classics while fulfilling their very unique briefs.

Plug!: Follow me @RTVWOW. I try to be entertaining and give quality commentary on wrestling, so if you like this, you’ll like that!