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.

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Night Of Champions Preview & Predictions

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

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

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

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

Winner: The Miz

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

Winner: Antonio Cesaro

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

Winner: Randy Orton

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

Winner: Layla

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

Winner: Alberto Del Rio

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

Winners: Kane & Daniel Bryan

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

Winner: CM Punk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summerslam Preview & Predictions, 2012

Summerslam 19/08/2012, from the Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

Summerslam is one of the biggest events in wrestling, and a big attraction in itself. I must admit, however, that I haven’t been quite so taken with the line-up this year. Punk;s shift has been interesting, and a move back towards the sincerely snarling Punk of around a year ago, which is welcome, but the move has lacked the power of other Summer angles like The Nexus or The Summer of Punk itself. I’m looking forward most to the WWE title match as I expect some sort of major furtherment to that angle, as well as Jericho-Ziggler because those two are destined to have a great match just due to their abilities.

Match 1) Intercontinental Championship Match: The Miz (c) vs Rey Mysterio
This match may open the card just because it’ll be a strog opener for a prestigious championship, and a good way to get the show open with a bang. I also think the result points to it too. Rey has no problem putting guys over, and the Miz has only been champion for a month or so, so he wont be dropping it surely. However, with Mysterio being back, and seemingly totally healthy, he should be able to have a very good match with the Miz who is one of those guys who can’t really make a great match, but can be a part of one. Whether or not Miz wins clean will depend on if they have a feud going. I think there’s potential for him to go over clean here and move on, although it would probably be in Rey’s interest to lose to some sort of dastardly method and have another match at the next PPV.

Winner: The Miz

Match 2) Kane vs Daniel Bryan
This is a weird one. The match itself I have little to no interest in; although these two have ‘a history’, it just feels like they’re two guys they want on PPV who have just been thrown together. And I can’t blame them for wanting Bryan there. His ‘Yes/No’ chant has brought out the troublemaker/bully in the crowd, who love to taunt him with it, and it makes for an electric atmosphere (in fact, maybe this should be the opener for that reason!). It is also better as a heel phrase because when he was chanting yes, it was affirmative, and because of the support for him, it almost became inspiring; by rejecting that, and chanting the negative, he’s rejecting all of that good will, and ruining (though he’s really only supporting) the fun of the audience. Bryan’s a great wrestler, and Kane works his character well. It could be a good match just due to that and the atmosphere. As for the winner, its a hard decision. They may want Bryan to slide more in to an angry fervour, but I decided to plump for them wanting to give him a big win on a big stage.

Winner: Daniel Bryan

Match 3) Tag Team Championship Match: Kofi Kingston & R-Truth (c) vs The Prime Time Players (Darren Young & Titus O’Neill)
This is a match besieged by backstage politics. In one hand you have the Prime Time Players; at one time the hottest commodity in the tag division though starting to level off and hindered somewhat surely by the firing of AW. And in the other, coasting champions Kofi and Truth, and in the next stage of what must be an unlucky run of partners for Kofi, Truth has seemingly been embroiled in the backstage politics and may not have endeared himself much to management. Seemingly, neither are top prospects right now, but I think the hype will carry the day here. Kofi & Truth have done nothing for the titles simply because they havenm’t been booked prominently, and with speak of the very talented JTG becoming involved with the PTP’s, I think we have a potential way for the champs to drop their titles without looking too bad. I’m afraid the match wont be much. I’ve never liked Kofi and Truth’s chemistry, and while the PTP’s are charismatic, they’re pretty stiff in the ring. Have JTG help them pick up the win and give those three a bit of a moment of the big stage. As for the champs – especially Kofi – MOVE ON!

Winners: The Prime Time Players

Match 4) World Championship Match: Sheamus (c) vs Alberto Del Rio
This match has had very good build. Apart from the fact that Sheamus if the primary prick in the tale and not ADR, the tension has been built really well between the two. Though its a bit hacky, peasant vs aristocrat is a nice model, and they play it out well. The two bits of build I remember most fondly are Del Rio brutalising Sheamus with the hood of his car, and Sheamus practically begging for the match to take place. Stripping ADR of his match and then restating it added an extra urgency to the encounter, and if that can be replicated in the match, it could be a stand-out. Sheamus is solid with anyone, and ADR is a great. They have good chemistry, and especially with Del Rio’s even newer viciousness (we’ve seen them try this before (Black Scarf!)), this should be a brutal match, with touches of technical class from ADR. Part of me still thinks they want to give Sheamus a huge run as Champion, but I think by now, he’s beaten an awful lot of people, and should be chasing the title. Plus, I think his dynamic with ADR is so good that it warrants a rematch. I would give ADR the title here, have Sheamus chase the title with a rematch, and see how they go.

Winner: Alberto Del Rio

Match 5) Chris Jericho vs Dolph Ziggler
This is a match i’m salivating over. Jericho is one of the best ever and my personal favourite vs a man who tries to (and often does) steal the show every night. At Summerslam, they have every reason to steal the show, and they are most likely to do so. Where Sheamus-Del Rio will be brutal, this should be beautiful and technical. There’s not much more to say than that, it’s self-evident that both guys will look a million dollars. And while I want a win for Jericho who has put EVERYONE over during this run, I want him to put Ziggler over and help make him. Not only do I like Ziggler, but its crucial for him to look good now, as and up-and-comer, and as a Mr. Money in the Bank. Jericho’s pedigree and legacy is proven and set. He can lose countless times and still be a powerful force, so while I want a win for him as he leaves the WWE (hopefully not for the last time!), it only makes sense for Ziggler to go over, move on to another high-profile guy (Randy Orton? Kane?), perhaps until/if Sheamus wins back his title, and Ziggler cashes in with a lot of momentum? Just an idea.

Winner: Dolph Ziggler

Match 6) Triple H vs Brock Lesnar
There is no place for this match. Only in HHH’s head is this a Summerslam attraction. Brock Lesnar is, against a lot of people, but not Trips. There were several things I was worried about here: 1) That this would Main Event and 2) That HHH would HHH his way to a win. Thankfully, i’m now convinced neither will happen. Well, I hope. The thing here, is that neither guy needs this for the good of the company/talent – both being part time guys. That’s not the only thing that matters in wrestling: if something is an exciting attraction (Rock-Cena) that it is merited; but as discussed, that isn’t the case here. The only claim to needing a victory goes to Lesnar. He is there as an attraction and to put talent in need over – and both of those jobs require him to seem as deadly as billed (something not helped by Cena beating him on his first match back), so I especially since Mr. Hall of Fame and HHH Sadness exhibit Shawn Michaels (probably wont be there), have Brock destroy Trips. Even if it takes a Ricardo Rodriguez-esque distraction to get Lesnar the upper hand, once he has it, have him destroy Trips, and lets have it not take long either for extra impact.

Match 7) WWE Championship Match: CM Punk (c) vs John Cena vs The Big Show
This match is something of an enigma, partly because the CM Punk angle is too. Its been a rollercoaster in away: my immediate reaction was that it was too soon to turn him heel, then I realised he wasn’t really heel, and was closer to the Best of CM Punk. Now, i’m still happier with him as he is, but I feel it isn’t much of an angle. Summerslam, however, is the ultimate place to make that bang. Could that involve Heyman? While it sound great initially, I doubt it – Punk is a lone wolf right now, and certainly doens’t need a mouthpiece; it could also lead to an awkward association with Lesnar. I wont try and guess or fantasy book beyond that, in case nothing comes to passi, i’m disappointed, and it isn’t there fault! As for the match, I love Cena and Punk’s chemsirty (see, their swapping of each other’s moves on RAW as well as everything between them since last summer) and I can’t wait for their interactions. Complicating the matter is The Big Show. Usually, that’s a terrible, heartbreaking sentence to write, but The Big Show has refound an aura that he is best under, using his limited skills to seem deadly. He’s playing his role well, and will be interesting as a destructive force to Punk-Cena. I think Big Show may have another role too. Many people think Cena could go over (the idea being that Cena takes on Rock at the Rumble, and Punk faces Rock at Mania), but i’m still clinging on to the notion of a year-long reign for Punk, and I don’t think both are mutually exclusive. A year long reign is so special these days, especially in WWE, so don’t ruin it now! If this was Punk-Cena, it would be a great match, but Big Show’s involvement makes a clean Punk victory more plausible. It takes the heat of both Cena and Show in losing, and makes Punk look even better in winning. This is important, because it would be really lazy to have Punk lose as soon as he stops being a smiley babyface, and while i’d like Punk to renew some of his Cena-Status Quo material, I think he needs the win to help get his tweaked character over. Could be a great match, and if the booking/storyline follows that up, could hale make a great PPV.

Winner: CM Punk

 

Summerslam Preview and Predictions, 2011

Summerslam, Aug 14, 2011, from the Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

First off, I can’t believe I wont be watching this live! Unfortunately, it’s just impossible for me. This is why there haven’t been regular posts, buthose observant fans will have been folowing me on twitter for some bite-sized opinions regarding the world of wrestling (@RTVWOW)

There are two matches not on the card for Summerslam that I can foresee being booked: The Miz vs Rey Mysterio almost has to happen; Miz, and to a lesser extent, Mysterio, are too important to bot make the card. Also, Big Zeke’s rematch for the Intercontinental Championship would make sense and would be of Summerslam calibre.

Match 1) The Miz vs Rey Mysterio
I see Miz ‘interrupting’ the start of the show and bitching about not being on the card. At that point he calls out Rey, saying that if he is any kind of man, letalone hero, he would face him again. Out comes Mysterio, limping or heavily taped up. It’s difficult to see how this could go though; I would usually suggest that Miz dominate until he gets too cocky and Rey turns the match for the win and to continue a feud possibly, but I think Miz could probably do with a big win at PPV, and depending on how he does it, that could also continue the feud. Expect a good match though – as you can from Rey, and to be fair, from Miz too.

Winner: The Miz

Match 2) Daniel Bryan vs Wade Barrett
I’ve said before just how rich this feud could be as these two have some of the most entrenched, natural history between each other than any other pairing in the WWE. Dating all the way back to the first series of NXT, these two have been natural adversaries, and it starts to come to the boil this Sunday. Bryan is obviously supremely gifted in the ring, but Barrett can woirk well too and will be a nice styles-clash for Bryan. This wont be the end of this feud, which i’m worried may even end up with Barrett holding the MITB briefcase. Usually, I would argue, Barrett would have to win, but I think Bryan needs the credibility, so I would have him go over, before a frustrated Barrett attacks him after the match in brutal fashion.

Winner: Daniel Bryan

Match 3) Intercontinental Championship Match: Cody Rhodes (c) vs Ezekiel Jackson
I see why WWE like Zeke, but he just isn’t ready for titles yet, and I think they recognised this when they had him drop the title to Rhodes, a man who is much more qualified for that honour and is probably on his way to the main event. Rhodes is a very good wrestler, but Zeke isn’t, so i’m not expecting a classic, but i’m sure it will be fine. Rhodes needs to retain, and I think he will do so with the more explicit help of Ted DiBiase. I think this is all leading to a Rhodes-DiBiase feud over the title, and so perhaps an angry Zeke assaults DiBiase again after the match while Rhodes does nothing to help. DiBiase snaps and earns a title shot at Night of Champions in what will be a much more interesting and high-quality match!

Winner: Cody Rhodes

Match 4) Mark Henry vs Sheamus
This is one of best attractions for the PPV. Henry is on fire and Sheamus is a great success thus far as a babyface. I really enjoyed Henry-Show from MITB, and with Sheamus being more mobile, this could be even better. This is hard to predict though; with Sheamus being such a success, can he really lose? The same goes for Henry of course. My belief though is that Sheamus has more to lose here. He will be the one to finally defeat/stop Henry, but Henry wont look weak, and in fact, this will be the start of a more sustained feud. How the booking will sustain that i’m not sure – perhaps it will be as simple as Henry beats Henry down in a post-loss rage. As a babyface, winning this sort of match will be the start, I think, of a route to the World Championship down the line.

Winner: Sheamus

Match 5) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Christian (c) vs Randy Orton
Christian and Randy have been wrestling fantastic matches for months now, and the magic of the relatively short (so far) Punk-Cena feud aside, this has been by far the best feud of the year. I think, however, that tonight, it will be quite possibly coming to an end. The textbook says that after he only won the title last month, Christian can’t lose the title; and although Christian’s first reign threw that section of the textbook out of the window, I think this time,the booking will follow the textbook. A lot of the story surrounding this match has been that the no-holds-barred stip favours Orton, but it has been (intentionally I think) forgotten that Christian thrives in the role as a wily veteran, and I think when he says he has ‘the best thing going’, he is referring, basically, to the means by which he will win the match. For obvious reasons, the first thought has to be that Christian has Edge on his side, who will interfere in some way and return to TV, perhaps as Christian’s manager (I think Edge would have to remain on TV – showing up for one night and not being seen again in this context). If it isn’t Edge, could Christian have HHH in his pocket. I’ll talk more about this in conjunction with the main event, but if indeed, ‘the fix is in’, maybe HHH will pick his Smackdown champion in a way that excludes one of his biggest rivals, Randy Orton. If it isn’t either of those things, as long as it’s eye-catching and powerful, it’ll work. It’ll be interesting to see what Christian does to win, but i’m sure he will win.

Winner: Christian

Match 6) Divas Championship Match: Kelly Kelly (c) vs Beth Phoenix
It seems to me that Beth and Nattie are a nicely tweaked version, it seems to me, of Kharma’s recent storyline before it had to be nixed. This is another difficult one to predict because Kelly only recently won the title, while Beth seems to have a lot of steam behind her. Usually, I would back Beth on this, but I really think Kelly is being positioned as the top diva babyface, and I think they’ll want her to keep the championship for longer. Also, Nattie is another member of these pinupstrong divas that could challenge Kelly down the line anyway, after the two have gotten themselves and their new gimmick over, and maybe be more of a threat to Kelly (and the rest of the model divas).

Winner: Kelly Kelly

Match 7) WWE Championship Match: CM Punk (c) vs John Cena (paper c)
There is one result that WWE seems to be screaming at us for this enigmatic, unprecedented match; the Cena heel-turn ‘fix is in’ finish. That is certainly possible, and would be shocking and iconic (Cena has been the guy for so long, and his turn has been so anticipated, that when it does happen, it’ll be a huge moment fitting of the second-biggest PPV of the year). One of the best things about this storyline though, has been that it has been unpredictable and surprising, so I don’t know what to expect. If it is the case that HHH supports Christian in his match, perhaps HHH will pick his champion for RAW too. So giving WWE the benefit of the doubt about their ability to surprise us, i’m not going to bother guessing what will happen; all I will say is that the ‘fix is in’ story could be a red herring and CM Punk would only grow further from a victory over Cena at Summerslam, so I am picking Punk for the victory. Here’s how i’d book it from this position: during the match, HHH seems to be slightly favouring Cena, and as Punk continues to kick out of pins, Cena starts getting frustrated at HHH as if they had pre-planned a Cena victory until Cena maybe pushes HHH, maybe even turning heel during the match by saying ‘count faster’. The tension grows between the two and HHH shoves Cena back in to a GTS and with Cena out, is forced to count 3 (admittedly, the most shaky part of the story). After that, it is clear that HHH doesn’t want Punk as champion and, having cost Cena the match, gives him the chance to face Punk again, this time as a proper heel. Whatever happens, at PPV, and with Punk having a say as well as WWE wanting to behave differently, I expect something that will satisfy our high expectations. The best way to watch wrestling is by giving it a fighting chance to entertain, which a lot of people don’t. Punk is a growing entity, and I foresee him winning tonight.

Winner: CM Punk

RAW Recall (25/07/2011): The Real Champ Is Here

Punk, holding his title higher than Cena's, and getting the popular support of the fans

Everyone knows how this episode of RAW closed (hey, it’s pictured above!), and looking back, the whole episode was geared towards that moment; it wasn’t a show only made up of unrelated segments building individual stories, but a whole piece in itself. This story carries so much ‘baggage’ and has to straddle such a thin line between a sandbox style setting (Punk appearing away from WWETV) and keeping him at the forefront of fans’ consciousness by having him on WWETV, and for that reason, it must be a nightmare to book. Last night’s RAW, to be sure, progressed the story in an excellent way.

I loved the cold open. It made the opening match seem very important in a way that was lacking last week. I don’t know what it is, but WWE have re-jigged the set in some way that really added to the space, and gave the opening match a big-match PPV atmosphere. I also liked the WWE superstars backstage huddled round a tv screen – it’s a great way of getting over the ‘crisis’ in WWE. I’m a big fan of the Miz, but of late i’ve really had little interest in Rey Mysterio; this is something, however, that has changed a little since last week where Mysterio really got the crowd behind him with some great victories. Something about him since Money in the Bank has really pulled his character away from the staleness he has been trapped in for months. His match with Miz was fantastic – great back and forth, great drama. Both men were doing their best, through their reactions, to sell the gravitas of the match was very successful and there were lots of intelligently placed near-falls in a brilliantly-paced match. It was dominated for the majority of the match by Miz, but it wasn’t the boring underdog-comeback story that Rey has sometimes gotten in to a rut telling, it was Rey helping Miz look good, and may I say that the springboard sitout powerbomb is a move Miz should incorporate more – it’s unique and impressive. Shortly after Rey survived this, Miz charged him for his turnbuckle clothesline with Rey in the tree of woe, missing as Mysterio sat up. This aggravated Miz’s knee injury from MITB and allowed Rey to hit a rana on Miz before a 619 and a splash for the victory. This was a nice finish, and after the match was the first example of one characteristic I liked about the show: a subtle but constant palpable feeling that something was awry, that the pretense that everything in the WWE was fine and ‘business as usual’ was just that – a thin pretense. Following the match, Miz attacked Rey with a forearm, which was enough to bring Del Rio to ringside with his MITB briefcase, but Rey wasn’t hurt enough to be cashed-in on and fought him off. Del Rio cashing in had again been widely speculated upon, and I think this failed attempt was used in a similar way to at MITB, as a red herring to first make the fans react wearily before allowing them to be even more pleased that the predictable had been rejected. Even following the match, when Rey was received like a hero, almost out of relief that WWE had a champion again, there was an intentionally palpable sense of  doubt in the scene, especially when John Cena showed up and broke the celebration for just a few seconds before congratulating Mysterio too.

Next up was Dolph Zigger, with a more intimidating but generic version of his ‘I am Perfection’ theme, against Evan Bourne. Short but entertaining match where Bourne missed a Shooting Star Press and ended up receiving a Zig Zag, which would have been enough for Ziggler, and a Sleeper just for good measure to see Ziggler go over strong. He followed that up by getting a mic and shouting defiantly ‘follow that!’ That was a great little touch as, without hurting Bourne, it put over the champion well and made Ziggler seem like a very hot prospect.

At the top of the hour we had Triple H’s state of the WWE address, which really turned in to him marking his territory and cleaning house. When I saw that the championship match would open RAW, twitter followers (@RTVWOW) will have seen that I saw that as near proff that Del Rio would cash in to close the show, but when a second title match was announced to close the show, that added an extra layer of complication to the situation, as well as a sense of inevitability when it was announced that the man to be getting the shot, receiving his statutory re-match, would be John Cena. Hunter thrived as the boss and was completely believable in that role, never seeming like just a wrestler in a suit. It was billed that HHH would announce the surprise return of a man who had been on everyone’s minds for weeks. This obviously made people think of CM Punk, but it was a classic bait-and-switch as he called out probably the only other man who could satisfy the fans: Jim Ross! For keeps! A move which, unsurprisingly, made the following matches exponentially better and more meaningful. This led to a back and forth between Cole and Trips which was entertaining but lasted too long; at a time when fans are being promised changes, there shouldn’t be 5-10 minutes of Michael Cole, entertaining as he is, on the mic, and when Triple H told him to go and get ready for a match, that was the most downcast i’ve been about WWE in a very long time. I was more happy to see R-Truth come out to talk to Trips. They had a really funny back and forth about Truth and imaginary friends. This too probably lasted a bit too long, but at least it led to another surprise return, of John Morrison, who fought with Truth and hit a Starship Pain to revive their feud, though not in a particularly spectacular way I have to say.

Cole came out to HHH’s music, dressed in HHH’s attire, which surprised me. Why would HHH want Cole in his attire, eventhough the entrance (especially the water spit) was funny? Surely that would usually be an insult? Anyway, Cole took on Internet Champion Zack Ryder and was squashed (though I was impressed by Cole’s ability to take a Rough Ryder). On a night where there is strong competition for TV time, this is good for Ryder. It will be hard to book for him though, and that’s what he needs: a nicely booked storyline.

Next up was a rematch between Kofi Kingston and Alberto Del Rio, and they had another really nice match, with Kofi being dragged up by association to Del Rio and being booked to be roughly on par with the Mexican aristocrat. I have always loved Kofi’s cross body, but he did a springboard cross body which only made it more spectacular. Unfortunately, even after this, Kofi couldn’t put Del Rio away and Del Rio eventually locked in the cross arm-breaker making Kingston tap. Now, I understand that Del Rio has to look strong, but coming off a victory against him last week, Kingston’s momentum was shot, especially seen as he had to submit. I’d have kept Del Rio appearing as a MITB threat but maybe thrown him an interview too instead of taking so much time to Cole and Truth. Meanwhile i’d have given Kofi an equally competitive match with Drew McIntyre or Jack Swagger and had him go over to continue his momentum.

All through the night there had been deliberately fleeting references to CM Punk, making a point of worrying about mentioning his name in a way that really added to the myth currently surrounding Punk. These were all well and good, but Miz’s backstage interview did the best job with this. Understandably frustrated and free of an obligation to a paper championship, broke through a seemingly unwritten veneer of artificial confidence around the company, losing his rag with how it is John Cena’s fault that the company was in crisis, all because ‘he who shall not be named’ walked out with the title. This was a great way of revealing that the empty celebrations surrounding Rey as a new champion was just all part of  the nervousness about the future of the company that has now been sent in to flux.

The main event was our second WWE Championship match, and it was another stellar affair, doing well to seem important as two matches for the same title in one night usually detracts from that effect. Again, both guys got over the importance of the match and made it a very dramatic back-and-forth match. What was notable though was that Cena seemed to be working with more heel-like tendencies; there was just something about the way he exectuted some of his moves, especially the clotheslines which seemed heelish. One really cool progression came when Rey secured Cena in an STF, which was a fantastic display of schadenfreude regarding Cena, and which left Cena unable to hit an AA to Rey shortly after when he managed to pick Rey up from the hold on the mat. Cena fell in to 619 position and ate one, but managed to block the splash with his knees. Excellent, sensical stuff. Another progression around finishers saw Cena eventually hit an AA for the win and the championship.

Now, at this point, i’m sure many fans were worrying about ‘business as usual’ at WWE, but despite the fact that he wrestled a pretty grueling match, it was at the forefront of my mind that despite losing the title to a better man, he was basically just having it handed back to him, which really is unsatisfying. This reassured me that it wasn’t ‘business as usual’ but I was, quite frankly, relieved when we heard the first riffs of ‘Cult of Personality’ because I knew what it meant straight away, that Cena winning the belt was another swerve (in the sense that it wasn’t simply him becoming ‘the man’ again). I expected that either the music would run on its own (though admittedly, probably not enough people were aware that ‘Cult of Personality’ was Punk’s music in ROH for it to have the desired impact), or Punk would emerge from the crowd. Incidentally, the change to ‘Cult of Personality’ has been a little controversial, just because ‘This Fire Burns’ fit him so well and serves better, objectively, as a wrestling theme. I think that Cult of Personality is the only song that could have replaced This Fire Burns, and fits his charismatic voice of the people character brilliantly; he is vindicated now he’s won the title, and has changed from a song all about frustration and determination to succeed, to one that symbolises someone with more of a mandate to act as a representative of ‘the people’. I still think emerging from the crowd may have been preferable, but to be honest, just seeing Punk in the flesh was great. The crowd, again, popped big time for him, and he made his way down to the ring again, the real WWE Championship around his waist. Cena’s response of raising the paper championship came across as a toothless attempt to assert legitimacy as champion and was greeted mostly with boos. Punk smiled and raised the true belt higher than Cena’s to another huge pop. This was great metaphor, and only got better as we cut to Cena, holding his belt lower and looking like he knew exactly that Punk was the legit champion, before Cena backs down and leaves the ring as the show fades to black. This was not an equal champion vs champion scenario, it was Punk showing that the whole tournament and the phoney prestige that had been attributed to it with ceremonies like the champagne bath. Just excellent storytelling at the end, and not even reliant on Punk talking.

Now a lot of people have said that Punk has returned to quickly, and I think that, in an ideal world, Punk’s return could have waited. However, here is the dilemma WWE must have been in: we keep Punk away, eventhough he’s currently the biggest draw, and sell his absence with the title, or bring him back to interact on TV and start building for Summerslam, but risk short-changing the storyline a bit – after all, Punk only missed one RAW. Ultimately, I think they made the right decision, because I don’t think the excitement of Punk being AWOL necessarily has to end. After RAW went off the air, Punk got on the mic and simply said ‘I’m baaaaack’, but I would be careful about reading too much into this. For one thing, Cena is listed as the only WWE Champion on WWE.com while CM Punk hasn’t been restored to the site’s roster page. This, among other things (I have lots of theoretical evidence i’d be happy to discuss if you want a discussion about it – just ask), could mean that he’s not really ‘back’ in the conventional sense as a superstar. But even if he is, there is nothing to stop him doing some of the viral/guerilla stunts that people want from him. As an agitator, it would suit his character to do his own thing like, for instance, going to other promotions and cutting promos about how he speaks for the average fan, from the grassroots before reiterating that he is the true champion, and will show that every week on RAW. This sort of thing could be the compromise needed to retain the special nature of this angle.

We needed to hear from Punk in some way, and WWE achieved this in spectacular fashion, adding layers to the storyline as they went. For weeks now, WWE have been shattering the cynical predictions of certain negative fans, so it is best not to enter in to what they do with a cynical pre-disposition, because it risks ruining it. Despite what you might think, almost literally anything could happen in the coming weeks, and if it’s something Punk has agreed to, the chances are it’s gonna be great, so just sit back and drink it in!

RAW Precall (25/07/2011)


Last week’s RAW was a complex and loaded episode. It’s raison d’etre was to get over, again, that WWE is entering a new era, and did so by showing us the coup de grace of Mr. McMahon for Triple H. It also had to address, in some sort of clear way, the future of the now more prestigious WWE Championship, which they did with the tournament to crown a new paper champion. Finally, they had to make sure CM Punk remained, in some way, in the minds of the audience. WWE achieved these objectives with varied success. To me, Triple H and McMahon were very successful, creating an earnest moment which followed the ‘worked shoot’ philosophy of Punk. Announcing the tournament made complete sense – what else would WWE do to try and paper over the loss of the title? One problem, however, was that the tournament filled the show with wrestling and didn’t allow enough time to contemplate just what had happened the night before. I think this would have worked better if they had started the tournament, advertising the finals for Summerslam, while using the saved time for backstage encounters with the wrestlers discussing/worrying about the situation etc in a hushed/worried way; have the announcers and even the tournament competitors question whether the winner would be a legitimate champion. The bit that I think was the key reason for a lot of criticism for last week’s RAW was a subtle but problematic decision on WWE’s part not to mention Punk’s name. This, again, made sense, but it meant that Punk seemed like an afterthought and was less of a presence on TV. Punk wasn’t there two weeks before, but it was hugely successful, and it was simply because he was discussed extensively and seemed like an important figure – almost mythological.

So that’s the first change WWE needs to make; I know McMahon said Punk’s name would never be mentioned again, but HHH is in charge now, so they really need to take advantage of that to make the Punk situation the forefront of the show. I’m going to try keep out of intricate fantasy booking, but I would have HHH open the show and mark his territory, address his confrontation with CM Punk at Comic Con and show the footage before stating that he wont be able to get away with what he’s done. He calls out World Heavyweight Champion Christian and says that, until further notice, he will appear on both shows. He then says the show will end with him addressing John Cena’s status before the new WWE Championship. This would take a while, but after that, get on with the show. Have the wrestlers talking backstage mentioning Punk’s name and giving him that aura I was talking about, maybe even have some visibly supporting Punk, with HHH always in the background, disapproving

(Jeez, that staying away from fantasy booking isn’t really working out … I CAN’T HELP IT!)

We get to main event time and it’s HHH calling out Cena. He says he values Cena, and how good he is for business too much to allow him to be fired, for real this time, and that to apologise, he’s granting him his re-match by giving him a bye to the WWE Championship finals, which happen next! This draws McMahon as a bad guy, but one with some principles at least before business, while HHH, in full corporate mode becomes instantly dislikeable, kissing Cena’s ass and raising the ire of the fans. Cena would have to be reluctant to do this, but willing simply because he’s doing his job and wants the title, setting up a more complex face character for him, with a more complex relationship with ‘management’. Miz out first and Rey (who Punk also confronted) last. Soon in to the match, we need to feel the presence of Punk again. Punk himself can’t appear, at least in a conventional way, but the thought of him has to interrupt the match, causing it to be delayed until Summerslam. At that point a furious HHH enters the ring, losing the professional cool he had before, finally saying that he saved Cena’s job, and he can take it away, so if he loves the WWE, and if the Championship means anything to him, he’ll go and get after Punk and bring back the title. This means Cena can enter in to this viral/guerilla story as a face, just with a different valid point.

My slightly awkward fantasy aside, there are things they need to do/address, and as long as they achieve most of them , it will work really well:

Make CM Punk the central presence from the start.
Don’t dwell on on Vince apart from maybe at the very start.
Establish HHH as a heel authority.
Address the RAW GM, reveal and either keep as an auxiliary authority figure or fire – this is about HHH marking territory
Delay WWE Championship match.

Perhaps it’s wrong to speculate, and it’s almost certainly wrong to dictate to WWE who have thus far provided great TV with this angle, so I wont talk too much more. It is important that, as fans, we give this a chance to develop organically and not expect unrealistic instant results. As long as these themes are addressed, I have faith in a great RAW.