WrestleMania 33: Looking Up at the Lights, and Going Out on Your Back

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The Undertaker salutes the end of the greatest career pro wrestling will probably ever see. Credit: WWE

As someone who attaches emotion and meaning to everything I enjoy, WrestleMania is a very intense week for me, from the floods of tears during the Hall of Fame, to the Christmas-like anticipation for the event, to the awe I have watching it that will never go away. WrestleMania’s come and go, and whether they are good or bad, they are always significant – the platitudes about it being the ‘showcase of the immortals’ and ‘WrestleMania moments’ are, incredibly, not really exaggerated. I enjoyed WrestleMania 33 which I found to be consistently enjoyable, even if it lacked a real show-stealer match. The moment I can’t shift from my head (the reason we’re here) came at the very end, when Undertaker, after struggling to his feet following a loss to Roman Reigns, started to leave his gear in the ring. If there’s one thing Taker has always excelled at, it’s exuding meaning and emotion (despite often being near emotionless outwardly), and after he removes his hat for the final time, he takes this huge breath, a sigh not quite of relief, but of rest. The ride is finally over, and he can rest. I immediately burst in to tears.

I am going to write the qualifier I have seen several people write. The Undertaker wasn’t ‘my guy’, and yet there is something about him that seems to engender total respect and reverence. He’s not the best talker, but he is the best character; he’s not the best wrestler, but he does have some of the best matches ever. He understands wrestling and performance better than anyone, and takes it seriously, and everyone respects him for it. He might not be your favourite, but whenever you hear a gong, or see him toe to toe with someone, you know, almost by definition, that something significant is happening. He’s the best of pro-wrestling, and represents 20+ years of some of the most vivid, memorable years of it.

Perhaps that is why he is loved so. He has been a legitimising backbone of this crazy travelling roadshow we love and has dedicated himself to it longer, frankly, than his body would allow. He helped build WrestleMania and created many of it’s most special moments. His passing of the torch and leaving the ring no longer a warrior may well be a crucial moment in wrestling’s future, and it was sure one of the most moving in wrestling’s history.

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Undertaker, leaving his iconic hat and coat in the ring, symbolising the end of his storied career. Credit: WWE

Though I am more than happy to wax eulogistic about Undertaker’s career though, that beautiful end is only around half of the reason i’m writing this. Undertaker was the main reason I decided it was ‘now or never’ for attending WrestleMania 30 – I decided that I had to see him on his greatest stage before I lost the chance, I had to see that entrance. And I did. For that event though, I chose to wear a Bray Wyatt shirt. Bray has been a real darling of mine ever since I started watching him on NXT, and there are certainly similarities to Undertaker in him, mainly in his dedication to a character which bends the rules other characters play by, occasionally traipsing in to the supernatural. Wyatt, in fact, is a far better talker than Taker ever was, and with his commitment to every part of his character, I had never been so excited about the future of a wrestler and my related enjoyment of them.

The difference between him and Taker is, and remains, that it’s never really gone anywhere. At WrestleMania, I had the honour of seeing ‘The Streak’ broken, and the joy of seeing ‘Yes-tleMania’, but under that, I had the disappointment of seeing Wyatt fall to Cena when a victory could have really set him along the course of a phenom himself. The next year, Wyatt lost to Undertaker fairly handily to help Taker recover from the loss of the Streak, and then last year, Wyatt made the best of being booked alongside The Rock, but would never be able to overcome Rocky being important and easily murking him and his family. Wyatt has never won at WrestleMania, or really won a significant match on a big stage. His strength of character and performance though has seen him recover of late to the point where John Cena insisted on putting him over clean for the WWE Championship. A significant achievement for sure, but it lacks the historical significance that the real top guys have propping them up. The significance, say, of defeating The Undertaker in his final match.

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The Rock, delivering the People’s Elbow to Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 32 after quickly dispatching the rest of the ‘Family’. Credit: WWE

Writing this isn’t intended to throw shade at anyone other than the decision makers who booked Wyatt to lose this year, not even Orton, who probably could have spoken up to lose as Cena had earlier.

Part of the respect that the Undertaker commands without demanding it, is that he will always do what’s best for the business, and rule #1 in that regard is that, when you go out, you ‘go out on your back’, giving someone else the chance to profit from it, and by extension, the business. Roman Reigns has become something almost other to wrestling. For his part, Reigns has grown quietly but enormously as a performer, especially in recent months, and he was a big part of making Taker’s final match powerful and entertaining. He clearly hasn’t been handled quite right though, to the point where, regardless of his performances, he will be booed. Fans treat him like the most boring or lazy denominator almost regardless of what he does. Usually, the honour of ‘retiring’ The Undertaker would be the biggest lay-up of all time to stardom for a persons career, but whether that happens for Roman, remains to be seen. The hope is that either he will somehow inherit Taker’s inherent respect value (after all, this was a metaphorical transferring of ‘the yard’ to Reigns), or he can build a white hot heel run from his actions.

With Wyatt though, there is a feeling of complacency on management’s part in a way that may be due to his success at portraying the character. Losing in itself has never really seemed to damage Wyatt – he can always ‘turn it on’ and be mesmerising. But after years of constant losing on big stages, it’s hard not to see diminishing returns from him, regardless of his exceptional efforts. He recovered miraculously from it when he was reduced to comic jobber to The Rock, but this slip up when he had returned to his most powerful may be even more damaging.

Everything about his match at WrestleMania 33 seemed geared to be his moment, to showcase him in a way that suited only him. The most memorable part of the match was the recurring projections of imagery of death, disease, and pestilence on to the ring. Regardless of what people say in retrospect, coloured as it is by the match result, at the time, fans were losing their minds over this, including me. It was different, and though simple, was shocking due to both the fact it had never been done before, and the nature of the imagery. Initially, Orton and everyone else involved sold these projections. That is until Orton hit a trademark unexpected RKO for the win to become a 13 time champion. Wyatt falls short again.

Wyatt cockroaches

Though later mocked by some, the various visuals of decay projected by Wyatt on to Orton and the ring were shocking, and unlike anything ever seen before in WWE history. Credit: WWE

Again, with no disrespect to Randy Orton, why does he need a 13th championship here, at a time when Wyatt could have taken a big step towards lasting significance? The disgusting projections even provided him with a ‘get out’ for the loss. What do we get from this? Orton doesn’t need a win basically ever these days and can have whatever feud management want down the line. It has been suggested to me that this was the natural ending of the story – a point I understand, but it is also important to realise that sometimes (not often) the bad guy wins, and it could have lit a fire under Orton too. Meanwhile, Wyatt seems almost goofy for trying his antics in a loss. Even if he wins his rematch, it’s on a much smaller stage. If Wyatt wins this match as it was produced, he gets a big showcase win, a championship retention, and a memorable WrestleMania moment; what happened instead was people viewed him as a loser and started mocking the projections too. Once again, he was forgotten, looking up at the brightest lights there are, with management neglecting the gift he is. What happens to him in the weeks following this year’s WrestleMania and at next year’s Mania will be very telling about how damaging this was. I hope i’m wrong.

Most losses aren’t significant gestures to the future as Undertaker’s was, and it is there that him putting Reigns over in his final match will hopefully benefit him. There is a chance though, that it will just further complicate Reign’s relationship with the fans and be wasted. Further, Reigns is already treated like a top guy, and clearly will be going forward. It’s just a shame that another veteran in Randy Orton couldn’t put over Bray in a similar spot, and so the difference between Undertaker and Wyatt remains – one is an outlaw that went out on his back, and the other is a pretender that has been left on his back for three WrestleMania’s in a row. I can’t help but wish the stars had aligned a little differently, and the best Bray Wyatt had faced Underataker this year. Not only would their characters have gelled well once again, but Taker’s final sacrifice would have had the definite result of making Bray Wyatt, overnight, one of the most significant superstars in the world.

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After the fans were gone and the ring was being taken down, Undertaker’s hat and coat remained untouched in a startling and moving show of respect. Credit: @samirkh75387729 on Twitter

Thank you Undertaker.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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

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!

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