Valuing Contributions: Defining the MVP Award and Who Should Win it for 2016/17

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The front-runners for the 2016/17 MVP award. Credit: USA Today

The NFL has made a concerted effort to be relevant throughout the year, despite being, at its very longest, a 6-month proposition competitively. This has led to some genuinely fascinating parts of the NFL calendar like the start of free agency and the draft, but has also led to the somewhat burlesque elevation of events like the combine. The NFL awards are certainly a worthwhile and interesting part of this calendar coming as it does at the crux of the post-season, the night before the Superbowl. Sometimes these awards are near foregone conclusions, but this year, there is wide debate about an unusually broad field of contenders for the MVP award. Just as the NFL is building itself a cottage industry though, so are the many analysts and TV personalities who are paid to debate the game. What has become clear – partly by the variety of contenders for the MVP award – is that the understanding of what constitutes the MVP is unclear, and possibly even undefined.

MVP, to patronise for a second, stands for ‘Most Valuable Player’, and the problem seems to stem from people’s definitions of ‘Value’ in the game. Is it simply the best player, or is it something else? The confusion is obvious when you go through the popular runners and riders, and so I will go through them, argue who I think should win the award, and consequently, what the MVP is. These can be split in to three broad groups:

The Greatest

Tom Brady

Chicago Bears v New England Patriots

Credit: cheatsheet.com

I count myself as one of the many, shall we say, Patriots-skeptic fans of the game, but to me, it is near clear that he is the greatest QB of all time (just as Bill Belichick is the greatest coach of all time). This year is no different – his skills seem evergreen coming out of one of the greatest regular seasons of his career, topped by an all-time record 28-2 TD to INT ratio. He continues to be probably the best player in the league, but his detractors (in terms of winning the MVP) point to the fact that he missed 4 games as a reason for him not to be eligible for the award, but the issue is really what happened in his absence. Having missed the first 4 games through suspension, the Patriots went 3-1 with backup Jimmy Garrapolo winning the three games he played before Jacoby Brissett started behind centre in a losing effort. Without Brady, the Patriots and his backup rolled over opponents, pointing to the fact that the success of the team wasn’t reliant on him, regardless of his talent. Had the Patriots won not won a game or won only one or maybe two games, there would be absolutely no question about the rightful winner of the MVP.

Aaron Rodgers

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Credit: USA Today

As I write this, Aaron Rodgers is in red-hot form, leading a six-game winning streak for the Packers which he publicly called after Green Bay fell to 4-6 amid a collection of underwhelming performances with Rodgers himself looking limp at QB. Rodgers took the team on his back, finishing with 40 TDs and 7 INTs (none of which came during the 6-game winning streak), and a 104 passer rating. It is an incredible streak of performances which has made the Packers offense near unstoppable, and Green Bay one of the favourites to make the Superbowl. Rodgers seems to be playing on a level above everyone else at the position, making heart-breaking clutch plays after seemingly impossibly escaping pass-rushers, and the level of play during this hot streak has made Rodgers a popular candidate for MVP. As true, and as great as that is, the fact remains that through those first 10 games which necessitated the hot streak to make the post-season, Rodgers was part of a significant problem in Green Bay, and while the sheer quality of his play in the latter half of the season can’t be ignored or devalued, it is my view that the MVP must both be valuable throughout the season, but also mustn’t ever be a problem for the team as I believe Rodgers was. He lit a fire under himself and started an incredible run which may end with a Superbowl ring, but the MVP is based on the regular season, and his first 10 games of mediocre play undermines his case for the award.

Consistent Production

Dak Prescott

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Credit: USA Today

Rookie QBs picked in the 4th round don’t do what Dak has done this year. Barely anyone does. When Tony Romo went down with another back injury, most assumed that the Cowboys faced another losing year helmed by backup, sub-standard QBs; what the Cowboys got though was an exemplary season with a historic offense which had Dak as it’s central figure. Dak was no mere figurehead though – gaining incredible chemistry with the likes of Cole Beasley and Jason Witten while playing very clean ball having scored 23 touchdowns to 4 interceptions and matching Rodgers’ 104 passer rating. His other passing stats are someway behind contemporaries Rodgers and Ryan, but he shared a great deal of his touches with Ezekiel Elliott in a way those QBs didn’t with their running backs. Dak never single-handedly blew opponents away, but playing so well and leading arguably the most untouchable team in the league under such pressure, and with such a large shadow as Tony Romo being cast over him as a rookie, is an incredible feat.

The question with Dak, though, is how much he really elevated the Cowboy’s play. There’s no question he played very well and very clean, but how different would the Cowboys have been with a healthy Tony Romo? You can’t base anything on Romo’s one successful drive in week 17 against Philadelphia, but based on Romo’s past, it seems fair to assume that, at the very least, Romo wouldn’t be much less productive than Dak. Depending on the offensive style Dallas would employ with Romo under centre, there may have been more turnovers, but there may also have been more production. As good as Dak was, he scored 0 or 1 touchdown in over half of the regular season games he principally played in. While I would never claim that Dak was a placeholder, I think it is fair to question whether he added so much production to the offense as to merit an MVP award.

Matt Ryan

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Credit: Panic Button

‘Matty Ice’ is the first candidate on this list who I think demands serious consideration for the MVP award, and now that he has been named to the All Pro team, he may be the fovourite to win. It feels somewhat unfair to pair Ryan in the same category of consistency as Dak Prescott, simply because Ryan’s consistent production is much more searingly productive than Dak, or indeed, most quarterbacks in the league this year. Rodgers pipped him to the post in terms of touchdowns, but he was far ahead of the other candidates in terms of yards, led the league in terms of passer rating with a 117 mark, while recording the highest ever yards per attempt over the season for QBs with over 400 passes. The statistics are impressive, but more impressive is how relentless Atlanta have been this year with Ryan under centre. In previous years, they have burned hot for stretches, but fallen off under significant challenge; this is something that never happened in the current regular season, with the Falcons finishing the year a demolition of the Saints.

There are lies, damn lies, and statistics, and while I don’t think Ryan’s incredible numbers are deceiving, it is interesting to consider them in the context both of previous seasons and with the rest of the Falcons offense. While this is definitely Ryan’s best season, his production has always been very impressive to the point that him being even more impressive perhaps packs less of a punch. More importantly perhaps, the Falcons had a stellar and somewhat forgotten backfield  of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman who supplied a third of Atlanta touchdowns and around a quarter of Atlanta offense. This doesn’t denigrate Ryan’s fantastic season, but it does help explain why he may have been able to take his performances to the next level. Without their production, Matt Ryan and the Falcons may not have been able to be quite so dangerous. As suggested though, Ryan would be a worthy MVP, just not my choice in this competitive season.

‘Jenga Pieces’

I don’t have much time for Dave Dameshek and his irritating brand of dad comedy, but his podcast – when you eat around all that – does contain some insightful and interesting discussions and analysis, and one talking point he raises frequently is that of ‘jenga pieces’, i.e., players who are so crucial to their team’s success that them being removed causes the whole operation to crumble. It is this property that I have always understood MVP to measure – the inherent value a player has to their team’s overall success. It’s with this in mind that I have made my pick for MVP.

Derek Carr

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Credit: Oakland -247sports

Derek Carr isn’t quite my choice for MVP, but given my definition of the award, I think that Derek Carr’s heart-breaking injury in week 16 may have – strangely enough – made his case about as strongly as possible. Before his injury, Carr was settling the league alight at the helm of the red-hot Oakland Raiders. Ultimately, he didn’t match up to the other candidates in terms of dominance, and between their rushing attack and pass rush it was clear that Carr wasn’t the only powerful cog in Oakland, but Oakland’s fate after losing Carr has been very telling. Where Brady’s replacement, for example, picked up where Tom Terrific left off, Oakland seem to have collapsed, turning a team in control of the #2 seed and a viable threat to the Patriots in to a #5 seed who aren’t favoured to win more than one post-season game. In short, when Carr went down, the Raiders appear to have followed, and it is in that fact that Carr’s inherent value – be it in terms of skill, or even in terms of leadership and motivation – is very powerful.

Ezekiel Elliott

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Credit: ESPN.com

My choice, considering all of these great candidates, is a difficult one for me to concede as a Giants fan, but the Cowboys have picked up a possible all time talent in Elliott, and more than that, a piece that has been central not only to their success, but to their style of success.

There are some very immediate arguments against Elliott being especially singularly valuable, but I think they become weaker in the context of how the Cowboys offense has succeeded this year. The first is that his impact has been essentially shared with another candidate mentioned, Dak Prescott. Returning briefly to my argument against Dak though, as well and as clean as he played, the talent he replaced (when he last played a full season) was comparable in terms of many stats, and in most, compared unfavourably. It is only his security with the ball where Dak has the edge. That’s not insignificant, but it’s also something that points more to a game manager than a game winner. That’s not a knock – Dak has led the team incredibly well under a hell of a microscope in Dallas, but it just doesn’t make him MVP.

So if the improvement isn’t at QB, it has to be somewhere else, and judging by yards and points scored, it’s at running back. Last year, Darren McFadden had a nice season, running for 1,089 yards and three TDs. This year, Elliott blew that – and all other RBs – out of the water on his way to the rushing title, rushing for 1,631 and 15 TDs. Elliott was seriously endangering Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record before being rested in the final game and was able to prove himself as an adept receiver and pass-blocker which is also crucial to any pass offense. The comparison with McFadden also helps to combat the second fair complaint with Elliott winning – the all-decade offensive line blocking for him. Of course Zeke playing behind this line helps him, but any argument that his success is simply because of the line is fraudulent. What Darren McFadden proved, perhaps, was that any decent RB could run for 1,000 yards behind this line, but Ezekiel has done that and way more.

This is where I come to my point about the Dallas offensive system. In the past, their running game was important, but ultimately, their success was down to Tony Romo being explosive. This year, Dallas have been using Zeke to shorten the game, control the game, grind down opposition defences, and protect their own defense as much as possible from opposition offenses. The Cowboys were successful at this, having the second longest time of possession for the year. The Cowboys were used to going on long, crushing drives, with Zeke as the hammer driving them forward most of the time. Even in 3rd and long situations, Zeke was frequently capable of backbreaking long runs to keep moving the chains. That, mixed with his goal line production which saw the Dallas ground game contribute a much higher proportion of touchdowns this year. Zeke’s exceptional play supported the rest of the offense and the rest of the team to many of their wins this year, and without him, there would have been much more required from Dak which would have required him to push the boundaries a bit more and risk his reputation as a safe pair of hands. The Cowboys have blown out a few teams, but have also won a lot of close games over the course of the year, and the recipe for those wins is usually that of controlling the game, and that is what Zeke was central to this year and what has made him so valuable. The most valuable. Just about.

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A final point: if we agree that ‘value’ in the MVP race has this ‘jenga piece’ definition, is it worth creating a new, less vaguely-defined award for the Player of the Year? Personally, I think so as it would also clear up the definition of MVP and help celebrate more players and more contributions. If that were a category, I would give the award to another player I have to through gritted teeth – Tom Brady.

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Smack of the Week (10/12/10): Edge Pushes Kane Over the Edge

I like that Josh Matthews has gotten the Smackdown gig. I initially liked Todd Grisham, but he’s gotten really boring lately whereas Matthews is witty and natural. I think now that Grisham’s been replaces, they can get Cole off the show.

It’s difficult to judge the Kaval-Swagger match. Very early on, Kaval tweaked his ankle (it seems, legitimately, as he’s been for MRIs since). With that in mind, major kudos to Kaval for continuing the match for so long! The way it visibly hurt him, the match had to be based around his injured ankle, and rather than just slapping him in an ankle lock, he and Swagger kept going for quite some time. The match they had since then, because of the legitimate story involved, was very good, but eventually the World Warrior had to succumb to the ankle lock. Following that, Swagger cut one of his best promos I can remember about how he was ‘cheated’ last week and he was going to protest it later on that night. It was great to see a more serious Swagger, and he played a heel very well here.

Later was an excellent match between Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler for the Intercontinental Championship. Before the match, Ziggler cut an awesome backstage promo on how he was a champion and Kofi was forever a contender. It was the best promo he’s ever cut that I can remember. As I say, the match was fantastic. I think Kofi draws a lot more interest (at least from me) when he’s involved with a title than when he’s not. That’s no ringing endorsement, but at least he encourages interest! This was a match with great back-and-forth and shows of athleticism. One of Kofi’s genuine stand-out characteristics is his leaping ability, and he showed it off brilliantly two or three times in this match. I liked Vickie’s involvement too. It wasn’t too intrusive, but it was a way of making the champion seem vulnerable (her having to distract Kofi before he pinned Ziggler), prolong the match, and make Kofi seem like a threatening challenger. Though I usually hate title matches ending in DQ’s, under these circumstances, I liked it. Kofi was on his way to a victory, and I have no interest in seeing him as IC champ at this time; whereas Swagger’s run-in and brutal attack on Kofi’s ankle made him seem more credibly dangerous than he has in a long time and pointed to a much-needed high-profile feud for both competitors that is based on genuine bad blood.

During the comic match between The Eagle and Hornswoggle, I saw the Eagle mimic MVP’s ‘Ballin’ move. I hope it was as a nod to him, rather than a joke at his expense.

I enjoyed seeing Chavo Guerrero in high-profile competition (against the tag champs and tagging with Drew McIntyre). The match was ok, but it was all too short for Chavo, who greedily tagged himself in as Drew was in control, only to crash and burn and get pinned. I don’t think the team of him and McIntyre would have worked, but I would like to see Chavo make his way through potential partners before finding one he gelled with and made a good challenge for the tag titles. I think he deserves it, and would do a great job helping other, younger, stars get over. Drew could do with a decent feud too, before he becomes old news.

The main event was quite good. I liked that Kane didn’t show up straight away – it fitted in well with the storyline, as did Edge’s decision to pursue Kane rather than the match. Rey and Alberto put on what was essentially a good singles match with good back-and-forth; eventually seeing Rey go over.

The show was again dominated by Edge holding Paul Bearer captive and tormenting both him and Kane. Luckily, this will surely have to be the last time this takes place as Kane, sick of all the games, tested Edge by pushing what he believed to be just another Paul Bearer figure off the balcony. However, with a nice bit of symmetry with his brother’s ‘killing’ of Bearer in the cement, it turned out to be the real Bearer. Kane was obviously distraught, and I didn’t like Edge’s almost scampish reaction of “well, I did warn ya!” Obviously I didn’t expect him to go and console Kane, but a shocked face and nothing else would have been more fitting. This has gone on far too long, and now that this has happened, i’m actually looking forward to next week’s Smackdown to see what the fallout over the incident will be.

Smack of the Week 03/12/2010: Edge Still One Step Ahead

 

The opening segment of this week’s show was unusually understated (not even any pyro!). Rey Mysterio came out to the ring meekly to cut a promo on Alberto Del Rio costing him his shot at King of the Ring, and though it was intentionally methodical, it seemed to drag. Eventually Del Rio came to respond and liven things up, being put through a table for his trouble. It seems they have a match at TLC, but the message wasn’t conveyed that well. This is one of a few feuds that has gotten somewhat stale on the blue brand.

The next match saw MVP’s final performance in a WWE ring (for now at least) tagging with Kaval against Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler. This was a good match, and right to the end (presumably MVP knew this would probably be his last match), MVP wrestled just as well as he always does and had the crowd on his side. He will be sorely missed. Drew McIntyre played off his own aggression well and he and Ziggler came out the victors after some good heel-work gave Ziggler the chance to hit his Zig Zag on Kaval for the win.

In a re-match from last week’s epic encounter, Kofi Kingston took on Jack Swagger, this time for the #1 contendership to the Intercontinental championship. That made it fairly obvious that Kofi (a face to oppose heel Ziggler) would win, but that didn’t detract from the quality of the match. These two seem to gel really well, and again they were given a long time to do so. Like last week, it started slow, but picked up in the second half (as should happen). Counter after counter; innovative reversals to each other’s moves, lots of back and forth and near-falls. The drama was high, but again Trouble in Paradise came out of nowhere to down Swagger for the three. Really good match, but bad for Swagger. I think he should feud with Kaval now. Arrogant former World Champion against tough upstart; massive collegiate wrestler against smaller warrior. It writes itself and it would be excellent for both too if it got good time.

We saw Rosa Mendes actually wrestle for the first time in forever. Against Layla (with Michelle McCool), it was always going to be a tough prospect, but the limited time she was in the ring she fought well and showed she could hold a match. Layla bested her eventually however with her Layout and LayCool preceded to assault her. At this point I expected to see brand new diva Kaitlyn come to her aid (after appearing earlier backstage), but I had forgotten about Beth Phoenix. Now as good as Beth is, i’m not surprised I forget her, she’s been doing the same thing every week (y’know, saving someone from LayCool). Book a damn tag match already!

Our main event was Kane against Edge, the winner getting to choose the stipulation for their match at TLC. Now all through the night, Kane had been chasing Edge all through the arena, luring him every time with Paul Bearer, only to pretend to force him in to an accident and for Kane to buy it every time. It’s getting ridiculous, and ridiculously repetitive, and I wont dignify it anymore until there’s a shift. The match was good – there was a lot of good storytelling. Edge out-pacing a distracted Kane in the ring with Kane sometimes using brute force to swing the momentum. The ending was good, with Edge getting a rest as Kane decided whether or not to do the obvious thing and look for Paul Bearer while Edge was distracted by the match, or to do the compelling thing and go to win the match and improve your chances at TLC. Unfortunately for Kane, his indecisiveness got him the worst of both worlds; after some deliberation, he returned to the ring and received a quick Spear. Edge selected, unsurprisingly, a TLC match – not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just the build up that’s difficult to stay interested in now.

Overall, a show that showed a repetitiveness in Smackdown which needs to be addressed. The Kane-Edge and Mysterio-Del Rio storylines both have to finish by the Royal Rumble at the latest. I also thought how great it would have been with Drew McIntyre as King of the Ring – it really would have freshened things up! As for MVP, I think if he were in Edge’s spot now, the brand would be, conversely, fresh and vibrant. I didn’t ask that he won the World Title immediately, just that he was placed in the picture; and if he had of been, maybe he’d have stayed.

MVP Granted Release from WWE

MVP, the longest reigning United States Champion in history, seemed destined for big things

MVP was granted a release today from WWE. This is genuinely very upsetting to me as, while I initially didn’t rate him as anything ‘special’, I have come over the last year especially to realise that he was the all-round pro-wrestling package; he is great on the mic, great in the ring, and over with the fans, but WWE never seemed to wake up to this, which is why, I think, he asked for his release.

On twitter he said he “felt it was time to international and freshen things up,” and I don’t blame him. He was always on that upper-mid card crux of a world title run, but never received it. He seemed destined for the main event in 2008, even competing for the WWE title in a Championship Scramble match, but even when that didn’t lead to anything there were several times when he impressed subsequently: interrupting Legacy, he seemed on course for a feud with Randy Orton, later he seemed to be entering a hot feud with new WWE Champion The Miz, but in both cases, they just fizzled out, and not because of MVP.

He was never given the chances he deserved. His personal story is compelling and uplifting, and WWE never tapped in to it in any meaningful way. I just hope the ‘WWE Universe’ makes WWE realise just how big the talent is that they’ve driven away and hopefully they will do ‘a Daniel Bryan,’ wake up, and bring him back for a push. It seems unlikely though.

Now to the inevitable question: I don’t like TNA, and I don’t know how good a fir he’d be there anyway, but if he did go, I would watch. Whatever happens, I hope he finds success and happiness, which, for MVP, means wrestling in Japan, and MVP in Japan will be unique and excellent viewing!

Smack of the Week (26/11/2010): Kings in Waiting

The competitors in this week's King of the Ring qualifiers

 

This week’s show opened basically where it lest off last week, with Edge toying with both Kane and Paul Bearer. This of course went on through the night, but i’m starting to dislike the angle, so i’ll talk about it all in a oner. The main problem with the angle is that it is starting to get goofy. Surely there are only so many threats and traps Edge can set for Kane to get him upset/angry, and if if this is what the TLC build-up is going to be, we have three weeks of it left. Surely they can’t continue with the idea past next week though! It’s a shame too because the idea of Paul Bearer’s kidnapping affecting Kane is interesting, and a lot of the set-pieces have been disturbing (in a good way). It’s just starting to wear a little thin, and I think we are cracking Kane’s monstrous veneer a little too much considering the dominance he has had of late.

The first King of the Ring qualifier of the night saw Kofi Kingston take on Jack Swagger. There was instant interest in this match as either man could feasibly progress (and become king), so it was genuinely unpredictable. It was a very long match, and not always thrilling as a prominent story was of the calculating Swagger grounding the chaotic style of Kofi Kingston. Swagger looked very strong, at one point apparently having dominated Kofi so much, Kingston was almost out on his feet, at one point, almost collapsing out of the ring. Towards the end of the contest, it became more equal, with both men trading momentum. Swagger tried to end it with his Vader Bomb, only to be countered by Kofi in to Trouble in Paradise for the victory. A good match, but I would have preferred Swagger to have progressed. I will talk about King of the Ring, however, seperately in another post.

In a match of main event booking, the next qualifier saw Alberto Del Rio take on the Big Show. This was an enjoyable match, as Del Rio put on a show of trying to wrestle down the bigger man. He looked very impressive sticking-and-running against the Giant, consistently managing to drive him to his knees or to the canvas completely. An especially well thought out moment came when Del Rio attempted his cross-armbreaker on an already downed Big Show, only for it to be reversed in to a back drop. Thankfully, Del Rio managed to find a way to beat Show, after his personal ring announcer, Ricardo Rodriguez managed to distract Show enough to cause a count out. I say ‘thankfully,’ not because I dislike the Big Show, but because I feel his character has gotten stale ever since he became a ‘comedian’ and he certainly had no need to be in the running for King of the Ring.

The third qualifier saw Drew McIntyre take on MVP. Personally, I think both guys should have been in different matches and allowed to progress, but it’s clear there simply wasn’t enough room. This was an excellent match and probably the best match of the night as both men played their respective roles in the match superbly, based, as it was, around a determined MVP with a severely injured arm and a sadistic McIntyre using it to his advantage. It all started with a trademark use of the steel stairs from McIntyre as he stamped on MVP’s arm resting on it. From this point on, he would battle valiantly against McIntyre and give him a very good match before finally being snuffed out by the ‘Sinister Scotsman.’ MVP sold his injury very well (apart from the final conceit of it giving out and causing him to hit his head on the turnbuckle in to a waiting Future Shock DDT) throughout the match, showing the practical ways that sort of injury might affect a wrestler (rather than just wincing everytime it got specifically hit). McIntyre, who played the almost psychopathic aggressor, deserves to be in the competition, I just hope MVP, who has been on something  of a push lately, has something else to move in to and grow.

It looks as though LayCool aren’t necessarily getting a Divas title rematch after this week saw them continue their feud with the returning Beth Phoenix, who appeared again after a shock Kelly Kelly victory over Michelle McCool in an ok match. I can see another handicap match in the offing perhaps …

The main event saw Rey Mysterio take on Cody Rhodes for the final spot in next week’s King of the Ring. These two worked very well together I thought, with Rey’s quickness and Cody’s technical and malleable style gelling well. Rhodes was all over Mysterio at the start, hitting him early with a Beautiful Disaster and an Alabama Slam for a believable near fall (especially notable given how early it was in the match). Just in terms of establishment, Rey had to be considered the favourite, so Cody sharing a main event with him was a good rub, and Cody looked very competent against Mysterio, managing to keep a lid on him without dominating him. All the while Alberto Del Rio was at ringside, playing an excellent heel. His comments to the other commentators were nothing special, but just the way he stood in front of the booth with the headphones on made him come across as brilliantly arrogant. It was he that swung the balance in favour of Rhodes, thrusting Mysterio in to a ringpost after Mysterio accidentally hit him with his West Coast Pop. Rhodes took advantage, hitting the Cross-Rhodes and thankfully (for the exact same reasons as concerned Big Show) getting the victory.

With neither Mysterio or Big Show making the King of the Ring cut, there is, rightly,  a collection of great young talent in the brackets for the competition. But i’ll discuss this more in my upcoming King of the Ring post.

Survivor Series Results & Review, 2010: Cena Sacrifices Himself to Do the Right Thing

Cena dutifully hands the WWE Championship to Randy Orton

Daniel Bryan def. Ted DiBiase to Retain the United States Championship
There was something about DiBiase right from the get-go that I liked a lot more than I have since he left Legacy. He’s been too bound up in his father’s image, and it’s hurt him and set his progression as a superstar back. Last night, he looked determined, ruthless and much more interesting. The early going was all about him and the remarkable aggression he showed Bryan, beating him down, picking him up, and beating him down again, including that sickening elbow drop to Bryan’s throat from the turnbuckle. I don’t know whether it was legitimate or not, but during Bryan’s resurgence, he hit a Suicide Dive on to DiBiase where he looked to fall awkwardly on his shoulder. If it was legit, kudos to Bryan for continuing, if not, kudos to both for making it a focal point of the match. DiBiase attacked the arm, and looked like he could beat Bryan, but Bryan eventually won by applying his LaBelle Lock from the other side of DiBiase, keeping his injured shoulder in mind. A very good opener though, and i’d be surprised if it has ended the feud. After the match, the Miz attacked Bryan from behind and cut a promo saying that he was sick of carrying that MITB briefcase around with him, teasing that he may cash it in on the night.

John Morrison def. Sheamus
This was the match I was least looking forward to. I didn’t think the build-up was very good, and I thought (and still kinda think) that Morrison isn’t charismatic enough to provide interesting narratives. The match started slowly, but to their credit, about a third of the way in, it started to pick up. The pace of the match picked up and there was some good back-and-forth, but mostly in Sheamis’s favour. A crucial moment came when Sheamus sweeped Morrison’s legs away when he was (I think) looking for Starship Pain. This started a nice progression involving Morrison’s leg, starting in style with some sort of (and this is my best identification of the move) leg-snapmare, which involved great athleticism from Morrison. Sheamus followed this up with a single-leg Boston crab, which I was really pleased to see as it showed some evolution from Sheamus, incorporating submissions. This still wasn’t enough though, and after Sheamus missed with a Brogue Kick, the resilient Morrison hit his flying chuck before a shining wizard and to pick up the three. A better match than I expected, and a good way to keep Sheamus interested in Morrison for now, though I was surprised to see Sheamus go down without receiving one of Morrison’s finishers.

Dolph Ziggler def. Kaval to Retain the Intercontinental Championship
This was another excellent match, and, as I expected, one that was high-octane and unpredictable. Ziggler’s highly competent mat-skills were never quite enough to contain the World Warrior, who even more than usual, was all over the ring, hitting springboards and flips and kicks whenever he got a moment’s breath. Some particularly special moments were his springboard moonsault on to Ziggler, and his corcscrewing flip into a Warrior’s Way which, unfortunately, Ziggler was able to avoid. It seemed Ziggler just wouldn’t be able to beat Kaval, so he resorted to holding his tights for the pinfall. Though Kaval is a new challenger that lost, that ending means i’m sure Kaval will go on to confront Ziggler and wrestle him again for the title at TLC. I’m putting my order in now for a ladder match. This was a very good match, and add in a ladder, and these two could steal the show.

Survivor Series Match: Team Mysterio def. Team Del Rio with Rey Mysterio and Big Show as Sole-Survivors
As I always say, it’s difficult to really analyse these big ten-man matches – there’s just too much going on in short bursts. That is not to say, however, that quality is lacking, and this Survivor Series match was, to my mind, excellent. The early stand-out was home-town boy, MVP, He had the crowd in the palm of his hand and was besting everything that moved. Though i’m sick of saying it, while your pushing people, WWE, why don’t you push someone who barely needs any pushing (MVP!) Del Rio got himself great heat by cheating MVP out of the match, tripping hm and then holding his feet while Drew McIntyre pinned him. Alberto was playing a fantastic heel indeed, after dispatching Masters with (relative) ease, and seeing Big Show enter the ring, he went to tag in McIntyre before mocking Show right in his face; his wink bringing him a swift Knock-out Punch to take him out of the match. Reks was characteristically powerful but indistinct, taking Show off his feet before getting eliminated without much fanfare. One stand-out was Jack Swagger. He was besting everyone in the ring, finding ingenius ways of grappling his way to an Ankle Lock. It’s obviously rare that faces tap, but Swagger’s determination paid off as Kofi succumbed to the devastating move. Swagger had McIntyre at his side as they took on Rey and Show, and McIntyre stood out too, working well with Swagger and being the last member of Team Del Rio to be pinned. As I say, a great Survivor Series match, though it was a little samey to see Rey and Show as sole-survivors.

Natalya def. LayCool to Become WWE Divas Champion
This was a relatively short but very good and physical match, which seemed to be well received. Natalya managed to handle the two heels in a way which didn’t seem unnatural, largely because of, I assume, the forays to ringside which makes the situation chaotic enough to allow that sort of unlikely dominance. The match progressed in almost the exact way I predicted it, but predictability is not necessarily a bad thing. LayCool are great heels, while most will acknowledge (in kayfabe terms or not) that Nattie deserves the title. It was almost like a right of passage, and so to have it delivered just as you might imagine it, makes it all the sweeter. Post match came a big surprise as Beth Phoenix made her return to save Nattie from the vengeful LayCool before celebrating with Natalya. Some interesting questions came from all this. Firstly, will LayCool stay together? Will they get a re-match? If they do, who will fight for them? Could the decision split them up? A LayCool split would be a genuinely big deal. Secondly, surely Beth Phoenix is interested in the Divas title? And if so, how will that effect her friendship with Nattie? Expect a tag match this Smackdown to provide some answers.

Kane and Edge TIE Allowing Kane to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
This was, in many ways, an interesting and compelling match. It was a pretty slow one, because the story was based around Edge’s psychology and Kane’s mental state regarding his missing father. The early going was dominated by Edge drawing Kane in and capitalising on the angry champion’s lack of focus. This was obviously countered with some devastating offense from the Big Red Machine as he tried to punish Edge and beat some answers out of him. This was good, but the match wasn’t really action-packed until the very end. Kane, looking dominant, managed a Chokeslam, which provided us with a dramatic near-fall. An infuriated Kane set up for the Tombstone-Piledriver, but Edge escaped and hit a Spear, which seemed to give him the three count. On closer inspection though, both men were covering each other, allowing for a Kane retention. This is usually frustrating at PPVs, but it seemed justified here. Kane got to keep his title while Edge had a reason to stay focused on Kane. No doubt ther’ll be a rematch at TLC, and seen as Edge is involved, it’ll probably be a TLC match. A decent match, and i’m glad Kane kept the title for another month.

Nexus (Slater & Gabriel) def. Santino Marella & Vladimir Kozlov to Retain the WWE Tag Team Championships
Though predictable and relatively short, this was a neat little match which really played off Nexus’s distinct character. It was also good for the challengers as Santino was made to look stronger than he has in the past (indeed, a badly kept secret being that, in reality, he’s a very talented wrestler) and Kozlov was made to look like a dominant force. They really took it to Nexus, but Slater and Gabriel really performed a fantastic heel tag match, finding ingenius ways to keep te advantage and get in regular cheap shots, as well as their regular (within seconds of each other) tags meaning they can basically double-team for a lot longer. This, and involvement from other Nexus members was eventually too much for the faces to handle, as Nexus went over to retain in a way which showed the group’s strength, a point which was reinforced by their posy-match beat down of the challengers.

Randy Orton def. Wade Barrett to Retain the WWE Championship and John Cena Fired
Yes, this match was big and significant, though not for the reason I expected. The match was pretty good, and a point was made of making Barrett seem like a credible challenger, dominating Orton for the first quarter or so. The real focus was on Cena though, as he continued to call it down the middle. Orton was in the ascendancy towards the middle of the match, making every count very interesting, but again, towards the end, it was Barrett in control, using all sorts of moves: elbow drops, pumphandle slams and even a Wasteland without being able to keep Orton down. This frustrated Barrett who shoved Cena, but Cena, with nothing to lose, shoved Barrett in to an RKO and (though he briefly hesitated) counted the 1-2-3. Now I must say that I wasn’t on the edge of my seat like I was at Hell in the Cell, but I think that’s down to the fact that I so expected Barrett to win, and indeed, when he didn’t, I was surprised. Needless, to say, this isn’t the ideal scenario that I wanted to see, but it was not a bad way to end it. Had Barrett won clean, or had Miz have cashed in, it would have been frustrating, but here, when Cena realised what had happened, the response from the fans, and his connection to them restored was all genuinely emotional, and a testament to Cena’s acting in this storyline. Orton too, did a good job of showing immediate reconciliation with Cena, silently acknowledging the sacrifice Cena had made. There are more questions than answers though. What will become of Nexus? Surely it will be hard to justify another Barrett-Orton title match? It is crucial for them that they continue to make an impact, and I expect them to do something borne of anger on RAW tonight (one idea being they could beat down Orton and help Miz cash in, though I still think it best that he waits until post-Wrestlemania). It is crucial for them that they manage to stay relevant.  The most important question surrounds Cena. For this to be an un-frustrating ending, he needs to either be gone from RAW for a significant amount of time (until, say, Elimination Chamber), or he has to go to Smackdown. I was gunning for a heel-turn, but a switch to the blue brand would be the next best alternative as he would have plenty of opportunities for fresh feuds, e.g. with the likes of Kane, Drew McIntyre, Jack Swagger and Alberto Del Rio. If he comes back to RAW within a month, I will be furious.

Overall, a very good PPV. The main event had to deliver, and largely, it did, pending the fallout from it. There was not one bad match on the card, even considering the shorter ones. Compared to last years outing, it was much better!

Survivor Series Preview and Predictions, 2010

 

Survivor Series, 21/11/2010, from the American Airlines Centre, Miami

The poster says it all in many ways. This PPV has to be shocking in some way. It has been set up in such a way as to make it inevitable, and unlike last year’s outing, one that will be memorable. Indeed, this has the potential to be the biggest, most infamous PPV in years, and for one reason only: the future of John Cena. But more on that when I talk about the main event.

Match 1) WWE Tag Team Championships Match: Nexus (Gabriel & Slater) (c) vs Santino Marella & Vladimir Kozlov
I think Nexus will start and end the show. Hearing the Nexus music to start out the show is the perfect way to set the tone. Barrett and the rest may all come out for a pre-match promo. I think this one will be intentionally short to get over the strength of the Nexus, but given Kozlov’s size and reputation, they will probably need outside help to achieve that. Expect a later segment where Barrett tells Cena that they all have to work together to achieve the Nexus’ goals, as in the tag match.

Winners: Nexus

Match 2) United States Championship Match: Daniel Bryan (c) vs Ted DiBiase
For the first time, I think Bryan’s reign as US champ may be in jeopardy. In the past it’s been a case of Bryan beating whomever is placed before him. This time, however, it seems that DiBiase could be on a similar run. After his part-comic feud with Goldust, he seems to have come out of his experience hungrier and more ruthless. Of course this is all judging from one attack only (i.e. the one on Bryan on RAW), but the change in DiBiase was unmistakable. As we have come to expect with Bryan (and as DiBiase has potential for, even if he’s never quite shown it fully), this will be a very good match. I’m not sure whether Maryse will play a part or not; it seems to me that DiBiase was on the verge of dumping her. I think this is the start of a programme between the two, but I think it’s too sudden to have DiBiase take the title just yet.

Winner: Daniel Bryan

Match 3) Divas Championship Match: LayCool (c) vs Natalya
I think this is the time where Natalya will finally beat LayCool and take her first, very much deserved, Divas Championship. This will probably happen for a couple of reasons. Firstly, every match-up and outcome between them has been exhausted, and secondly because the almost insurmountable odds for Natalya probably works in her symbolic favour. The story is quite easy to imagine. Natalya will take a big-time beating initially, but during a surge for Nattie, LayCool will accidentally hurt each other, allowing Natalya to take the victory. As for LayCool, it might necessitate a split – after all, who will get the statutory re-match? Saying that, LayCool are so successful still, that they may find a way of staying together for now.

Winner: Natalya

Match 4) Intercontinental Championship Match: Dolph Ziggler (c) vs Kaval
Like the United States Championship match, this is another tight one to call, and for the same reason; Dolph has been very strong of late whereas Kaval hasn’t been in the title picture until suddenly, two days ago. However, there are slight differences: firstly, Kaval actually beat Ziggler in the ring as opposed to ‘beat’ing him down, but more importantly, Kaval is ‘cashing in’ his statutory title match. The conventions of that sort of privilege usually end with the challenger taking the title. This could be another excellent match (and it’s important for Kaval to have one) as they are both great wrestlers, while Ziggler has proven himself against Bryan, another smaller guy with a Japanese-esque style. Kaval will provide a more high-octane opponent (though perhaps a, slightly, less technically gifted one) which is conducive to a dramatic and unpredictable match, and in the end, will take the shock victory. After all, he wouldn’t be breaking that losing streak, just to lose again.

Winner: Kaval

Match 5) Sheamus vs John Morrison
To be honest, this is the match which least interests me. I like Sheamus and i’m warming to Morrison as being towards that level, but I just think the build-up for this match has been a little tame. Sheamus is doing his part, but Morrison still doesn’t have the charisma or mic skills to make a really compelling story. I’m sure it will be a good match though, and probably one that gets a lot of time. I think a Sheamus victory wouldn’t make any sense. Why all this if Sheamus is just going to win. It wouldn’t do much to spark off a full-blown feud like a shock (as it would be) Morrison victory would. Therefore, I expect a Morrison victory, perhaps after a roll-up (though that would detract somewhat from the victory.

Winner: John Morrison

Match 6) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Kane (c) vs Edge
A very good job has been made of  building this match up, and though, as I mentioned in my Smackdown review,  i’m less keen on Edge’s reprise of his meniacal side, there is no doubt that a sense of genuine hatred has been established between these two. What you can expect from these two veterans is a well thought out match, and one with high drama as regards the end of the match. A crucial factor will be the role played (or not played) by Paul Bearer. Will he even be there? If not, how will that affect Kane? Could Bearer turn on Kane? If Undertaker is approaching his last run, maybe Paul will be returning to his side. As to the result of the match, partly because of the result i’ll be predicting in the main event, but mostly because of the nature of Kane’s reign, I see Kane retaining. I don’t see the point of giving the title to Edge and stop Kane’s seemingly unstoppable run. I think Kane will be keeping the title until the Royal Rumble at least, and continue to seem unbeatable.

Winner: Kane

Match 7) Smackdown Survivor Series Match (Team Mysterio: Rey Mysterio, MVP, Big Show, Kofi Kingston & Chris Masters vs Team Del Rio: Alberto Del Rio, Drew McIntyre, Jack Swagger, Cody Rhodes & Tyler Reks)
The two team captains have a good degree of ‘beef’ with each other, and with the addition of MVP, there is genuine interest in who wins between the two teams. I’m pretty sure the faces will be going over here, as MVP and Kofi Kingston especially could do with the spotlight that ‘surviving’ this match would bring, while the recently split Drew McIntyre and Cody Rhodes will doubtlessly be on different pages, Del Rio has proved himself no team player. I expect, given the build-up, to see MVP and Rey Mysterio as sole-survivors.

Winners: Team Mysterio

Match 8) WWE Championship Match: Randy Orton (c) vs Wade Barrett (John Cena, Special Guest Referee)
There is so much to say about this match i’m almost hesitant to begin. This match will be just as nerve-wracking (and probably more so) than the classic Cena-Barrett match from Hell in the Cell. The first thing to say is that it’s almost a given that Wade Barrett will be the new WWE Champion. John Cena is not getting fired (unless, in the lamest kop-out in wrestling history, Cena ‘does the right thing,’ is fired, and is brought back in quick measure). I’d like to see Nexus make it as difficult as possible for Cena too. Have them come to the ring, interfere and dare him to disqualify Barrett. No doubt he’ll find diplomatic ways to deal with such situations. The moment of truth will come, as you might expect, towards the end of the match. I am among the hoards of people begging for a Cena heel turn, and on Sunday, I believe, one way or another, will turn that way. The most shocking way of achieving this would be for Barrett to enter the ring with the belt or a chair and Cena to appear as if he wants to stop him before turning round and striking Orton with the weapon and counting the pinfall for Barrett’s victory. That would make my year, and the year of many others. Another year-making event would be the more slightly more subtle turn of Cena counting the three before cracking a smile and shaking Barrett’s hand. Even if Cena’s heel-turn is unrelated to Nexus though, it could still happen. Imagine he counts the three but follows his word of beating down Barrett. In the following weeks he’ll be getting heat from fans and the other wrestlers that he’ll be driven to snap and turn heel. There has been lots of talk of Miz cashing in his MITB opportunity – that will not happen. I still think he needs a big feud with a main-eventer (someone like Triple H or Orton) to get over at that level. Him cashing in would distract from what has happened already and be a bit of an overload.  Whatever happens, this will be one of the most compelling matches in recent WWE history, and could be one of the very most important and iconic matches in WWE history.

Winner: Wade Barrett

Here is the moving promo for the match, to get you in the mood: