Over the Limit Review 2012: Over the Limit and Jumping the Shark

Punk drops the Macho Man elbow on Bryan in the middle of a great battle, but this wasn’t the enduring image of the show.

Right, I don’t know what I just saw, other than a surprisingly consistently high quality PPV with a bit of pro-wrestling sureeality tacked on the end – and not a good, interesting kind of surreality. Thankfully, I am able to put the truly great match between Punk and Bryan at centre stage to the event in my own little way by making it the cover picture of the review. So, let’s talk this through, shall we?

Match 1) Christian Returned to Win the ‘People Power’ Battle Royal and to Gain an Intercontinental Championship Shot
This match was actually announced and started (or at least the entrances did) on the Youtube preshow. This was basically a fantastic move; the Kane-Ryder match was fine and probably got some people interested, but the last 10 minutes of the preshow thereafter would have been very convincing for undecided fans as we had introductions for the commentators (setting the PPV scene itself), but especially all the intros for the battle royal which would start the show. They offered you the match and then cut out before the PPV started. I doubt many bought the PPV just for the battle royal, but I think it would have whetted the PPV appetite enough to get buys. Another great thing about the battle royal was the amount of young talent it spotlighted: Tyson Kidd, The Usos, JTG, Yoshi Tatsu, among other who are better known but are struggling for TV time, like Alex Riley, Tyler Reks, Curt Hawkins, Michael McGillicutty, and especially Drew McIntyre. A clever aspect of this stipulation was that the winner could pick either the United States Championship or the Intercontinental Championship to challenge for, making it hard to narrow down the potential winners because it could be either face or heel. I don’t like to do play by play on battle royals, but it was one of the better ones. They can often be slow and clunking, but this was fast-paced and exciting. Especially Tyson Kidd made the most of his minutes with some great high-flying action with which he managed to get a reaction from the crowd, including most notably a springboard double dropkick. Eventually though, it was down to -as I thought – three heels: The Miz, David Otunga, and Christian; but then something unexpected happened: Miz and Otunga teamed up on Christian. This seemed like clear babyfacing characterisation, which I wasn’t expecting and wasn’t sure if I liked, but then he managed to eliminate Miz (around the turnbuckle with both of them on the apron) and seemed to pick Santino to challenge for the US title, which would make him heel, so I chalked it all up to the audience favouring Christian because of his return.

Kofi Kingston & R-Truth def. Dolph Ziggler & Jack Swagger to Retain the WWE Tag Team Championships
I saw some good responses to this match, notably from a wrestling writer I respect (@AKATheMaskedMan), but I didn’t really see anything special here, apart from after Kofi’s hot tag, the few minutes thereafter being very explosive. It just felt to me like going through the motions. Admittedly for these four, going through the motions is entertaining, but I just feel like i’ve seen these guys together thousands of times, and it felt like just another time. Until the hot tag that is. Kofi has one of the best comeback’s there is, and from then on, it all built well around his incredible leaping attacks to an eventual Trouble in Paradise to Ziggler for the retention. No surprises here, but I think both teams have problems. Kingston and Truth’s chemistry is still implied at best while Ziggler is losing all the credibility he earned in his high profile title matches at the turn of the year. Kingston and Truth can still improve, but I think it should be the end of the line for Ziggler and Swagger. They can’t keep this up and be interesting. I saw Abraham Washington hinting about taking over their services from Vickie Guerrero, but here’s what should happen: Swagger and Ziggler break up, Swagger joins All World and Ziggler gets himself in to a #1 Contender match at No Way Out and wins impressively to take on Punk at Money in the Bank. As for the tag champs, I think i’d give them Titus O’Neill and Darren Young next.

Match 3) Layla def. Beth Phoenix to Retain the Divas Championship
This match was a surprise in many ways, but luckily, in the right way this time. I had hoped for them to be given time in the preview, and I was very pleased when it actually happened. Given the (relatively, for divas) good time for this match, both Layla and Beth put together a solid, entertaining match. It showed a technicality not often shown, or not often given the time to show as Beth worked Layla’s legitimately hurt knee brutally, using the ringpost, focused power moves and submissions. Layla showed a great deal of gumption in staying in the fight, and really took it to Beth herself with some well executed strikes, dropkicks and reversals. Indeed, as the match went on, there were some cool sequences as Beth tried to finish Layla off, with Layla being too quick and determined until The Glamazon walked in to a stunning Lay Out neckbreaker to earn Layla the retention. This is bittersweet though. I am very pleased that Layla has been afforded some big legitimacy by beating Phoenix clean, as well as the knock-on legitimacy that gives to the championship; but though the Kharma chants annoyed me during this match (seriously fans, at least give what you’re watching a chance!), I, too am desperate to see Kharma vs Beth Phoenix. This result doesn’t help Phoenix’s credibility as an opponent for Kharma and so either Beth will have to go up against her sooner without really showing her power (recently), or we’ll have to wait. What I would do is bring Kharma back to feud with Layla. The Kharma-Gail Kim feud in TNA has become very well thought of, and I think Layla could help replicate that, with Kharma eventually taking the belt. Meanwhile, give Beth the chance to build up her own sense of invincibility (again), and have her face Kharma when she becomes champ.

Match 4) Sheamus def. Chris Jericho, Randy Orton and Alberto Del Rio to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
Fatal Four Ways can go either way: clunking messes, or high octane masterpieces – this was the latter. Going in, the main narrative was about Sheamus and Randy Orton and their tense oneupmanship, but for me, the star was Chris Jericho. Everyone was great here, and made a fantastic, breathless match, but Jericho was a magician here, doing little things which seemed so fresh and innovative throughout the match which really helped build the matches drama. The start of the match was a bit more formulaic, with the heels teaming up on the faces, getting the upper hand for the most part until one of them (Del Rio) went for a cover. Then the honour amongst thieves was gone, but the match also went to the next level. There was a distinct period in which either Jericho was allowed to look fantastic, or just looked fantastic anyway after he hit a signature enziguiri to Orton and then a baseball slide to Sheamus sending him flying rapidly in to the announce table, leaving Jericho standing alone in the ring like a mastermind. Jericho and Orton entered in to some really great back-and forth, before being cleared by Del Rio and Sheamus, who effectively replaced them in the ring after Sheamus shoved them both off the top turnbuckle for a nasty spill, and showed their own wares, with Del Rio using Ricardo Rodriguez to gain an advantage and work Sheamus’s injured arm. The interaction between them all grew faster, more innovative and unpredictable as the match went on. The first of the really spectacular sequences came when Orton hit his Hangman DDT on Sheamus and turned in to a really wrenching cross arm breaker from Del Rio, before Jericho went to break it up with a Lionsault, only for Del Rio to get his knees up, Orton to hit Jericho with his signature backbreaker, and Sheamus to recover to hit Orton with the Irish Curse backbreaker for a good near fall. The match would continue in this vein until it’s end. After more fast-paced action, including a double Hangman DDT to Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez together, Alberto managed to get Jericho in the cross arm-breaker, but the veteran managed to use that position to reverse in to the Walls of Jericho. With the Walls of Del Rio, Sheamus tried to break it up with a Brogue Kick, but Jericho ducked the kick while keeping the hold on Del Rio! Amazing, and then even better as Sheamus went to shoulder block Jericho, but Jericho rolled through to secure the Walls on Sheamus. Again, Jericho was looking invincible with sheer skill and experience. An RKO put paid to him momentarily though as Sheamus and Orton renewed their rivalry in micro form for a little while, with a breathtakingly quick call-and-response of  Orton ducking Brogue Kicks and Sheamus avoiding RKO’s until, finally, Shemus hits the Brogue Kick. I’d have bet on the three count there, but in classic Jericho fashion, he popped up out of nowhere to roll Sheamus us, and i’d have bet EVEN MORE on that near fall, but Sheamus managed to kick out and secure Jericho for the White Noise and the victory. It was seriously one of the best match finishes i’ve ever seen. Everyone looked phenomenal in it and for the first time, Sheamus looked like a champion and not just someone carrying the belt between Brogue Kicks. I would like to see Jericho get another match with Sheamus as I think his effort was central to this match, but if he is leaving (please no!), it’ll be interesting to see who will get the next shot. I know he and Orton have a friendly rivalry going on, and Orton has currency having not being pinned, but surely it would be bad to have one of those two tap talents turn heel at the moment. Maybe Del Rio? I don’t know, I would have picked Christian were it not for what would happen later on in the night.

Match 5) Brodus Clay def. The Miz
Another bad night for the Miz in kayfabe and in reality. Having come close but lost in the battle royal, Miz was sent out to dance. I actually enjoyed his thread about being the best dancer in the WWE, simply because of how irrelevant it was despite his sincerity. His dancing was quite entertaining though, even if it was regressive to his career (seriously, it was like the sort of thing he was shown doing on his way to WrestleMania in that epic video package of WrestleMania 27). I’m being very positive here when I say that it’s good he was on the PPV twice because when Brodus came out, it was little different to most of Brodus’s matches. Ok, Brodus had a bit of work to do, but there have been others who have provided the smallest of tests before being literally squashed, and Miz was one of those. As for Brodus, nice to see him incorporate a new move in the super fall away slam type move from the turnbuckle; give it a dinosaur name and let’s carry on. As for Miz, I don’t know what to say. In the past, people were suggesting this run would lead to him ‘snapping’ and becoming a destroyer, but now he just seems lost. I think he needs time away from TV (and I don’t just mean being left off RAW) – he should get frustrated and try to entreat Laurinaitis for a spot again, but while Ace is angry about something, and get himself ‘fired’ for a month or two. Give him a return and I think a lot will be forgiven.

Match 6) Christian def. Cody Rhodes to Win the Intercontinental Championship
Speaking of returns, previously, on Over the Limit: Christian, a heel returned and got teamed up on by heels, making him appear sympathetic, but then he seemed to target babyface Santino’s US title – a heel move, so he seemed to be still a heel. Now he was backstage as Cody Rhodes bragged about Christian being lucky he didn’t choose him, so Christian chose him to face and in so doing became totally babyface. This left us in a bind. Rhodes only won the title back three weeks ago, but Christian as a returning babyface who earned his shot earlier in the night should win the match hands down otherwise, according to wrestling rules. Despite the awkward situation, I was still looking forward to the prospect of these two having a match. It was good for sure, but a little understated, which can probably be put down to Christian being away from the ring for a while and he and Rhodes not really wrestling each other before. There were some nice progressions, and some surprisingly brutal moments outside the ring, but I think my favourite bit about this match was when Rhodes hit his spectacular moonsault to the former World Champion and only got two at which point Rhodes started ranting, including the quite powerful “I’m 26 damnit, name somebody who’s better than me?!” Well quite. Unfortunately, this lack of focus cost him the match as Christian recovered and hit the Killswitch for the win and the title. The positives: I like Christian. He deserves gold and being a main event calibre guy, he will be good for the title generally. Also, this could lead to a Rhodes-Christian feud, which could be superb. The negatives: Rhodes shouldn’t have won the title just to lose it three weeks later. It isn’t good for anyone. I get that Big Show was probably given it as a ‘lifetime achievement’ thing, but that really messed everything up. Rhodes should have retained at WrestleMania and kept it til now. His reign would have been even longer and impressive that it was until WrestleMania, he wouldn’t look transitional now, and this title loss would actually mean something. Also, as great as the IC title is, Christian may potentially suffer from being booked at that slightly lower level. Let’s see and try not to chant Kharma and/or Colt Cabana … yet.

Match 7) CM Punk def. Daniel Bryan to Retain the WWE Championship
The fact that this match wasn’t on last is some sort of sick joke – a bit like the main event, but more on that later. This match was the complete opposite to our main event. No nonsense, full of passion, effort and sacrifice. There are some times when I don’t want to write up play by play of matches because it can’t live up to the action. This is one of those matches. If you haven’t just watch it, and you can read the rest of what I say about it and hopefully agree! It was clear that the crowd were here to see this match, and probably this match alone, because they were alive for it, duel-chanting ‘CM Punk’ and ‘Daniel Bryan’ for most of the duration, and who could blame them. As usual, a good audience made a great match a awe-inspiring Match of the Year candidate. These two wrestled a great WWE style match, but with lots of influences from their more free indy past, with Punk going beyond his normal (admittedly already large) arsenal to make his offense completely unpredictable, including rareties from him like the curb stomp, A Perfect Plex, and more submissions than he usually goes for. In fact, against submission expert Bryan, Punk was wise to show his own prowess to protect his ‘Best in the World’ crown, and so he worked Bryan’s legs, following up with Figure Four Leg Locks and Indian Death Lock’s looking for the submission. For Bryan’s part, he was everything of Punk’s match, working stronger than even he usually does with kicks and knees to Punk’s neck and back, and using more of his over a hundred submissions than usual, including that amazing Mexican surfboard he executed while pulling Punk down further in to a chin lock which looked incredibly painful. This back and forth didn’t come in phases, but was constant, and gave the match a real urgency. While I said I wouldn’t detail play by play, I will talk about a few, including this amazing progression where, after trading headbutts and kicks, the two artfully and with beautiful timing, missed a roundhouse each before Punk shouldered Bryan for a GTS. Bryan then countered in to a roll up, which Punk reversed in to his own roll up, which Bryan then maneuvered in to a YES Lock attempt. Punk escaped this and managed to slingshot Bryan over the top rope, only for Bryan to skin the cat, straight in to a huge roundhouse from Punk which would have got 3, but Bryan managed to get his foot on the rope. Phenomenal stuff! At this point, the action was relentless and the crowd were going out of their minds! A Macho Man elbow drop got another 2 count, but Bryan wouldn’t stay down. Indeed, he came back with more relentless knees and soon after reversed Punk’s running bulldog, amazingly, in to the YES Lock. Punk sold it well, looking like even he may well tap. Indeed, knowing this, he had to roll Bryan over for the pin while Bryan kept the hold on trying to make Punk submit. Punk didn’t submit until after the referee had counted 3, when it was safe to. These man were equal in this match throughout, and Punk’s win was by a very narrow margin forged in grit and determination to withstand the YES Lock. At first I thought we’d been given one of those simultaneous pin/submission finishes, which lead to confusion and a lack of clarity that hurts the package of the single match, but it was later clear that Punk was wise enough to only tap after Bryan was pinned. Excellent, simple premise. Without much accompanying storyline, this was all about the wrestling, which is a great way to have a first match, and boy, the wrestling was great! This is a sure-fire Match of the Year candidate! And given the closeness of the contest, and the fact that Punk seemed beatable to Bryan, they could well have one more dance together at No Way Out – something i’m sure we all want to see. The story writes itself with Bryan having come so close. It’s these sort of defences which make a championship prestigious. Unfortunately, that was somewhat undermined by the jokes that followed it …

Match 8) Ryback def. Camacho
I realise this was intended to cleanse the palette, but as The Masked Man (again) said “Thank god that Ryback match was there to wash the taste of good wrestling out of my mouth.” One point here is that we didn’t need a palette cleanser, because the main event was hardly a super-serious main event that lots of people cared about; it was, itself, a joke. The next match was John Cena and John Laurinaitis – I doubt they were worried about trying to follow Punk-Bryan. I like Camacho, and I think if WWE were smart, they’d make more of him and Hunico, but the fact is, Camacho is pretty much nothing – there is no far anticipation to see what he might do to a guy, so he makes a great jobber, ridiculously. So not only was this match not good for Cena, Ace, or the show, it wasn’t good for Ryback or Camacho either, as Ryback didn’t look any better than we’ve seen because he only beat Camacho! For this to have any meaning, he would have needed to move up the chain a bit; give him Jinder Mahal or something. Even then, it was just a waste of time in my estimation, and not needed.

Match 9) John Laurinaitis def. John Cena
First of all, my most sympathetic reading of this: The WWE believe Big Show to be very popular, which he is, and John Laurinaitis to be very unpopular, which he is. So seeing Big Show side with John Laurinaitis and help him beat John Cena should be shocking right? It should feel like a betrayal that the fans will respond to emotionally, right? Wrong, and it’s because of the execution. WWE did everything to make the result of this obvious, from Show being fired only this week, to adding the ‘if you don’t win, you’re fired’ stip to John Laurinaitis, a man which a lot of the audience could work out wasn’t about to be fired, and further, the stip that no one could interefere or they would be fired, meaning that if someone not employed (kayfabe) by WWE was to show up, their intentions would be obvious. This match was going through the motions until Big Show … showed, and when he did, it was like most Big Show appearances, a little empty. And that’s the best thing you could say about this match. In order to redeem this at all, WWE needed to clear a lot of the telegraphing stipulations; John Laurinaitis, lauding all his power about special referees and changing stipulations to make it seem that, somehow, he could beat Cena, but not think it a foregone conclusion. He also should have ‘fired’ Big Show much longer ago – at least a month – so he wouldn’t be the first person people were thinking about when they were wondering how Ace could win. Have Laurinaitis throw everything at Cena, special refs, Lord Tensai, David Otunga, even restarting a match is Cena wins but have Cena endure through it all until Laurinaitis goes to run. Then, as they did, have Big Show … show, and have everything play out as it did, and there you have it, all the consequence, betrayal, and emotion you were aiming at. Oh boy, how far we were from that! I have said in the title that I felt the end of this PPV ‘jumped the shark’ and that refers solely to this match. For those not familiar with the expression, it means a few different but closely related things; the definition i’m using here is along the lines of when a particular scene, episode, character or aspect of a show in which the writers or actors use some type of “gimmick” in a desperate – and unsuccessful – attempt to keep viewers’ interest. I’ll explain the exact moment when this happened later. The match started with about thirty minutes left, and that was when alarm bells were ringing. I know Ace is a wrestler, but his character is a joke; he wasn’t going to have a straight up match with Cena for thirty minutes. I knew something bad was coming, but I had no idea how bad! I don’t want to waste my time talking about it. It doesn’t deserve it, but if I was to say it made me feel like i’d had water poured all over me (and down my pants), like i’d been sprayed with a fire extinguisher for a full minute, and had trash dumped on me, among other things, for about twenty full minutes, you’re close to how I felt when watching this. Then we got to the point where Cena and got an unconscious Johnny on commentary with himself and started to act out roles, him being Cole, and Ace being Booker T, AND ACE WENT ALONG WITH IT mumbling ‘five time … five time …’ that I couldn’t work out what the hell I was watching. That was where it jumped the shark. It broke the fourth wall in a jokey, inappropriate way, in a main event of a PPV that had earlier featured one of the best matches in recent memory yet was being deemed less important than this. Now maybe all of the genuinely clownish nonsense was supposed to set us up for what WWE expected to be a big, hurtful fall, but we’ve already established that it didn’t happen, and why it didn’t happen. Twenty minutes of Cena and Laurinaitis acting out a horrible three stooges impersonation, followed by a heel turn by the Big Show that everyone expected and no one cared about. It was flatter and stupider than a pancake. I don’t know what to say about it, it was a travesty, should never have happened, and certainly shouldn’t have been the main event over any of the top title matches. One saving grace is that Big Show is a heel now, and should (should) be more interesting as a character and a wrestler. They should Mark Henryfy him (eventhough he wouldn’t be as good) and when Henry comes back, make them Ace’s ‘3 Minute Warning’ style bodyguards/tag champions and we might be getting somewhere. The one thing I couldn’t get out of my mind the whole time was that Cena was just behaving strangely, like he was on RAW. I hope he wasn’t just allowed to go out and ‘have fun’ like he was seemingly on RAW, because as funny as it was (in context, in the middle of the show, some of it would have been funny), it’s no place for RAW main events, and certainly no place for PPV main events. If this is some reaction to his personal problems, I really think it’s time he takes time off. He needs it. We need it. See this for more: https://rtvwrestling.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/john-cena-your-newly-likable-heroic-underdog-is-in-danger-of-becoming-unlikable-again/

A very good show then, punctuated with two fantastic World Title matches which was ruined by the main event. This is why Punk/Bryan should have been the focus. The crowd obviously wanted it, the crowd obviously loved it, and it would be better for everyone, the WWE Championship, and the WWE.

In the mean time, for more opinions and live tweeting of RAW and PPV’s, follow me on twitter @RTVWOW!

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Over the Limit Preview & Predictions, 2012

Over the Limit, 20/05/2012, from the PNC Arena, Raleigh, NC

Over the Limit, 20/05/2012, from the PNC Arena, Raleigh, NC

I won’t beat around the bush. While Extreme Rules has historically been a great PPV on the calendar, Over the Limit has never in it’s short history been a most enjoyable PPV. Unfortunately, I don’t see this being much different, partly because it comes so close off the heels of Extreme Rules. Nonetheless, this is a pro-wrestling PPV, and the two title matches are chock-full of great talent, no less our WWE Championship match between two of the very best wrestlers in the world. There aren’t many matches on the card, and Cody Rhodes and Santino Marella have been playing up their champion vs champion feud, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see an impromptu non-title match between those two, alongside any number of FUNKASAURUS and Ryback job matches.

As ever, follow me on Twitter @RTVWOW for live-tweets and bonus reaction to the World of Wrestling!

Match 1) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Sheamus (c) vs Randy Orton vs Alberto Del Rio vs Chris Jericho
This is a fatal four way in which all four are great workers, and that is mouthwatering. However, fatal four way matches can be messy and hard to follow, so it’s success will depend on the booking and the skills of the wrestlers involved. Luckily to that end, as mentioned, we have four good to great wrestlers involved. If there are some clever unique booking on this smaller PPV stage where there is less risk, it could be a very very good match. The only person i’m sure wont win is Randy Orton, simply because that would lead to an Orton-Sheamus rematch feud at a time when they both need to be babyface. There has been a lot of narrative (not on TV) about this (somehow) being Jericho’s last chance to win in his career, and so with that in mind, I think Jericho is the main threat to Sheamus’s title. Jericho has a solid and well-maintained history of stealing championships in matches with more than two people, and so if he is to win, I don’t doubt it would be by taking advantage of someone else’s efforts while no one is looking – or something similar. Despite that point, I still see Sheamus defending successfully. I think he’s having a decent (if unspectacular) reign that only started at WrestleMania, and I think they’ll want to give him a reign of a decent length to make him somewhat.

Winner: Sheamus

2) Tag Team Championship Match: Kofi Kingston & R-Truth (c) vs Dolph Ziggler & Jack Swagger
Kofi and Truth haven’t been exciting me too much since teaming up; their chemistry has seemed lacking and while I appreciate their talents, I think Primo & Epico were objectively better tag team champions. Because of that – though I want to be proven wrong – I can see this match being watchable, but not much more, even with the inclusion of Ziggler. Excitement for the match is further nullified by the fact that the result seems cut-and-dry. With Kofi and Truth relatively high profile for the division and brand new champions, they wont be losing it now, and the victory over a strong team like Swagger and Ziggler will be purely to give them a rub.

3) Divas Championship Match: Layla (c) vs Beth Pheonix
This match is an intriguing one. The returning Layla has some momentum and fan support behind her, while being a very underrated wrestler. Her smaller size against the also interesting story of Phoenix returning angry from losing her championship could be make for a interestingly and impressively booked match. If given time, this could be an unexpected hit for the PPV. There is a problem though. With Kharma surely to return imminently to feud with Beth, WWE seem to have booked themselves in to a corner. Before Layla returned, most expected Kharma to be first back, take the Divas championship, and call out Beth. Layla as champion obviously throws a spanner in here. If Beth beats her, she loses a lot of credibility, and could fall out of the spotlight which is a shame for a very popular and talented wrestler who has a lot of good will on her side after an injury return. On the other hand, Beth certainly can’t lose to Layla if she’s to be a credible challenge to legitimate monster, Kharma. So neither can win without causing significant damage to the other. The only option, as I see it, is to give them decent time for both to shine, but eventually have Beth seem dominant, and in an aesthetically dominant position (press slam position or similar), about to win the match, when Kharma’s music hits, she comes to the ring and attacks Beth. Beth wins by DQ and Layla keeps her title. The Beth-Kharma feud is exciting enough to not need the title, so it would protect Layla and add more depth to the division with her in championship feuds and Beth-Kharma happening separately.

Winner: Beth Phoenix

Match 4) WWE Championship Match: CM Punk (c) vs Daniel Bryan
This match should categorically be the main event, but it doesn’t look like it will be after being oveshadowed by the Cena-Laurinaitis rivalry as the ‘go home’ RAW ended. I do think it should (and could) go on after the divas match though; for one thing, this divas match will be more than the usual light relief this Sunday, and despite it being downgraded by a match involving a retired wrestler, I think WWE will want to profile this match high up the card. The Cena-Laurinaitis match will be very different to this anyway, so they wont have to worry about following the (hopefully) wrestling spectacle that Punk-Bryan will create (though I worry about untenable expectations from the fans). This, indeed, will be a pure wrestling match. There is barely a story here. Bryan got this opportunity by winning a #1 Contender’s match and while he’s had some run-ins with Punk since, they haven’t really developed an ‘issue’ together. That means the match will be free of outside metaphorical influence and will instead be just about the wrestling – something both men hold close to their character. I doubt Bryan will win; he’ll get the rub from wrestling the company’s second biggest star in a high-profile match for the top title, but Punk is categorically ‘the man’, at least in the championship picture, while giving Bryan the title would seem like too much too soon. This, no doubt, is testing the waters for him to be competing at the highest level, but they wont follow through with it yet at the expense of Punk.

Winner: CM Punk

Match 5) John Cena vs John Laurinaitis
My wrestling writing abilities have deserted me here. I literally don’t know what to say about this match. Without lots of help, Johnny Ace wont be able to hold a candle to Cena in the ring. I think the main interest will be in watching Ace in the ring and possibly throwing an Ace Crusher (for one thing, if he does that, how will it be treated be the announcers with it basically being an RKO?). This is literally all I can think to say about the actual match. The real story is how it will finish. As soon as the stipulation that Laurinaitis will be fired if he loses, and that no anyone interfering will be fired was added, it was crystal clear that Johnny Ace would somehow be winning given his effectiveness in the role and only recent promotion to be GM of both RAW and Smackdown. Ace can’t beat Cena clean, so the question becomes: which (kayfabe) uncontracted wrestler will help Ace win? Well, the answer is either Brock, Big Show, or a surprise. Obviously, a complete surprise would be welcome, but I think the most likely answer is Big Show, doing what Ace says to get his job back. I approve of this too because Big Show could make a monster heel again very easily and would make his character infinitely more interesting. As for Cena, I hope they follow through with what should have happened after Extreme Rules and have in in a state where he needs time away from the ring. The very good reason of his current personal problems aside, he has gained a lot of good will against The Rock and Brock Lesnar, but he is close to losing it if the WWE refuse to show any genuine consequence of all the tests he is facing. I wrote an entire article about it here: https://rtvwrestling.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/john-cena-your-newly-likable-heroic-underdog-is-in-danger-of-becoming-unlikable-again/ Whatever happens, this match has flummoxed me ever since it was booked. I just want to see an Ace Crusher.

Winner: John Laurinaitis

John Cena, Your Newly Likable Heroic Underdog, Is In Danger of Becoming Unlikable Again

Cena psyching out John Laurinaitis with a relentless ‘Loser’ chant.

For roughly a year now, John Cena has been facing adversity like never before. Whether it started with The Rock returning and burying  Cena and everything he represents, or with Punk snapping and tearing down the safe status-quo surrounding Cena during the Summer of Punk, the colourful Cult of Personality surrounding Cena has been under almost constant threat of late. As his hardships and defeats become more and more damaging and testing, Cena has, for the most part, more and more sincere in his passion for what he does and represents. Where people might have seen his character as a sanguine, corporate facade, it has become clear – when he has been tested – that Cena really is that hard a worker and is that great a guy.

Cena lost to Punk. Cena lost to The Rock. And though he managed to beat Brock Lesnar, it wasn’t  before he was bloodied and humbled by the former UFC Champion in a way we haven’t seen before. So over the course of a year, Cena was taken down by representatives of an alternative lifestyle, a legitimate mainstream ‘star’, and a ‘legitimate’ no-holds-barred fighter. This was well investigated by Chris Sims for Grantland (http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7904055/why-john-cena-losing-rock-brock-lesnar-matters-wwe). As Sims argues, the long and deftly thought-out narrative seemed to be leading to an eventual, epiphonic, avowal of Cena and the WWE, though a Cena and WWE invaluably embellished by the influences of Punk, Rock, and Lesnar (though, for my money, mostly Punk, who’s infamous ‘shoot’ brought about a new vogue for sincerity in wrestling loosely known and partly accurately as the ‘Reality Era’).

Brock Lesnar, with his brutalism and his billing as a legitimate’ killer, seemed like the man who would finally tear the Cena banner down, even after he beat Lesnar. Following the match, an again bloodied Cena stood with his arm hanging by his side suggesting that he’d need time of because of how broken down he was. This should have been SuperCena’s final humanisation, his cult of personality was undermined and he was being forced to leave the limelight.

But then, the next night on RAW, there was John Cena, and he was booked for the next PPV, Over the Limit as if nothing had happened. This was the chink in the narrative, and rather than being a part of an evolving Cena, it was comparable to some of the biggest disappointments of Cena’s career; the disappointments that have made him so unpopular with around half of the audience. I’m thinking most specifically of the Nexus angle – one of the hottest angles in years with one of the coldest finishes in years. With the ‘winds of change’ threatening to blow, Wade Barrett of Nexus beat Cena to incorporate him in to the evil, iconoclastic group, but Cena refused to stoop to their level, fought against them, overcame, and got fired. Perhaps then Cena would be finally defeated and forced to change? Cena didn’t miss a day. He was back the next week on RAW, and soon, all was forgotten. It seemed that whatever happened, Cena would always be there, the same, stale and untouchable and so he became the most unpopular babyface of all time – not uncared about, but actively hated.

This past year seemed to be undoing all of that damage. Cena was getting beaten, and wasn’t just ignoring it but was reacting to it, was shaken by it, and was performing better because of it. He became one of the most watchable, sincere characters on the mic, and was finally winning the fans back over, even sometimes at the expense of The Rock, his ‘most electrifying’ nemesis.

Cena had won an awful lot of good will from the fans, and had he been forced away by Lesnar after Extreme Rules, his comeback to finally defeat the monster would have garnered a spectacular, memorable moment and accompanying pop. It could finally have restored him as a near-unquestioned babyface while metaphorically legitimising WWE (not that it needs it). Instead of that, he’s back, and we got the Cena of old, the Cena who survived all challenges with the greatest of ease with little struggle. Last night on the ‘Go Home’  RAW before Over the Limit, Cena came out, without the sling he wore for only a week to sell his injury from Lesnar and later from his next opponent, John Laurinaitis, to confront Laurinaitis, and so followed a surreal intervention from the new and improved Cena from the old SuperCena. Despite being tricked and beaten down by this man, Cena wasn’t phased and resorted to making jokes and trolling Laurinaitis with a ‘Loser’ chant and seemingly not taking it at all seriously. And it just feels like Nexus again, like failure snatched from the jaws of success, and if Cena prevails in this manner, he could be damaged beyond repair.

His match at Over the Limit will not be good, but there is nothing to stop the same scenario that seemed likely after Extreme Rules from happening after Over the Limit, and Cena being sidelined and returning as the over, sincere and powerful babyface.  It seems like either of  most likely Brock Lesnar or The Big Show will cost Cena the match and brutalise him afterward. This could be as good an opening as before to sideline Cena. Cena has earned our good will, but this week, it just seemed again like the essense of Cena would refuse to leave us, and he felt like a chore forced down our throats again. Now his troubles, injuries, and need to leave have been acknowledged on air, his continuance on our screen seems contrived. He may be the ‘franchise player’, but there are plenty of big names to make up for him, and plenty of names that need a chance at a higher level with the knowledge in mind that Cena is getting older. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially in pro wrestling, and if you remember the Royal Rumble of  2008, John Cena himself is a great example of this. Not to dwell on this (i’ve been very unsure as to whether to mention it for fear of making a connection that isn’t there), but Cena is apparently going through a lot of personal toil now with his divorce, and his performance this Monday seemed strange and desperate, as if he was going through some sort of mid-life crisis almost, and at the risk of sounding like an asshole, I wonder whether it had anything to do with his personal problems (to legitimise that awkward comment, fantastic wrestling blogger Brandon Stroud tweeted simply “Cena is in a dark place.”

I have loved the recent John Cena, but he has to leave, perhaps for his own sake, or he’ll lose the good will he’s earned, and soon.