Monsters in Pro-wrestling: Cult Success and B-movie Awkwardness

Bray Wyatt after scalping the Monster Kane last year, credit: http://www.wrestlingrumors.net/update-bray-wyatts-injury-status/13010/

Bray Wyatt after scalping the Monster Kane last year, credit: http://www.wrestlingrumors.net/update-bray-wyatts-injury-status/13010/

2014’s Extreme Rules PPV and the RAW following it have suffered a great deal of criticism in relation to two separate monstrous characters: Bray Wyatt and Kane. In Wyatt’s case, the criticism wasn’t directed at the almost universally lauded Wyatt specifically, but the booking of his cage match with John Cena which saw Wyatt win, but only after a great deal of help from his two regular followers, Harper and Rowan, and an extra follower, a child singing Bray’s ‘Whole World’ refrain with a demonic voice. In Kane’s case, there has been criticism of his presentation being hokey during his feud with new(ish) WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Bryan; indeed I have heard two separate comparisons between Kane on RAW and the popcorn horror film, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’. It may seem crazy to describe Wyatt as a ‘realistic’ character here, but that’s precisely what i’m going to do in comparison to Kane while hoping to rebuff criticism of Wyatt and his Extreme Rules match.

Bray Wyatt defeated John Cena at Extreme Rules. That alone is a fantastic boost for Wyatt as a character and potential ‘main eventer’, but for many it was tainted by the fact that Cena was clearly the stronger fighter in the match, only losing because his attempts were repeatedly scuppered by Wyatt followers. The problem with that is that it relies on a ‘textbook’ approach to wrestling where ‘looking strong’ is all that matters for key wrestlers, and where all wrestlers have the same background, skills, and motivations as each other. Bray Wyatt is scary, and his over the top performance of offense is very unique and fitting of his maniacal character; so I certainly don’t believe Wyatt is being depicted as someone who can’t beat anyone, but Bray Wyatt is a wrestler who – and I think this is deliberate – has a degree of physical vulnerability, but gets a lot of his power from how he presents himself. In short, he is the perfect depiction of a cult leader: an ordinary man who gains power through charisma and brainwashing. Bray Wyatt has been one of my favourite wrestlers and characters since his start on NXT, and he is becoming the most realistically-drawn character in WWE today, and perhaps the problem is that realism isn’t always the first concern in pro-wrestling matches.

To apply this to Wyatt’s cage match with Cena, it was a great example of how a cultish can use his ‘powers’ to overcome a stronger opponent. Wyatt as a wrestler could beat lots of wrestlers on his own; he isn’t some helpless jobber, but remember, he was facing the most unbeatable wrestler in at least ten years in John Cena, and that was something Wyatt could never achieve on his own. Thankfully, that is perfect for him. The key here is that Wyatt is not special in any tangiable way – he is not a ‘demon’ or impervious to pain, but he has the incredible ability to make people believe he is, and gain followers through his somewhat-sensical but warped view of the world and it’s heroes. It is this power that allows him to engender help from a pair of scary country-hosses who are mentally incapable of rejecting Wyatt’s ‘truth’, to scare ‘normal’ people like John Cena and make him question himself, and ultimately makes him capable of beating anyone, half with his physical skills, and topped up by dominating the mind of his opponent. I don’t mean he uses ‘mind control’, I mean he psychologically dominates them with his charismatic, earnest, melodic delivery; it puts whoever he is facing at a disadvantage, and even more so when the ring is surrounded by ‘followers’ who will do anything for him, so brainwashed are they.

Cena confronted by a brainwashed Wyatt-follower, credit: http://www.wwelivetv.com/extreme-rules

Cena confronted by a brainwashed Wyatt-follower, credit: http://www.wwelivetv.com/extreme-rules

Even when looked at as a fraud, this idea of Wyatt seems crazy, but then again, it is a lot easier to suspend that disbelief as soon as you type “Jim Jones” or “David Koresh” in to Wikipedia. That is what makes Wyatt so great, and so genuinely scary because, though rare, this sort of devotion, and abuse of that devotion is possible, with Wyatt playing up to it so convincingly that people genuinely worry for him as a human being away from the ring. While the match with Cena at Extreme Rules was probably a little overbooked, and maybe taken a little too far with the sheer amount of interference and the Wyatt’s ending up in the cage etc, I think the general idea at play was perfect. Man-on-man, Cena would always beat a non-cultist Wyatt every time, because Cena would beat most other wrestlers every time, or nearly every time. But for a cultist Bray, he would use the interference of his dedicated followers, and his psychological abuse of Cena through a genuinely scary brainwashed child to help him beat ‘The Franchise’ at all costs; and then use that victory to reaffirm his power. This is a perfect way to present such a different, unique talent, and I hope it continues like this for a long, long time.

One area I agree with a lot of criticism recently is to do with how Kane has been presented. It wasn’t so much his match with Daniel Bryan at Extreme Rules that bothered me, but the follow-up the next night on RAW. Where Wyatt is all talk, so to speak, Kane is, in kayfabe, a genuine fire-throwing monster. Now don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed the supernatural logic behind the Brothers of Destruction in the past – silly as it really is, both Kane and Undertaker have in the past been great at playing supernatural beings/monsters within a wrestling context and within some defined internal logic; the problem here was the presentation. While I feel the supernatural characters I was just discussing have maybe reached a shelf-life (for now at least), I would be ok with it if it was within the same wrestling context and logic they have always lived within, but in Kane’s case on RAW, they moved outside of that. As I mentioned, I have heard more than one flippant comparison to ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ in relation to this presentation, and it’s not inaccurate either. Kane has had these powers for most of his careers, but it has all taken part in the context of a wrestling ring/arena and has had a lot of power by being shot in the same way as the rest of the show (backstage segments, pyro from the ring/stage as if he controls it, etc), but this past Monday, it became this movie-like presentation, with reverse angles and a universe outside of the arena. Wrestling always requires some suspension of disbelief (blood feuds being solved with formal wrestling matches, only ever doing anything on Mondays in agreed upon arenas, etc), but we accept that as long as everything makes sense in context as the rest of the show. The Kane segments ripped that apart because while Bryan and Brie Bella showed up to the arena because that’s just what happens, they immediately wanted to get out of there, and their escape was suddenly filmed like a milktoast horror movie. From the ‘car troubles’ to the in-car reverse angles of the action, it felt different, a splice of pro-wrestling and horror movie, and it became almost nauseatingly awkward as a result.

A mystery camera films Brie and Daniel as the prepare to flee the arena. Credit: http://uk.ign.com/articles/2014/05/06/wrestling-wrap-up-demon-kane-stalks-bryan-and-brie

A mystery camera films Brie and Daniel as the prepare to flee the arena. Credit: http://uk.ign.com/articles/2014/05/06/wrestling-wrap-up-demon-kane-stalks-bryan-and-brie

While I find Wade Keller of the pro-wrestling torch a frequent indulger in pessimism and narrow-mindedness, he made a very good point about it on this week’s pro-wrestling torch – this would have worked so much better if it would have been in a pro-wrestling context, for instance, Renee Young interviews Bryan and Brie backstage when Kane appears to menace them with Bryan and Brie reacting in whatever way you want them too and have a backstage fight/chase. Just by doing that, it fits in to the wrestling context and logic; instead we got a not terribly threatening ‘monster’ falling off a car before it cuts to him sat lying perfectly flat on the floor and sitting up like Michael Myers or something. None of it rang true, and therefore, none of it rang scary. No doubt Bryan will show up again next week, and so will Brie, and they’ll both be terrified again.

Speaking of which, why is out new HERO BABYFACE WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION running away from a threat!? If you buy the somewhat patronising angle that he’s ‘protecting his wife’, then he should have told Brie to get out of there while he deals with Kane. Instead, Bryan looked as scared of Kane as Brie despite beating him the night before. What are we to think of Bryan now? The tenacious undersized peoples champion we’ve loved for years is running away from an obstacle! He’s coming across as cowardly and a bit stupid thanks to this, and I think we should all heed Mick Foley’s twitter warning that this is starting to seem like the Zack Ryder angle which turned him from Internet and US Champion, to well, essentially nothing important. Bryan is much much better than Ryder, will wrestle better matches with Kane, and will move on successfully, but I just worry this will effect his longevity as a top hero, and I hope the Yessing never ends, despite this nonsense.

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Royal Rumble 2014: Will We Ever Get Our Yes-gasm?

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Batista pointing at the WrestleMania sign, the traditional celebration of Royal Rumble winners. I’d have had a picture of Daniel Bryan, but he wasn’t in the match. Credit: wwe.com

Last night saw the 2014 edition of WWE’s staple PPV attraction, the Royal Rumble, and I, like many of you, watched along with excited interest as the Royal Rumble match routinely makes giddy children out of the most hardened and cynical wrestling fan. The enthusiasm was even-more apparent in Pittsburgh where it seemed clear that unacknowledged People’s Champion, Daniel Bryan, was on his way to a career-defining moment. That was until the mood changed; in the space of about 5-10 minutes in the mid-late twenties of entrants to the match the atmosphere soured more palpably against ‘the product’ than I may have ever seen before in wrestling, as it became clear that Bryan wouldn’t be in the Rumble, wouldn’t have his moment, and neither would we, the fans.

I, and seemingly most of my fellow fans who I respect greatly, couldn’t have been more disappointed as we saw a returning Batista sucking air, celebrating his Royal Rumble victory and his guaranteed title match at WrestleMania. That being said, and because it will get lost in the rest of what I have to say, I feel it is important to paint some context and some other points that could be lost in the instant revisionism surrounding the event. For instance, I think it is important to note that WWE never advertised Bryan for the Rumble, and though we took cues from his first match to deduct that he would take part, there could be a case for saying part of our contempt was based on us fantasy-booking. That is not to exonerate WWE though, because I would add that this wasn’t just fantasy booking – something felt like it was building, and WWE helped facilitate that. Otherwise, there were high-notes, like the fact that Roman Reigns deservedly continues to be treated like a future WWE Champion, Kane’s 13-year record for eliminations in a match and looking more and more like a ‘star’. It wasn’t perfect, and I think it got lost in the Bryan-fog somewhat (initially, waiting for Bryan’s entrance, and then furiously realizing he wasn’t coming), robbing it of some impact, but the fact that the raucous Pittsburgh crowd chose to latch on to him as their vehicle for protest against Batista rather than, say, a returning Sheamus, bodes very well for his babyface future. Secondly, and most importantly for the rest of the article, it must not be forgotten that the opening match of Bryan vs Bray Wyatt was absolutely incredible, and instant classic – and by that I don’t even men a match you realize is a classic once the decision has been announced, I mean the sort of halcyon classic where you realize just how great it is as it’s happening. Both men gave the best of their respective selves to that match: Bryan, the self-sacrificing house of fire was delivering moves like he was genuinely trying to destroy Wyatt for good, leaving Bray bloodied and battered; and Bray posting his greatest in-ring performance of his young career, being Bray Wyatt down to every inch of his skin, somehow making his motions even more explosive and creepy, putting an extra eccentric power behind every move and settling any arguments about whether he can live up to his literally awesome gimmick. To have all that, and then to have it finish as shockingly as it did, with a hellacious Sister Abigail on to a guard-rail followed by a bullet point second Sister Abigail in the ring for the three just worked perfectly. Twitter’s foremost corgi-obsessed wrestling authority, Thomas Holzermann (@tholzermann) called it the best non-Rumble match the PPV has ever produced, and while there are a lot of matches I love from Rumbles past, including most memorably, Cactus Jack vs Triple H from 2000, this match is certainly right up there and possibly even surpassed it.

Tellingly, he also tweeted, as soon as Wyatt’s hand was raised, that Daniel Bryan was confirmed to win the Rumble; it was a view shared by me, and seemingly a lot of everyone else watching judging by the reactions of those watching both live and on twitter. Here is what seemed to e hiding in plain sight: having lost a match at the very start of the card, Bryan, who had taken a lot of abuse to his head in the aftermath of suffering a concussion, would reappear in the Rumble to power through it all and fulfill his destiny by winning the Rumble and guaranteeing himself the WrestleMania moment he deserves and that has been denied him ever since his abrupt loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania 28 which catalyzed a protest wave of ‘Yessing’. It seemed like he was on a course, indeed, similar to Bret Hart in 1994 where he overcame a leg injury inflicted by his brother Owen in the opening match to go on and co-win the Rumble to end the night. As predictable as it seemed, it was the exact model that seemed to fit Bryan and his story perfectly, and so the one everyone started to imagine and desire the fulfillment of. Bryan losing clean as a sheet was ok, because it was part of this larger narrative, and while the negative connotations of a loss for Bryan would be forgotten in the glow of Bryan pointing at the firework-ridden WrestleMania sign, for Bray Wyatt, he would have a huge victory to hang his fedora on and grow, much like Owen was able to after beating Bret in 1994. It is truly perfect booking in that it flatters and raises everyone involved, at least when it is seen through.

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Bryan’s not winning AND we’re not going to the lake, are we? This is legitimately how Bryan not winning felt to me. Credit: Uproxx.com

Unfortunately, as numbers 27-30 entered the Rumble match, and I started deducting the number of people I knew were yet to enter, plus Bryan, from the remaining spots, and the numbers stopped adding up, that dream dissolved in front of me, and everyone else begging for a Bryan win. I’ve genuinely never heard anything quite like it – I’ve heard jokey chants, sarcastic chants, ‘end this match’ chants, but never blanket, frustrated boos at the product. Sheamus, who returned to a deservedly big pop, and REY MYSTERIO who, while being kinda milquetoast at times, is universally beloved, both got booed – there were even boos during the 619! It was truly surreal. Everyone had bought in to the first half of the narrative – Bryan being beaten and injured, and while waiting for the culmination of that and a Bryan win, instead saw Batista, who was returning after years of absence, out of shape and blown up, coming in to sight as the increasingly clear winner. It was enthusiasm for Bryan mixed with sheer disappointment at being given more of the same, and essentially told, as Batista said, to ‘deal with it’.

There are already a lot of angles being taken with this; all are very valid, and most represent great dissatisfaction. The first response is just anger and disbelief that while we witness a genuine phenomenon of organic, white hot support for Bryan that we want to ride in to the future of wrestling, the ‘powers that be’ both in kayfabe and in real life are continuing to support a status quo of prototype stars like Orton, Cena (and Batista, for that matter) that is starting to outlive it’s use, at least as the only answer to the question ‘what is a top star like?’ and denying what is plainly the truth – that while those stars will always have a place, the fans want something, and someone, new. The infinitely likeable, charismatic, and talented Bryan represents this new desire of the fans just like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Stone Cold Steve Austin have in the past, and yet the top brass seem to be not just ignoring this, but arrogantly asserting their righteousness by frustrating their own fans – the ‘Universe’ who they claim to serve above all else – with enforced reassertions of their former chosen stars – Cena, Orton, Rock, HHH, and now Batista. This is nothing new; the ‘Summer of Punk’ was the first outbreak of this fan-led protest as we saw Punk speak the minds of the fans, frustrated at the old status quo in what was, in retrospect, absurdly supposed to be a heel-like offering, but turned in to a rallying point for fans who wanted to see the passion, skill, and different style of Punk and his like prevail. Of course, Punk was only allowed so much slack by WWE before being given a placating 434 day Championship reign ended by who else but The Rock exactly a year ago today. Punk represented a lot of what Bryan represents now, and though they are not exactly the same (Punk is less likeable than Bryan, but more edgy; and slightly below Bryan’s in-ring standard, but above him in terms of mic work), they have both become the representations of the genuine fan support, as well as, conversely, fan frustration.

What is worse is that this isn’t simply a choice between one path that works against another, it’s a choice between what is hot and sustainable being passed over for a status quo which achieves short-term ratings and the odd buyrate, and could also cripple the future of the business. What happens when there are no more workable Cena’s, Orton’s Batista’s etc and only wrestlers we have been conditioned to see as secondary and less important? It is a dogmatic choice which flies in the face of not only profit, but sense, and the desire of their fans, all to protect the out-moded beliefs of the family which happen to hold the destiny of wrestling in their hands. They know people will keep watching because they are the only real game in town for most viewers (and indy fans who love wrestling and not just the WWE will keep watching because it represents something important to wrestling, and, it must be said, often features great wrestling). The fact that this is all so seemingly obvious and that we are being refused it is incredibly frustrating; all WWE need to do is pull the trigger on this, on Bryan, and watch a new and exciting era begin, but every time it seems like they might, something happens to make it seem that they just wont, and its so frustrating. I came up with the term ‘Yes-gasm’ as a jokey way to explain what its like to witness an audience connect so strongly with Bryan and the Yesses, but I think there may be something unconsciously accurate about it. It may seem crazy to compare what I’m about to speak about to an orgasm (it probably is), but there is definitely something to it. While there have been many instances of mass Yessing, they have mostly been in protest form, going back to the initial incarnation at WrestleMania 28. Since then we have been waiting for Bryan to finally make it as Champion, but we have always been frustrated by the booking of Bryan, and we have been waiting nearly two years for that relief, that release of being able to Yes enthusiastically in celebration without just waiting for the interruption that will frustrate us. Perhaps WWE are just teasing us to make the eventual Yes-gasm even more powerful (because that is indeed how it works, ladies and gentlemen). It gives WWE a lot of credit, and that is the angle i’ll discuss next.

After the shock and fury comes the attempts to understand and justify what might be happening. We have been subject to the usual ‘wait and see’ responses where people verbalise their hope that this is going somewhere and to wait and see what happens on RAW. As a wrestling lifer, I have taken this position many times in the past only to be disappointed, but maybe for the reasons I have outlined above, I am more unwilling to take that stance this time. Some of the theories I have seen suggested are that Batista is playing a heel, and WWE are deliberately frustrating us, not for their own dogma, but because they understand the fans, what Batista represents, and that the longer they frustrate us, the bigger the pop will be when Bryan finally goes over. In a vacuum, that makes sense, but then we have to ask ourselves why Batista is currently due to face top heel, Randy Orton at WrestleMania. A face vs face man event can work as we have seen with both Hogan-Rock and Rock-Cena, but heel vs heel doesn’t work, at least as a main event because people can’t get as invested in a match where they are at best forced to support someone by circumstance. The answer to that is that either Bryan could win the main event privilege from Batista, or the WWE World Championship from Orton, at Elimination Chamber. Again, that in  vaccum makes sense until you consider what exactly a Bryan victory would be working towards – a moment, perhaps and era-defining moment, and it starts to fall apart. Him winning the title in the Chamber is the easiest to disregard because the moment is greatly diminished by hot-shotting it before WrestleMania and potentially in an environment where fortune plays a role. Now, while Bryan having to overcome another challenge in Batista on his way to WrestleMania is Romantic, they already had an even more satisfying option on the table in having an injured Bryan go on to win the Rumble which is, after all, their second-biggest and most important PPV of the year, and so more powerful than beating one man – even if it is Batista – at Elimination Chamber. This doesn’t mean this, or a three-way between Orton, Bryan, and Batista won’t happen, but if it does, it will be because they have been given no choice by the fans, who will tempted to Yes-protest WrestleMania unless they get what they want. I don’t think any of this will happen though – while the Rumble should be a major wake up call, the signs have been there for a long time. From his WWE Championship win and Authority screwjob right up until now, it has been clear that the fans will only really happily accept Bryan at the spotlight guy, at least at this year’s WrestleMania. Watch this video for instance, which gave so many people ecstatic chills, and watch a man who has an audience in the palm of his hand, watch what is clearly the hottest act in the business:

That was two weeks ago. If the WWE were all willing to change their plans for what was clearly the right booking decision, they would have changed their booking and had the man in that video win the Rumble. That is why I have no faith that we’ll get anything other than Orton vs Batista at WrestleMania. In WWE’s mind, that will further solidify who their ‘A’ stars in their own logic and in the mean time, both Bryan and Punk, as well as others with similar plights will never be in that last match main event, will never be the guy. We will be told that Batista-Orton is one of the biggest matchups in WrestleMania history just as we were told that Orton-Cena was one of the most anticipated rematches ever, and though Cena-Orton was better than the audience treated it, and though Orton-Batista will be fine, the assertion will be just as absurd. As esteemed tweeter and author of The History of Professional Wrestling books, Graham Cawthon (@TheHistoryofWWE) tweeted astutely, WWE believes in their canon so much that they ignore monster reactions for Bryan and Punk, and then present them as secondary to the apathy and rejection of matches like Orton vs Cena, and with a straight face, insist that they are the important attractions.

In this environment then, can we ever get our Yes-gasm? The answer is probably, yes, but never at a WrestleMania. With attitudes the way they are, people like Bryan will never be given that stage even if they deserve it, and even if it may be ‘Best for Business’. He could get the title again, and have a proper reign at, say, Over the Limit, or whatever PPV comes after the Orton-Batista blowoff, but by then, who is to say the momentum will be the same? This is the preverbial boat, and it is being missed. Ultimately though, this wont affect WWE’s business. To sound – justly – negative, while the more ‘casual viewer’ cares for Bryan an awful lot, they are just happy to see him most of the time, and for the there are very few fans who care about wrestlers futures and general righteousness beyond that, to the degree outlined above who would ultimately turn away from wrestling; it’s a cruel mistress at times, but it is a mistress nonetheless. So sound – justly – positive, the emotion we feel for Bryan is valuable, and with our support he will be a very big star, part of the ridiculous wrestling world we love so much, and that so often loves us back in the form of matches like Bryan vs Wyatt. Like RAW tonight where we will tune in to see how WWE will try and get out of this mess, if they try at all; it will always be there, and we will always be watching.

Homosexual Anxiety – Aint Nobody Got Time For That!

Darren Young in out-dated Nexus garb to back up a reference later in the article, credit, fanpop.com

Darren Young in out-dated Nexus garb to back up a reference later in the article, credit, fanpop.com

Three months ago, NBA star Jason Collins came out of the closet and publicly stated his homosexuality. As an active and high profile professional athlete, his announcement created a stir; unfortunately that was because there is still a stigma surrounding homosexuality in sports. I called the article ‘Unforgivable Gayness’ (which can be found here: https://rtvwrestling.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/unforgivable-gayness/) because despite the support Collins got for the most part, it was strongly tempered with cynicism and homophobia from casual fans.

Happily, that atmosphere isn’t the backdrop to this article, which is born of the news that current WWE ‘Superstar’ and one half of the Prime Time Players, Darren Young, himself came out as homosexual. While many fans will tell you otherwise, professional wrestling is not a sport; it is seen, however, to suffer from the same stigma as legitimate sports both in parts of its fanbase, and professionally as relates to homosexuality. In a climate where tradition and respect are so highly valued by wrestlers, it has never extended fully to homosexuals in the locker-room where there has been, at best, a don’t ask-don’t tell policy – an atmosphere that may have contributed to the untimely passing of Chris Kanyon. Pat Patterson is trotted out as a token gay wrestler who has demands a lot of respect and influence, but it must also be said that as an active wrestler, he didn’t allude to his sexual orientation (which, too, is quite alright. More on that later). And while WWE has worked to improve its image as a progressive corporation through partnerships with ‘Be A Star’ and GLAAD, its progressive fanbase has been rightly sceptical – through John Cena’s numerous throwaway remarks such as suggesting Justin Gabriel enjoys ‘alternate lifestyles’ because (and I’m meeting him more than half-way here) he has nice hair, to his schoolyard back-and-forths with The Rock regarding sexuality, bringing up his role in the Tooth Fairy and the possibility that The Rock might receive ‘pearl necklaces’ (which I don’t want to tell you about but you can feel free to look up), and suggesting, vapidly, winkingly, that either man was gay and so … not as good at wrestling, I suppose. That is just Cena-related homophobia alone, in a history of winks, nods, and innuendos about ‘bizzare’ or flamboyant characters in the wrestling business. Bearing in mind that one is WWE’s ‘Franchise’ star, and the other is it’s mainstream bragging point, it has been hard to take WWE seriously as a progressive company when they see this as acceptable.

So it is with this background that today’s news comes, out of nowhere, unexpected, but incredibly welcome. Darren Young, in the midst of an interview with a TMZ reporter who asks about how a homosexual would be received in wrestling, just out and answers the question, informing the reporter that he is in fact gay, and “very happy”. The interview may not have been as organic as it is supposed to seem (it seems a little odd that the reporter asks that question) , but that is irrelevant; what matters is that Darren Young answers the question frankly, but also doesn’t label it as significant, either with his words or his body language. He is gay and that is that, let’s move on. It is an absolutely perfect way to make a significant move for gay-rights and appreciation while completely downplaying the significance of his sexual orientation.
But since the announcement I have been locked to twitter, waiting helplessly to see a wave of homophobia, but, despite a few disgraceful comments which I won’t reproduce here, and a strange soliloquy from Shannon Moore comparing having tattoos and their stigma to being Homosexual, the response has been absolutely overwhelming in its support for ‘Mr No Days Off’, from fellow professionals and fans, many of which I will reproduce here because they were a ray of sunshine to me.

… and one that brought a tear to my eye … current co Prime Time Player,Titus O’Neill, who also spawned an #InFullSupportofDarren hashtag

The support of his colleagues, including Cena, is both what you would expect from high-profile employees of an international corporation, but also hugely gratifying given the attitudes of many ‘old-timers’ in the business who wouldn’t allow openly gay colleagues any respect or opportunities. It is a sign that attitudes are changing in both the wrestling community, and the wider community (though still, we should remind ourselves, slowly). It’s a sign of the times that a smart-phone filmed interview for internet sharks TMZ was the lowly outlet for this, but that doesn’t detract from the power of it all – I genuinely believe that Young’s brave decision could lead to other current or future superstars coming out and starting the ‘winds of change’ towards homosexuality not just being acceptable in wrestling, but a non issue. (Apologies for the Nexus reference, but imagine if gay equality was what they wanted all along).

Among the tweeters were WWE executives and heirs to the throne, Stephanie McMahon and Triple H, both of whom supported Young in no uncertain terms, but among all this outpouring was a ‘statement’ from WWE – another statement of support, but something rang strange about it. I don’t for a second think WWE is taking credit for Young’s decision, but something about their official response seemed to almost commercialise the move. This feeling grew stronger when WWE announcer Jos Matthews tweeted “Very proud to be apart of @WWE today. Tremendous show of courage from @DarrenYoungWWE” which, though positive, seemed to attribute something to WWE that it didn’t deserve. Why does it make him proud to work for WWE? Because it employs openly gay people? That’s something it should just do. While i’m glad they support him in his sexual orientation, and while the fact he works for WWE is significant to the narrative, this just isn’t about WWE, it’s about Darren Young. Dave Cuttle (@davecuttle) shed some light on my feelings when he compared it to one of WWE’s infamous ‘Did you know’ segments from their TV shows. The image of a “Did You Know: WWE is one of the world’s most progressive organisations, employing more openly homosexual performers than any other major promotion!” doesn’t seem that much of a flight of fancy to me unfortunately. The question is, why does one of your employees being openly gay require a press release? Though it is a well-intentioned show of support, it does the opposite of what Young’s initial announcement does by making a huge deal out of his sexuality. It’s the same problem I have with quotas being enforced in the working place – while well intentioned, it ends up making sexual orientation, gender, race, disability even more important and self-defining than it was before the quota instead of showing it as completely irrelevant. That is why the statement jarred me, it treated Young as an attraction for WWE because he is gay instead of a wrestler. Stephanie and Triple H had already given sincere messages of personal support via twitter, which was enough to show de facto support from WWE management; the statement commodified him by commodifying the response.

I don’t want to dwell on that niggly voice in my head though – as long as WWE don’t make Darren Young in to Gorgeous George Mk. 2, force him somehow on to Total Divas, or even worse, have an entire HHH/Steph MC’d segment on RAW when he comes out formally on live TV to a chorus of confetti and balloons while WWE screams about how great it is for employing a gay guy, we’ll be fine. I’m not so cynical as to think that WWE don’t care. Steph especially seems very sincere in her support of gay rights, and I’m sure that the overwhelming response of his colleagues was also sincere. I don’t know what will happen to Darren Young. The perfect response is to treat him exactly the same, because nothing has changed, but especially since he deserves it from a talent-basis, I hope his career trajectory is high so that he can be the role model he’s perhaps unwittingly made himself to the millions of WWE fans around the world, countless of whom may be unsure or scared about their sexuality. That could be the great power of what has happened today, and the fact that we still think about Coming Out in such terms shows the great bravery of Darren Young in doing what he did.

Catapulted to the Glass Ceiling: The Bottle-Neck of New Stars in WWE (+ Some a Preview of Payback 2013)

The Wyatt Family - causing a stir and set to be the newest stars of WWE, photo credit to WWE

The Wyatt Family – causing a stir and set to be the newest stars of WWE, photo credit to WWE

WWE is increasingly finding it in a seasonal cycle. Precisely, a cycle of two seasons: WrestleMania Season, and Transition Season. WreslteMania Season is the period from (roughly) the TLC Pay-per-view until (roughly) the RAW after WrestleMania and is characterised by big-drawing part time stars and WWE’s toppermost talent being booked in dream matches, with only rare and fleeting appearances by full-time lower level talent and ‘divas’ who enjoy much less meaningful spotlight and feature time on WWE TV. This is a sea change from only recent years (up until WrestleMania 26 perhaps) when WrestleMania was traditionally a showcase for every active WWE talent to get a spotlight and a pay-day, even if it was just a spot in the preshow battle royal. WrestleMania 27 saw the return of The Rock to the WWE and the onset of part-time stars returning for WrestleMania builds and matches. During this time it becomes incredibly hard for non-established wrestlers to get any significant TV time to get over as top stars themselves. A recent exception to this has been The Shield who became firmly one of the most exciting, compelling and spotlighted acts on WWE TV in the build-up to WrestleMania 29, and even with that they were still only featured on an undercard match (though still a significant high-point of the show). This has led observers to criticise this new era of WrestleMania build for a short-sightedness regarding their year-round product and the state of their card after WrestleMania when the part-time stars are gone and they are left with spots to fill and only talent they haven’t deemed important enough for major spotlighting for 4 months previously (and so who the audience equally don’t deem important).

So after the post-WrestleMania RAW, with the part-time stars gone, WWE enters its Transition Season where they need to fill the vacated spots and – without the pressure of WrestleMania business – start to experiment with new stars and pushing stars to try and make more stars for the top of the card.

This roundabout summary of the WWE calendar is a way to set the scene for the topic of this article – the way fresh talent is pushed in WWE; and more specifically, how the way WWE cycles work is impinging on the potential of debuting new stars. In the past, around the time when – simultaneously – Brodus Clay, Ryback, and Lord Tensai debuted as unbeatable monsters (though of differing character), I had considered writing an article about how all these features basically guaranteed the failure of at least one of these unstoppable ‘big guys’ because they all had similar acts. I didn’t write that article but both Brodus Clay and Lord Tensai did indeed fall in to insignificance, together, as Tons of Funk. This article is about a similar danger. On top of Fandango, who only debuted towards the end of WrestleMania Season, WWE has introduced Curtis Axel and are set to introduce Bray Wyatt and his family in the coming weeks; and though they aren’t all similar acts, they all share the characteristic of being shot to prominent positions instantly upon their debut (Wyatt hasn’t debuted yet, but I think it’s clear that he’s only going somewhere prominent fast).

But because only this transitionary period from after WrestleMania until around Survivor Series is a time when WWE will put significant effort in to making and pushing new stars, these prospects find themselves trying to justify a top spot, and the creative team trying to write them in to top spots simultaneously, and when there simply aren’t enough top spots for them all. I think when you consider the push that Fandango got and the shine he got from being flavour of the month, that took him to a WrestleMania moment and a big victory over Chris Jericho, but when Curtis Axel debuted a few weeks later, he took the flavour of the month shine from Fandango before Fandango had really gotten over as a top star; and within weeks, Fandango seemed like an afterthought from the top of the card, stuck as he was in a triple threat with The Miz and Wade Barrett. Axel has replaced him in this feud, but that is more of a hotshot to make up for Fandango’s injury and is a match Axel will almost certainly win, giving him the title his father was one of the most celebrated champions of, and propel him further. Though Axel’s build has been based on somewhat sullied victories over top stars, he has been positioned among them, and certainly has the ‘new star glow’ that Fandango was enjoying before him. It will be interesting to see then what will happen to Axel and Fandango when Bray Wyatt and his Family debut (maybe even as soon as the next RAW). Wyatt has been the most hotly anticipated debutant in years having set imaginations alight with his genuinely scary, creepy, yet infinitely watchable preacher/cult leader character, and equally fascinating vignette’s introducing him. When he, his two Family members and his rocking chair finally debut on RAW, it isn’t difficult to imagine him being one of the brightest spots on the show, as well as the inheritor of that ‘new star glow’; and like Fandango before him, there is a risk that Axel could lose the rub that being the hot new star provides before he and WWE have capitalised enough to make him a top guy. This isn’t to criticise Fandango or Axel, who still very well may have bright futures ahead of them, it is simply to say that the frequent rate of debuts at this time of year, mixed with the simultaneous pushes of new stars handicaps their chances of success whereas if debuts were spaced out affording each new star the opportunity to grow in that valuable period where they are the freshest act on the show. Imagine if ‘another big thing’ debuted after Brock Lesnar – in retrospect, Lesnar would probably have made it anyway, but it would certainly have taken some shine away from him.

This isn’t the only problem though. As new debutants join the card, they join existing talent supposedly destined for success while much fewer leave or are fired. So while Fandango, Axel, and Wyatt have arrived to an opportunity to make themselves, their spot comes at the cost of another star deserving of a shot at the top. The two foremost examples of this in my mind are both members of Team Rhodes Scholars, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow, but also Sin Cara, who had a chance to capture the erstwhile WWE Universe’s interest before being overshadowed by others. Perhaps this is an intentional state of competition, bred to encourage performers to stand out, as Daniel Bryan has recently, above the rest of the roster. Bryan undoubtedly deserves, and will get, a push thanks to the overwhelming, infectious reaction he has been receiving of late, but that kind of reaction is a rare gem, and just because one stands out, doesn’t mean than those that can’t match up aren’t deserving of an opportunity. Considering the current crop of new stars, to my mind, no act will be able to live up to that of Bray Wyatt and the family, and given the fact that all three can’t long be sustained with simultaneous winning streaks, one or both of Axel and Fandango may have to slip in estimation and could slip in to irrelevance like Tensai and Brodus Clay before them. Though this fits the ‘survival of the fittest’ model, both Fandango and Axel have interesting acts that deserve attention, and could be successful if nourished correctly, or ideally, at different times. If they fail, but are lucky, they might be able to keep a spot for further down the line where their talent could shine through and they get another shot (though that’s more unlikely with is a gimmicky act like Fandango’s). This is where Rhodes and Sandow are – incredibly talented but overshadowed by a cycle of new acts coming and being given the spotlight; and while they are occasionally given prominent matches it seems right now that they might have to wait – possibly forever – for their next opportunity where they are given a push and attention.

This is what I mean by talent being ‘Catapulted to the Glass Ceiling’. WWE has enough faith in these talents to push them hard to the top, but usually not to the point where they win or even compete for top titles straight away, and especially with competition, they are almost doomed to failure to meet their expectations apart from the most notable of exceptions. To make things worse for the current up-and-comers, a bonafide top star in CM Punk is set to return to the WWE this Sunday at Payback, taking a top spot right away and creating even more competition for spots at the top and below as potential top stars are displaced. And so without further ado, some WWE Payback thoughts …

WWE Payback, 16/06/13, from the Allstate Arena, Chicago, IL, photo credit WWE

WWE Payback, 16/06/13, from the Allstate Arena, Chicago, IL, photo credit WWE

This wont be quite in the detail of the PPV previews from what i’ll go ahead and call the ‘RTV Era’ but you will get predictions in match order:

Match 1) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Dolph Ziggler (c) def. Alberto Del Rio
A sleeper match because Dolph has been away and the build has had nothing to do with him – a mistake seen as he could have been a visible presence on TV at least. These two could have a very good match together though to kick the show off hot, but Ziggler is champ to stay for a while.

Match 2) United States Championship Match: Dean Ambrose (c) def. Kane
Difficult o place it so early, but despite Ambrose’s talent and Kane’s veteran abilities, this will probably be the least intriguing match of all. After the strange decision to hand The Shield their first six-man loss ever on Smackdown, and seen as Ambrose has only been champion for a month, I don’t see him dropping the title because that would seriously damage one of the hottest acts on WWE TV.

Match 3) WWE Tag Team Championship Match: Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns (c) def. Daniel Bryan & Randy Orton
I feel we’ll get the ol’ Shield one-two here. Daniel Bryan is now the hottest act in wrestling, and the reaction in Chicago may well even match Punk’s, but saying that, I don’t think that leads to another tag title. I haven’t read any spoilers but an Orton heel turn seems possible – turning on Bryan maybe due to him stealing the show? At the very least they wont be able to stay on the same page against the ‘Hounds of Justice’, who will retain for the same reason Ambrose will.

Match 4) Divas Championship Match: AJ Lee def. Kaitlyn (c)
The Kaitlyn and AJ saga is one that has lasted, organically, for years. That makes it a welcome relief in the Divas division – an actual storyline that isn’t based on one simply calling the other a bitch. It’s telling that i’m eating it up and hoping Kaitlyn kicks the bejesus out of AJ for her treatment, but in my head the better story is AJ beating the emotionally broken Kaitlyn, holding a title alongside Dolph, and then having Kaitlyn, with the crowd right behind her, chase the title.

Match 5) Intercontinental Championship Match: Curtis Axel def. Wade Barrett (c) and he Miz
This was a terrible build made instantly more interesting by the introduction of current ‘hot new act’, Curtis Axel. In short, Axel can’t lose and i’ll be absolutely flabbergasted if he does. This is his first PPV match and that is a crucial spotlight and even if he didn’t take the fall, it would damage his shine. On father’s day, Axel will win the title his late father was one of the greatest champions of.

Match 6) CM Punk def. Chris Jericho
This is the most intriguing match of the night, and only not the main event because a Cena match with that stipulation is almost main event by default. When this match was made, it came without warning out of left field as what otherwise seemed a throwaway segment on Jericho’s Highlight Reel, and for that reason I then didn’t believe for a second that we’d get that match, and i’m still not sure if we’ll get a straight-up match between the two, but the degree to which they’ve advertised the match makes me think Punk will certainly appear and may well wrestle. What actually happens is up in the air though – it really smells like some sort of twist will have to happen. I don’t think Jericho turns because he wont be around to follow up on it soon as he goes on tour, but think Punk turning on Heyman for exploiting his name and turning face is possible, and that doesn’t rule out a match. Now Axel is in a match, I don’t see him replacing Punk, so I don’t know what would happen is Punk shows but doesn’t wrestle, but if Punk wrestles, he probably goes over (with the outside guess that if Punk turns on Heyman before the match, Axel comes out and costs Punk the match).

Match 7) WWE Championship Match: Three Stages of Hell – John Cena (c) def. Ryback
I think Cena retains here as you’d expect him to retain more than once. I think because he is losing on PPV AGAIN he will win the first fall clean somehow, gives him a rub of a clean pinfall against Cena and gives Cena the mountain to climb, but then Cena wins the next two falls to retain. It also gives Ryback a reason to demand another title match next PPV. Though Bryan/Cena is rumoured, it doesn’t quite make sense to me. I don’t see Bryan going heel seen as he is SO over, and though there is a possibility of a Cena-Bryan respect feud it seems a little off to me on face value. I would finally give Ryback the title at the next PPV and have the much smaller but hotter Bryan chase, and eventually win, the title from the monster.

RTV’s Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, Class of 2013

Wrestling has not been forgotten as RTV’s World of Wrestling transforms in to The Neon Idols. Formulating that Hall of Fame took a lot of time and was a labour of love, and so now that the WWE’s Class of 2013 is in the books, I would like to induct a new class in to my Hall of Fame alongside it, as was originally the plan. So without further ado, the 2013 Class of the RTV Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame.

“The Nature Boy” Ric Flair (Richard Morgan Fliehr, born 1949)
Ric Flair
Words can hardly match the icon that Flair has cast for himself over his long pro-wrestling career. The only reason he wasn’t in my initial 50 automatic inductees was that he was wrestling with TNA and didn’t consider him retired. However, now he’s back in WWE as a ‘legend’ it feels like we wont be seeing him wrestle regularly again, so here he is. Taking his nick name (and basically his gimmick) from the first ever WWE Champion, Buddy Rogers, Ric Flair has managed to surpass even that legend; as well as arguably every other legend.

His career has spanned over 40 years now, from the AWA to Japan, various NWA territories, WCW, WWE, and TNA, and so its hard to really chronicle such a career. Flair won the NWA Heavyweight title having already fought famously with the likes of Harley Race, Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat and even the original “Nature Boy”, but to my mind, the first really era-defining work Flair did was in his feud for the ages, alongside his Four Horsemen, against “The Common Man” Dusty Rhodes. The ‘stylin’, profilin’ champion born with a golden spoon in his mouth, against the son of a plumber fighting for his family made for a great story and great matches as a result, full of career highlights like the Horsemen breaking Rhodes’ arm and putting “hard times” on the Common Man. Moving to WCW and later the WWF, Flair became the greatest wrestler of his era, putting of some of the best matches ever against the likes of Steamboat, and ultimately, Randy Savage  for the WWF Championship, during his short initial run in the WWF – winning the title in one of the best Royal Rumbles of all time in 1992.

After being part of the exodus to WCW during the Monday Night Wars, Flair would return to the now WWE 2001 after being a victim of NWO over-exposure. Initially more of an on-screen personality than a wrestler, there as some life in the nature boy yet, literally evolving as a character with Triple H’s Evolution, and helping build future top talents like Randy Orton and Batista before finally bowing out gracefully following a loss to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV.

It would be hypocritical for me not to mention the controversial parts of Flair’s career, especially given that my first post on this blog was scathing to the Flair that sullied his retirement by wrestling again for money and even using his Hall of Fame ring in a TNA angle. The same Flair that had multiple marriages, had to disappointingly wrestle beyond his prime to pay for his “Nature Boy” lifestyle, is exactly as arrogant as his talent allows, and is, frankly, a bit of an asshole. Like many legends though, his issues are balanced by greatness, originality, and achievement. Through his controversies came moments like selling out the Rŭngnado May First Stadium in North Korea with Antonio Inoki, working on heated relations with the nation, being one of the few to ever hold both the NWA and WWE Championship, and being the only ever two time WWE Hall of Famer (so far.) Truly, Flair encapsulates every side of pro wrestling, the exquisite and the ugly, and for that, he is one of the greatest of all time, if not the greatest.

The Rock (Dwayne Douglas Johnson, born 1972)
The Rock
When I first started watching wrestling as a young man, The Rock was my joint favourite wrestler alongside Chris Jericho, and though my love for Rocky has dissipated to a dread for his appearances as I’ve matured, the reasons for my initial love for him hasn’t changed. He was, and is, still an incredibly charismatic man, a prototypical athlete, and while not among the very best technical wrestlers, he knew how to put on the show perfectly. He was among the brightest stars of the fames ‘Attitude Era’, and though his act has grown stale (to my mind) for a 2013 audience, his star has only grown, becoming one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

Though I sympathise with the talking point of him ‘abandoning’ the business, I also believe that though he doesn’t show it all the time, he does have the business in his blood as a third-generational star. His return to the WWE to face John Cena in a series of blockbuster matches broke box office numbers and helped bring more positive eyes to the company. His career was relatively short, but he is truly perhaps the only wrestling star with a claim to being bigger than Hulk Hogan, and considering memorable matches and feuds with Triple H, Mankind, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and now John Cena, he is a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

Paul Bearer (William Alvin “Bill” Moody, 1954 – 2013)

Paul BearerAny mention of Paul Bearer must be prefaced, I think, by mention of his reputation as one of the nicest men in the business, and a sincere lover of wrestling. He was certainly dedicated to it, working in the business throughout his adult life, firstly as Percy Pringle III – a classic heel, loud, wealthy, flash, and bleached blonde who worked with and elevated several legendary talents such as Rick Rude, Lex Luger, “Stunning” Steve Austin, and eventually “Mean” Mark Calloway in federations like Florida Championship Wrestling and World Class Championship Wrestling.

He would work later again with Calloway, with a much darker character, with significantly more success as part of what people commonly consider the greatest wrestling gimmick of all time – The Undertaker. No one commands more respect than ‘The Phenom’ after his 20+ year career, but without the creepy, captivating mouthpiece of Bearer by his side, it’s hard to tell whether ‘Taker’s gimmick would be quite so convincing. Thanks to him, The Undertaker’s lack of natural charisma was covered up and replaced with carefully protected mythical mystique, the prop for which being his iconic urn. In his darker guise, Bearer was able to help guide The Undertaker, and later, Kane and Mankind to some of the greatest and most memorable moments in wrestling history. To that point, every wrestling fan of Bearer’s era is familiar with the image of Bearer holding the glowing urn aloft to give his charges power, and with the unmistakable sound of his accompanying “Ohhhhhh Yeeeeaaahhh!”.

His death took an emotional toll on fans and workers alike that when he passed, a tribute was demanded and happily given in the touching form of both Undertaker and Kane giving their familiar salute of respect to each other in the ring – a powerful angle which also helped birth one final angle between the Undertaker and upstart CM Punk. Even in death, Bearer was a part of the story – just as the old school wrestling fanatic would have wanted it.


“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase
(Theodore Marvin “Ted” DiBiase, Sr, born 1954)
Ted DiBiase
For years I never fully appreciated the Million Dollar Man; considered him something of an ‘also ran’ who never really made it. For some reason though, I saw him in a new, more impressive light rewatching the 1992 Royal Rumble. Watching him stroll out smugly to his music, I really connected with the character like the people of the time would have – or close to it.

Though wealth and smugness were and are stalwart heel tendencies, The Million Dollar Man was a truly original gimmick, reflective of a moneyed era. To an audience still predominantly working class, this smug ‘Millionaire’ showed total disregard for them or the contests they came to see, using his privilege to undermine the wrestling contests by hiring a Virgil to help him cheat, buying a Million Dollar Championship, and later, the WWF Championship. He was a true original, a top star, and larger than life – in an era with big, larger than life stars.

DiBiase’s career spans further and wider than the Million Dollar Man, but with that, he became etched in the consciousness of pro wrestling.

“Ravishing” Rick Rude (Richard Erwin Rood, 1958 – 1999)
Rick Rude
Compared to the others on this list, Rude’s career in wrestling was relatively short, partly because he came to wrestling, and sadly due to his early demise – however, he achieved much in his short career.

Starting in the territories, and known for his incredible physique, Rude was managed by Percy Pringle III and feuded with The Road Warriors, Kevin Von Erich and even Jerry Lawler in Memphis, but it was in the WCW and WWF where Rude really cemented his legacy. As part of Bobby Heenan’s Family in the WWF he feuded famously with Jake Roberts, approaching his wife, berating her, and taunting Roberts by printing his wife’s face on his tights.  Moving to WCW he joined Paul Heyman’s Dangerous Alliance and feuded with Ricky Steamboat, Ron Simmons and Ric Flair. In his time in the two companies he won both the Intercontinental Championship and the United States Championship.

After a botched suicide dive, he was forced to prematurely retire in 1994. That didn’t keep him from the business though, becoming embroiled in the Attitude Era, famously appearing on both RAW and Nitro on the same night (thanks to RAW being taped), being a founding member of D Generation X and later joining the NWO. It was said that he was training to get back in to ring shape, but unfortunately, in 1999, he joined an overlong list of wrestlers dying young due to their lifestyle. Who knows if he could have made that return, but even without it, he made his legacy clear.

Betty Jo Niccoli (born 1946)
Betty Niccoli
An often overlooked female wrestler, perhaps overshadowed by Mae Young and The Fabulous Moolah, Betty Jo Niccoli was a truly war hardened, experienced wrestler.

She wrestled around the world, winning titles in several different places, becoming the AWA Women’s Championship, the NWA Women’s Championship as well as their Texas Women’s Championship. Like many battle-hardened male wrestlers, Niccoli travelled to Japan to wrestle for All Japan Pro Wrestling, even winning their Women’s Tag Team Championship.

Throughout her successes, Niccoli truly tried to progress the cause of Women’s wrestling, and became influential in lifting New York’s ban on women’s wrestling in the state before retiring in 1976.

Night Of Champions Preview & Predictions

WWE Night of Champions, 16/09/2012, from the TD Garden, Boston, MA

WWE Night of Champions, 16/09/2012, from the TD Garden, Boston, MA

This PPV will be an odd one to watch. Happily, Jerry Lawler is recovering as quickly as you’d imagine the King would, but the manner of his accident has dulled the build to the PPV quite significantly (as well as much of the build being quite lacklustre in any event). Thankfully, Cena and Punk managed to hold it together to perform a fiery final segment which helped sell the PPV. Add in to that the nice build between Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio, and the burgeoning chemistry between Kane and Daniel Bryan, and this could certainly be an entertaining PPV!

Match 1) Intercontinental Championship Match: The Miz (c) vs Rey Mysterio vs Sin Cara vs Cody Rhodes
Whether intentional or just a sad afterthought, there hasn’t been much build to this match. After Rhodes sneakily hit CrossRhodes to Miz on RAW, I was looking forward to that match, with one man possibly turning face. The addition of Rey and Cara to the match is interesting given their recent tag team success. This is usually the sort of booking that sees the beginning of the end for a tag team, but I doubt that will happen as they’ve only been established for a couple of weeks. I think, especially with Rhodes and Rey, there’s a lot of talent in the ring, and with the other guys, it’ll make for an exciting, unpredictable match. If it would have been just Miz vs Rhodes, I may have picked Rhodes, but now he’s in this sort of situation, and hasn’t been champion for long, I can see Miz surviving it to book him and the title strongly.

Winner: The Miz

Match 2) United States Championship: Antonio Cesaro vs ???
I like the idea of a battle royal determining a #1 contender to championships. It’s a good way to freshen up the title picture, and gives the champion a chance to look good against an unexpected opponent. Of course its hard to speculate about the match, seen as I don’t know the opponent, but I can’t see Cesaro dropping the title after just losing it. He’s a bit unproven so far, but hasn’t had much of a chance. They’ll give him a chance with the title and so he’ll win.

Winner: Antonio Cesaro

Match 3) Randy Orton vs Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler is in preparation to be World Heavyweight Champion, there is no doubt about it. He’s beaten Chris Jericho and ‘sent him packing’ and now he’s already beaten Orton on TV. But predictions like this depend on his plans with the Money in the Bank briefcase. They will only have him lose if they have immediate bigger plans for him. It just so happens I think that they do tonight, and so I think Orton will be going over to help protect him a little too. Make no mistake though, this will be forgotten from Ziggler, and they’ll have a long match which could steal the show, them both being fantastic talents – as long as the chemistry is there.

Winner: Randy Orton

Match 4) Divas Championship Match: Layla (c) vs Kaitlyn
In a perfect world, this sort of storytelling would be prevalent in the divas division, and also followed through. Kaitlyn, as a rookie, surprising the fans with a victory to win the #1 Contendership against her veteran champion  ‘friend’ (for five minutes before the match). Its a shame that that has just been repeated over and over since then and not developed. Layla is a very good wrestler, and Kaitlyn in incredibly endearing, so it makes for a good match and an interesting dichotomy. I’d like to see this turn in to a friendly rivalry, with Kaitlyn determined to beat Layla and eventually possibly doing so with one of them maybe even turning heel. I think Kaitlyn will come close enough to legitimise a further title shot, but Layla will come out on top.

Winner: Layla

Match 5) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Sheamus (c) vs Alberto Del Rio
The story between Sheamus and Del Rio has grown pretty fiery and heated over the last few weeks. It started off as a nice interpretation of a noble/peasant dichotomy and grew due to memorable interactions on the part of both men (ADR attacking Sheamus with his car, Sheamus joyriding ADR’d car). Recently, the story has shifted its parameters to be about the Brogue Kick being banned. It is a classic heel move when desperate, but Del Rio has played it very well. You feel his concern for Ricardo Rodriguez is real, which makes him a more compelling character, even if it’s not quite as sincere as he presents. That, mixed with Sheamus’s reaction of just incorporating a brutalist Texas Cloverleaf  to his arsenal has made for interesting build, and the banned Brogue Kick will make for an interesting match. They’ve had a lot of good matches before, and it will help them create a fresh one. Usually, ther’d be two main schools when booking this: 1) Sheamus retains with Cloverleaf; 2) ADR wins after Shemus uses the Brogue Kick. But I think something else will happen. Its incomprehensible that ADR taps Sheamus out, but I think he’ll win, basically, for the reason I was cagey about the Orton/Ziggler match. I think this could happen: ADR has two people in his corner (Otunga/Rodriguez) and between them, they’ll help ADR win with his enziguiri. Sheamus gets up, and realising he can no longer lose his title for it, Brogue Kicks ADR/all three. I’M HERE TO SHOW THE WORLD as Dolph Ziggler comes out and finally cashes in. With Orton having a win over Ziggler, and Sheamus and ADR both deserving automatic rematches, it leads to a Fatal Four Way at Hell in a Cell before Orton and Ziggler go on to feud for the title. The only problem with it is that Ziggler cashing in on ADR gets him less heat, but with the Brogue Kick being so central to everything, I see it being involved. The real victim is Del Rio though, having a 5 minute title reign. It will keep him in the title picture/main event though.

Winner: Alberto Del Rio

Match 6) WWE Tag Team Championships: Kofi Kingston & R-Truth vs Kane & Daniel Bryan
There is no way that top guys like Bryan and Kane, who are having some of the best, most enjoyed segments on TV, with burgeoning chemistry have been thrown in to this match last minute and are not winning the titles. They’re hot right now, which is the exact opposite of the champions. I actually think i’ve shot my wad there; there isn’t much else to say about this match. Kane and Daniel Bryan will hopefully continue to work as a dysfunctional tag team made up of world champion wrestlers, winning despite themselves, and Kofi and Truth will hopefully get a rematch and move on to ANYTHING else.

Winners: Kane & Daniel Bryan

Match 7) WWE Championship Match: CM Punk (c) vs John Cena
CM Punk’s first main event in months; a fact which underwrites the storyline of this match. The absolute worst thing that could happen, in my opinion, is for Punk to have been ‘Best in the World’ Champion for over 300 days and then lose as soon as he’s heel. Unless there’s a REALLY good story behind it, it would be the most boring, formulaic outcome ever. You want to make Punk as a white hot heel? Have him be one who can beat Cena, not just another cowardly heel. There are thousands of them, and Punk shouldn’t be the same. ‘Cult of Personality’ suits Punk so well because his heel/face position centres around his personality, not his actions or who he beats up. Sure, let him do some heelish stuff, but make him a dominant champion who is an asshole about it because he knows how good he is; who demands respect but gives none. Cena and Punk have had great in-ring chemistry in the past, and I doubt this will be different. Use this to make Punk as a top heel, not to undermine him and his remarkable reign. Luckily, I believe WWE will know this. Not even they are so formulaic. I also believe they will see the value in having Punk keep the Championship past a year and having Rock end the reign in another intriguing match-up in Punk-Rock. With Punk as heel and Cena as Cena, the book would say dusty finish, but i’m actually not so sure. Having Punk win clean would shake things up a bit, and shake up Cena quite a bit, whilst adding prestige to Punk and the Championship. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but whatever happens, I think the money is in Punk retaining.

Winner: CM Punk

Summerslam Review, 2012: Lesnar Dominates But Triple H Is Still The Story

HHH stands humbled before the WWE Universe after being forced to tap out to Brock Lesnar

HHH stands humbled before the WWE Universe after being forced to tap out to Brock Lesnar

‘The Biggest Event of the Summer has happened, and it was a very strong PPV, though i’m less sure whether it felt like a 25th Anniversary of the second biggest PPV in wrestling. We’ll see how I feel once i’ve finished writing about it … Match 1) Chris Jericho def. Dolph Ziggler I was initially surprised that this match opened the show, but in retrospect, it seems a very good choice. The first obvious reason for this was that Jericho and Ziggler were always going to put on a great match, and get the crowd going for the rest of the show. The other good reason for (in some people’s eyes), burying it at the bottom of the card, was the result in which the next big star loses. This wasn’t a match of spectacular originality, but it was one of near flawless technical prowess. I’ve noticed that as Y2J, Jericho’s technique is at but more blunt, crossbodys, flying elbows, and his stronger style worked well with Ziggler’s selling especially and his working Jericho’s stomach. This strong story built and built towards its climax, with Jericho and Ziggler both getting good near-falls, including the best one where Ziggler got his knees up for a Lionsault before hitting his fame-asser before Jericho kicked out! Trying to follow up, Ziggler charged Jericho, but the veteran Jericho managed to dodge, sending Ziggler in to the ring post and back in to the Liontamer Walls of Jericho, making Ziggler tap! At first I was shocked (if you read my review you’ll remember I said it only makes sense for Ziggler to go over), but I realised soon how good Jericho had made Ziggler look, and how little Ziggler had lost, especially with the MITB briefcase. Even better was the fact that Ziggler beat Jericho the next night in a match that got Jericho ‘fired’ in a match way further up the card – the last match in fact. This, with the match the next night was not only fantastic, but helped Ziggler’s profile an awful lot! Match 2) Daniel Bryan def. Kane This was a match that wasn’t too well built, but nonetheless succeeded in being entertaining. The real story was about Bryan using his speed and smarts to take on the raw power of Kane. There was a lot of back and forth with Kane brutalising Bryan and Bryan hitting the monster and moving. The match twisted on Bryan slapping Kane to make him furious, trying to coax Kane to get disqualified, and that nearly happened, but I was glad when it didn’t because its been done quite a bit of late, and would be a bit of a kop out on a big 4 PPV. The finish was good as Bryan managed to down Kane with a roundhouse before going for a Benoit headbutt, only to be caught by Kane round the throat for a Chokeslam. Unsatisfied, he wanted a Tombstone Piledriver, but this was too much, and AmDrag managed to roll up Kane for the win, leaving a furious Kane storming around backstage, assaulting Josh Matthews and looking for revenge on Bryan. By the time the match was over, a nothing feud had become more tense and meaningful, while Bryan had scored a big, high-profile victory over Kane at Summerslam – so a good job by all!

Match 3) The Miz def. Rey Mysterio to Retain the Intercontinental Championship
This was a very very good match, with Miz working hard and using Rey’s size and skill to be able to look great. Miz also seems to have learned a lot from Jericho when it comes to Rey, including that surfboard style backbreaker Jericho used which is ideal for Rey. Now, a man I grudgingly respect, Luther Blissett, has been very complimentary of this match, and I do indeed remember it being good. I can’t, however, remember too much from it for the most part. Rey made Miz look great while looking great, but the real memorable moments only came at the finish (which to be fair, is the most crucial point of the match!). Indeed, the finishing sequence was great as Rey countered being shouldered in to a DDT, headed to the top, only to be stopped by Miz, who only got hurricanrana’d for his troubles in to the 619 position. After eating a 619, Rey went to ‘drop the dime’, Miz countered, looking for the Scull Crushing Finalé. Rey reversed this – again, due to his size – in to a roll up for a good near fall. But Miz was just strong enough to send him to the turnbuckle and catch him back with a SCF for the win. Rey has nothing to lose now. He’s so respected and adored, and he really helped put Miz over here in a good match. It was a clean win too, so hopefully both can move on to new opponents. I’d like to see Kofi Kingston given a chance to shine against Miz. That would be a fresh and potentially interesting feud given how over they both are, and as for Rey, its harder to determine; he’s something of a journeyman now. Both main title pictures seem sown up … so i’d put him in an attraction feud with Big Show perhaps, or even better, if Damien Sandow has finished civilising Brodus Clay soon, have him against Rey w/ mask storyline (easy I know, but with Sandow, it could be great, “savage civilisations worship masks. I am enlightened, and I will enlighten you by removing your uncivilised and cowardly visage.” IMAGINE.

Note: This is where I got up to in my review before returning to it on Monday. Because time has passed and I really want to get this done, so from here on in, this review might not be the most detailed. My apologies.

Match 4) Sheamus def. Alberto Del Rio to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
I found this match very good. Del Rio’s classy technicality is usually the counterpoint to Sheamus’s ‘hooligan’ brutality, and at times it was, but what made this match work even more was the fact that Del Rio was fighting as brutally as Sheamus. It was a true fight, and back-and-forth encounter between the two. It built well too with near falls becoming more and more believable, especially the one Del Rio earned after dropping Sheamus on the exposed turnbuckle and following up with an enziguiri for two. This frustrated Del Rio, and Ricardo Rodriguez went to toss a shoe at Sheamus; however, Sheamus caught it and hit Del Rio with it himself before hitting the Irish Curse backbreaker. Del Rio saved himself by putting his foot on the ropes – only for Sheamus to remove it to get the three count. Now I did think that this made Sheamus a bad babyface and a bad role model; but then I thought about his character. As a friend pointed out, this is Sheamus as a better character than a bland babyface, and he is right. We know instinctively that Sheamus is a better person than Del Rio, even if he does cheeky, non-admirable things. This carried on on RAW, and Del Rio earned the #1 Contendership again in impressive fashion by tapping out Randy Orton on Smackdown. The heat in this feud has only gotten hotter, and I expect their future together to be captivating.

Match 5) R-Truth & Kofi Kingston def. The Prime Time Players (Darren Young & Titus O’Neill) to Retail the WWE Tag Team Championships
Not much to say about this match. The PTP’s are a charismatic team, but I didn’t expect much from them in the match, but to be fair, they did their part well in the match, facilitating mainly Kofi’s spectacular offense. In the end, Kofi and Truth managed to overcome the  PTP’s to retain the titles. This seemed strange boobing to me, as the PTP’s seems the hottest thing in the division, while Kofi and Truth have been vanilla champions. Nonetheless, since then, there was that multi-team backstage brawl which suggested – I hope – at a spicing up of the division!

Match 6) CM Punk def. The Big Show and John Cena to Retain the WWE Championship
While, objectively, this match should have been the main event (i’m hoping it not being was to play to Punk’s ‘Respect’ angle). This was a fun match as Big Show is such a different opponent to Punk or Cena. Early on, Show used his sheer power to gain control early on, and forced Punk and Cena to put their differences aside to work on Show, both trying – unsuccessfully – to shoulder Show for their finishers. Indeed, Show was central to the success of this match, including the spot where he went for  Vader Bomb on both men, only for Punk to move out of the way, and leaving Cena to take the hit – a move which foreshadowed the finish of the match. As time went on, the ascendancy moved between the three before Cena and Punk moved back to working together against the Giant, Punk slapping on a Kuji Clutch (I believe) while Cena added an STF, making Show tap. This led to a bit of a dusty finish with Punk and Cena both claiming victory and AJ having to restart the match. I would have liked Show to be eliminated at this point and let Cena and Punk go at it (of course that would have ruined the finish but how was I to know), but it was quite a nice swerve anyway. This allowed Show time to recover enough to double Chokeslam the two, not being able to keep either man down. At this point, the finish was building nicely with Show attempting a WMD on Cena, only for Cena to duck it and hit an AA. You’da thought Cena was going to get the win here, but the wily Punk threw Cena out of the ring, outsmarting him, to cover Show for the win. Good finish in that it was shades-of-grey Punk proving he was Best in the World in terms of smarts too. Hardly noble, but still a fair and clean win, leading to him and Cena facing off again next month.

Match 7) Brock Lesnar def. Triple H
There is no doubt this was a brutal match, so respect for that. For what it was too, it was entertaining. Seeing HHH repeatedly dominate  Lesnar out of his ring made me groan for a while, but I did appreciate the sheer pain Trips must have gone through during the match, getting beat down by Lesnar. A very good brawl with not much else to say about it other than that. Finally, Lesnar started breaking Trips down and got him to tap to the Kimura Lock. My reaction was “Great! HHH does a job for the best of the company in a pretty compelling match!” But then we got 10 minutes (minutes apparently taken from other matches) of Triple H sad face. When everyone realised that this story was all about super brave HHH and not as much about Lesnar being a destroyer (though we got that story on RAW) the fans started turning on him with ‘you tapped out’ and ‘na na na na’ chants. This is because HHH hasn’t seemed vulnerable in years, He shakes off broken arms, is the only one to really take it to Lesnar (excluding a flukey Cena win), so he didn’t earn the compassion. Good match, but the wrong story at the end, and the wrong match in the main event.

Altogether, Summerslam was a good PPV. I enjoyed it, but was that good enough. This is Summerslam – the second most important PPV in wrestling, and not only that, but the 25th Anniversary of that event. It should have been special, memorable, and it just wasn’t; unlike last year, or the year before, which is ultimately, a shame.