Homosexual Anxiety – Aint Nobody Got Time For That!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

 

Money in the Bank Review, 2012: Cena Muscles Through Again

Cena after winning a Money in the Bank briefcase at the first attempt

Cena after winning a Money in the Bank briefcase at the first attempt

Money in the Bank was put on the map after 2011’s seminal effort in which CM Punk became a proverbial GUY after mesmerising Chicago and the so-called WWE Universe. Without such a hook this year, it would be hard to live up to that effort. While it may not have achieved that, it was entertaining and fun in the right places. Though card placement, it seems, was the most controversial aspect of the show.

Match 1) Dolph Ziggler def. Christian, Damien Sandow, Tyson Kidd, Santino Marella, Tensai, Cody Rhodes, and Sin Cara to become Mr. Money in the Bank for the World Heavyweight Championship
This, I believe, was the most packed, if not the most stacked, Money in the Bank lineup to date. I think, realistically, that I shouldn’t call spots in this match (or in fact most of the matches because, realistically, time isn’t on my side just now), but what I can say is that two days removed from the event, I don’t remember there being quite the frequency of spots in this match. The two moments that really stand out are (unfortunately) the Sin Cara/Dolph Ziggler botch which could have broken Ziggler’s neck, and (fortunately), Tyson Kidd’s sunset flip powerbomb. That, and Ziggler’s bump over the announce table was spectacular. It is only fitting then, that most if not all of the most memorable moments featured the eventual winner of the match. Make Ziggler central to the match and then have him win. This is how you make a guy. Everyone played their part here, and fitted different roles. Sandow showed some good aggression on a big stage, which is a slow but steady step in the right direction, though perhaps it would have been more adventurous to have given him some more offense against the others and a bit more of his character, but nonetheless, he seemed to fit in to the field. Tensai provided a wrecking ball for the smaller talents (see again: throwing Ziggler over the announce table). Christian was a great workhorse, as was Cody Rhodes. I love Santino, and Santino did his job as a comic wrestler, though I thought the fear of heights counteracted by the cobra was a little bit too comic in tone when compared to the seriousness and brutality of the rest of the match, so while I enjoyed it in a vacuum, that is the only real genuine criticism I would have. Meanwhile, I was heartened by Ziggler’s post-win interaction with Chris Jericho on ‘RAW 999’. While I think they could have gone along with the later cash-in that night, and it could have worked, it is probably sensible to let Ziggler grow with the briefcase, and who better to do that with than Chris Jericho. The matches will be fantastic, as will the interactions; and it’s fresh! That is most important, and it’s going to make Ziggler a top guy.

Match 2) Sheamus def. Alberto Del Rio to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
I was looking forward to this match, and for the most part, it delivered. In keeping with Del Rio’s new aggressive attitude, this was a brawl, though with Alberto mixing it with technical prowess to beat down Sheamus’s arm in preparation for the cross arm-breaker. It was great to see this, and Sheamus sold it as something that might actually make him tap. Like often with Sheamus, he is a powerhouse with a smaller guy hitting and running against him, and against someone like ADR, with his talent, this is certainly entertaining. As it sounds though, this provided exactly what we would expect. The problem with that was that the Brogue Kick for the win was, for me, the wrong result. The fans love Sheamus, but as champion, he has become a little staid. He has beaten a lot of people and in non-too-dramatic fashion, to the point where it has become formulaic. That is why I was calling for Sheamus to drop the belt to Del Rio. I thought Sheamus chasing Del Rio would be a lot more intriguing than the current situation. On the plus side, I hope that the thinning field of contenders means there will be some fresh upstarts. I’m thinking specifically of Cody Rhodes, who could easily legitimately learn a title shot, a returning Wade Barrett if he’s ready or maybe even The Miz.

Match 3) Primo & Epico w/ Rosa Mendes def. The Prime Time Players (Titus O’Neill & Darren Young) w/ AW
One of the positioning worries from Money in the Bank was that the tag team champions, Kofi Kingston & R-Truth wrestled Hunico & Camacho on the preshow, while the #1 contenders wrestled the former champions live on PPV. This seemed like a RAW match building to a title match between the champs and the Prime Time Players, a match we eventually got the next night on RAW. The tag team championships, I think most people agree, should have been defended on PPV to make them seem more important.  Nonetheless, I think this match was enjoyable. I’m outspoken as a big Primo fan, and Primo really stood out here again, with loads of high-flying, springboard combinations. Epico is in that league too, and together, they are a great team. The Prime Time Players are more jockish powerhouses and so compliment them well. One big talking point recently has been AW and his headset. Of course I find it irritating, and a lot of smart fans have been critical of it for that reason. It is important to remember though that this is his job. Just like Vickie Guererro’s screeching ‘Excuse Me!’s, he does it get heat for his team, and it works. The only problem is when it distracts from the match, but overall, I think it’s different and working. This compliments their characters well, and along with their attention-grabbing characters make them seem like a fresh force, but since becoming #1 contenders, they have only lost that momentum. The result of this match might be seen to add to that, but I don’t actually think it did. Primo & Epico have become faces by merit of AW’s betrayal, and so their ongoing feud with the Prime Time Players gives depth to the division without necessitating the tag team championships themselves (something that was holding the division back). Yes, the matches should have swapped places, but it was a fun, entertaining match with storyline significance, so there’s only so far I can criticise it, especially seen as it gets Primo on PPV!

Match 4) CM Punk def. Daniel Bryan (w/ Special Guest Referee AJ) to Retain the WWE Championship
Daniel Bryan and CM Punk have had a lot of matches now, and every one has had a slightly different flavour. When it was announced that this would be a no DQ match, I had visions of WrestleMania X7, but what it really meant was that Punk and Bryan could use weapons this time – that was the twist. That element made the match more of a brawl than the techical clinics that had occurred before, but that didn’t make it any less impressive or innovative. Before the weaponry could come out though, Punk and Bryan brawled around the ring, and in the process of coming back in, AJ was knocked from the apron and taken to the back. A lot of people had a problem with her leaving the match for a while, but I didn’t as it was a sensical dramatic move to make; the only problem was that AJ is a wrestler and shouldn’t be taken out by being knocked off the apron once. It was soon that the weapons became involved. An interesting thing happened early on, the crowd wanted tables, and I guess as ‘The Voice of the Voiceless’, Punk obliged by getting one out. Given the finish of the match, it’d interesting to know whether the finish was an audible based on that moment, or whether the chant was just a convenience that allowed Punk to get a pop with him knowing the finish. The table wouldn’t be involved yet though, as Bryan grasped the kendo stick and set about Punk brutally, relentlessly in to double figures, which was enough for a near-fall.  Later, after fighting out of a Mexican Surfboard, Punk was able to reach for the kendo stick and turn the tables. The real joy of the story of this match came when AJ returned with both men downed. When she pulled out the steel chair and placed it between the two downed men for her enjoyment, it hit the apex of what the AJ story was at its best – not just a ‘crazy chic’, but someone essentially playing with two of the top wrestlers in the company and the world for her own amusement; having them in the palm of her hand. Bryan won the race to the chair, and gave Punk a good working over with it, but it was Punk who really used it well. In a move I haven’t seen before, Punk cradled on Bryan’s back and slammed him. Around this time, still desperate for attention, AJ went about inserting herself in to the match, blocking Punk from whipping Bryan in to the chair, and standing on the kendo stick when Bryan reached for it. She was showing no favouritism, not competing for their affections, and was instead trolling them for her own entertainment, which is the best this angle could be for her and me as a progressive. Then came the breathless closing stages, starting with a Yes Lock from Bryan, using the kendo stick for more leverage. This looked brutal, and with AJ calling the shots, I believed Punk might submit, or be said to have submitted. He didn’t though, and slingshotted Bryan in to a GTS for a big near fall after an exhausted Punk was slow to make the cover. This was finally where the table came in to play as Punk and Bryan again played with the format by having Punk place Bryan on the table looking for a Macho Man elbow, only to have Bryan disrupt him, looking for the reversal through the waiting table. Eventually, Punk re-wrestled the advantage away from Bryan and hitting a back suplex through the table which was enough for a three count. Nice finish as something outside of finishers makes it more surprising, dramatic, and unpredictable. Another really great match between these two to end their epic feud, well booked with AJ being involved, but not too much. Punk continues as champion, and is looking great. Moving on to John Cena at RAW 1000, he puts it on the line again. I’m confident he’ll keep it too. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Punk made even more of a MAN and continue his run up to the full year. Just a shame they had to mess around with the title after last year’s Money in the Bank, otherwise he’d have had the title for a year already!

Match 5) Ryback def. Tyler Reks & Curt Hawkins
There isn’t much to say about Ryback’s matches. They’re repetative but entertaining, and short. Recently, he has stopped jobbing out jobbers and moved on to main roster talent. It is hard to make the switch from jobbing spectacles that gain simple noteriety to dramatic matches where the talent is challenged, and we have to invest in him, but WWE are doing a good job with Ryback. Like his later match with Jack Swagger on RAW, Ryback took some offense, and even looked vulnerable at points. That in itself is interesting when its never been seen before, but when he pulled himself together to get back in to his usual routine and beat two quality (in relative terms) talents, it added a new layer of resilience to his character. The way I always judge talent is whether or not you can see them having a dramatic match in a WrestleMania main event; downed, and battling with the fans on the edge of their seat. Right now, the answer is still a clear ‘No’ for Ryback as he is still being pushed as almost unbeatable, but this subtle change in booking has brought him a tad closer to that WrestleMania image.

Match 6) Layla, Kaitlyn, & Tamina Snuka def. Beth Phoenix, Natalya, & Eve Torres
Initial thoughts regarding this match were that it was a shame we weren’t getting a Divas Championship match, but then I realised it was another bit of necessary filler between the Punk-Bryan match and the main event as it was a hard act to follow. Its a shame that talents like Layla, Beth, Nattie are involved in such a meaningless match, but on the plus side, it was entertaining, so its hard to be really upset about it.

Match 7) John Cena def. The Big Show, Chris Jericho, The Miz, and Kane to Become Mr. Money in the Bank for the WWE Championship
On its own, this match was better than I ever expected. I thought this would be a disappointingly bland edition of Money in the Bank, but I think it rivaled the earlier effort in terms of entertainment – helped of course by the fact that it was the main event (but more on that later). I had predicted that both The Miz and Rey Mysterio could/would return for this match to add some shock value and also some talents more suited to the match, and i’m pleased to say I was half-right. The Miz’s promo halfway through the PPV was exciting for a lot of reasons. During his own MITB/WWE Championship run, he earned a lot of good will from the audience that has stuck despite  his more recent slide on the card, and so when his music hit after a c. two-month absence, the reaction was encouraging, and made him seem important. His new look essentially makes him look more mature, and a more composed competitor, which is also good news, even if it does just result from a new haircut. Finally, his actual promo was well executed – he spoke like he believed what he was saying, which is crucial to promo success, and had something interesting to say about reclaiming his spot and no longer being overlooked. Also, he added another smaller body to the match to bump around for the bigger guys and make a more entertaining match. Before Miz’s return, all we had for that role was ladder match master, Chris Jericho, who was also the man that would steal the show for this match. There weren’t too many memorable spots, though Cena’s AA to Big Show through the Spanish announce table was fantastic and spectacular, but when there were, Jericho, characterised accurately as a wily veteran, was always above it and able to capitalise. For example, Big Show being buried under ladders was a fun but cartoonish spot to get Show out of the match/give him a rest, but once everyone had contributed to the pile and were pleased at their handywork, in came Jericho with a ladder of his own to knock down Miz and Kane. At times he seemed in absolute control of the match, and perfectly at ease with the stipulation, as soon after Miz tried to prevent him from reaching the case with a threatened Electric Chair Drop, only for Jericho to counter in to a Lion Tamer Walls of Jericho that he knew he didn’t have to break for the ropes, before stopping an advancing Kane with a dropkick to the ladder. Again, after some suitably cartoonish spots from Cena, including a double five-knuckle shuffle to Miz and Jericho on the ladder, and an AA to Kane on Miz on the ladder, Jericho again took control by hitting Cena square with a ladder and climbing a ladder – only for a returning Big Show to stir and stop Jericho. At this point, we saw the worst of the Big Show. While his giant(‘s) ladder is impressive, it just goes to highlight the awkwardness of his frame which WWE should be trying to hide in a monster heel, and reminds us of his time as more comical babyface. Atop the ladder, Show was fighting off allcomers, including Kane and Cena, but again, it was Jericho with the wherewithal to  save the match, learning from their mistakes trying to fistfight a man with a KO Punch and instead using a chair to neutralise him. At this point, we saw Jericho giving his everything to win this match, battling John Cena with a sleeper for literally minutes before sending him to the mat, battling Miz atop the ladder, literally clinging on to the case for dear life in one of the matches best spots where Miz headbutted him and sent Jericho swinging perilously but refusing to let go of the case and finally getting the best of The Miz. Seeing this determination was infectious. I’m a huge Jericho fan, but I could sense the whole crowd supporting him, seeing just how hard he was fighting. It seemed at this point that he had the will of the whole crowd, and was going to keep fighting until he won. Unfortunately, this distracted Jericho enough that a recovered Big Show managed to surprise him at the top of the ladder. Knowing his fate, Jericho took the KO punch, and sold the drop amazingly, putting him out of contention. Finally we were left with just Cena and Show atop the ladder, fulfilling a story that wasn’t sold well enough during the build – that Cena was there, in part at least, to stop Show from winning, and that he did by bashing the case against the giant’s head. The finish with the broken handle was a minor botch, leaving the case in Cena’s hands, but I actually think it was in some ways fortutous, representing exactly how Cena is successful, with brute force. So not the ladder match that the first one was, but arguably as entertaining. The only shame was the positioning. It seems that this match went on last because it was felt the end was more memorable than a championship retention with no cash-in. I disagree still though, because what does that say about championship matches generally? In a PPV with no big marquee matches, give the man who should be regarded as the crown jewel of the company (your WWE Champion), who will also be in the best match on the card, top billing. To not do so shows an over-reliance on Cena when it is clear that Punk can draw. It isn’t good for the title, and it isn’t good for Punk. Hopefully, however, it will give “The Voice of the Voiceless” some good ammunition for hos future match with Cena. We already know Cena’s plans for his MITB case; he’s cashing it in honourably, which is the only way he ever could, against CM Punk at RAW 1000. My personal feeling is he will fail, but it will be interesting to see, and I expect a RAW classic in the tone of Cena vs Shawn Michaels from 2007 to help MAKE CM Punk more than he already is.

So overall, a good but ultimately unspectacular PPV. Not many surprises, but predictability can be a good thing when the moment is a good one. It was only let down by the positioning of the champions. I feel that is the WWE Championship, and WWE Championship MITB matches were swapped, this PPV would be significantly more satisfying. In order to grow more sustainably, WWE need to know that while Cena will always be centre-stage, the men they pick as WWE Champion – especially when they’re as over as CM Punk – have to be considered on that level too.

NXT: Continuing to Breed Insubordination

Husky Harris was pretty proud of his attack on Matt Striker this week

The wrestling on this week’s NXT wasn’t as good as it has been pretty consistently since it’s conception. The first match of this night was tag team action pitting Percy Watkins and MVP against Alex Riley and The Miz. Given the great chemistry between the two in the past, I hoped for a good match here, but in truth, it was a little bitty, never really getting in to passages of wrestling but mostly keeping to a smashmouth style that didn’t suit either of the pros really. Likewise, the match between Titus O’Neill and Michael McGillicutty was a pretty average affair.

The first match of any real note was Kaval against Eli Cottonwood.  Last week I mentioned that I wasn’t a big fan of the buzzsaw style (if that is how you would describe the style of Kaval), but Kaval, again, as I said, is a verytalented purveyor of it. His work in the ropes showed great ring-awareness and his timing in some of his springboard attacks. Cottonwood did alright for his part, being your typical powerhouse monster. I didn’t think much of his reverse chokeslam (ish) finisher, but his psycho character is watchable, a nice touch being his stroking of Kaval’s face after his victory. I have noted before Kaval’s similarity, at least in terms of his role on NXT, being similar to Daniel Bryan. With that in mind, I notice that he is now 0-2. I really hope they don’t go the slightly unoriginal route of putting Kaval on a losing streak.

Speaking of Bryan, there were again very audible and widespread chants of “Daniel Bryan!” I suppose he has a lot of links to NXT, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we heard them on Smackdown too. The someone surely will have to listen!

I’m not a fan of Lucky Cannon. Though I like the semantics of his first name, and the possibilities it offers, he comes across as something of a uninteresting stock face character. From what I saw against Cody Rhodes (though, to be fair, he  was intentionally limited), there was nothing to suggest he is anything special in the ring.

The real story, the cliffhanger, was what came after when the rookies made their final statements before next week’s elimination. Everyone had a decent short promo, with Alex Riley probably being the strongest. As this went on, I was starting to think how unremarkable Husky Harris was, and his actions may not have said much about his charisma, but it sure made a pretty good impact. There are two things, out of many others, that I have noticed recently. One is that during this NXT storyline, there has been a general sense of rebellion. Another is that Matt Striker has been getting in more physical confrontations. Bearing this in mind, Husy Harris attacked Striker in what was seemingly a continuation of what his pro, Cody Rhodes, did last week. This must be some sort of angle between Cody (and Husky) and Matt Striker, perhaps leading to a brief return to the ring – ála Taz – to take on Cody. While the attack in itself wasn’t that mindblowing, but given the current climate, it was an interesting seedling with which to extend the rebellion atmosphere to the new season of NXT. It’ll be interesting to see how Striker reacts next week.

Given that next week sees the first elimination, and despite the fact that the season 2 rookies haven’t had the same time to assert their characters than the season 1 rookies did, I’ll add my two cents to how I think the pros poll should materialise:

1) Kaval
2) Alex Riley
3) Percy Watkins
4) Husky Harris (mostly after this week’s performance)
5) Michael McGillicutty
6) Eli Cottonwood
7) Titus O’Neill
8) Lucky Cannon

Obviously, I hope Lucky Cannon gets eliminated, but my instinct is that Titus O’Neill hasn’t asserted himself enough for ‘management’ to keep him in the competition.

NXT: Season 2 Premiere!: The Superstars Enter the Trenches

NXT Season 2 began last night, and a divide was clearly visible

 

Funnily enough, there is little to say about this action-packed episode. A spectre was hanging over the arena in the shape of the brutal attack from the NXT season 1 rookies the previous night, and though we were introduced to our new rookies, their introduction was only part of the much bigger intra-promotional war going on since Monday.
Before I elaborate on that, i’d just like to comment on what were somne nice tag matches between Rhodes/Harris & Morrison/Cottonwood, and MVP/Watson & Ryder/O’Neill. Both introduced a decent level of quality to the competition early on. The MVP/Watson victory was especially impressive, involving some nice storytelling for the finish,where Watson warned MVP of a diving Zack Ryder. That’s the kind of basic but effective storytelling that makes for great matches.
What this episode really served to do though was cement the oppositions for the fued between WWE superstars and ‘rookie’ up-and-coming outlaws. The final segment started out with some subtle tells – like Matt Striker pushing a rookie (Husky, I think) away from his personal space – before turning in to an unambiguous statement by the pros in which they (like the NXT rookies) set aside their differences (i.e. in face/heel terms) to act as one. This was suggestive of a very inflexible divide unlike that of, say, the WCW/ECW invasion of 2001 where it seems the split is almost ideological, based on perceptions of what it takes to be a WWE superstar and whether it is possible ‘to pay ones dues’ outside of the WWE. This is a mouth-watering and fascinating prospect still in it’s infancy and I can’t wait to see if it carries over to Smackdown!
There still isn’t much to go on, but just like last season, i’ll rank the rookies in order of how impressive and viable they are as future stars:
1) Kaval (very much the Daniel Bryan equivalent. Lots of credibility)
2) Percy Watson
3) Alex Riley
4) Michael McGillicutty
5) Titus O’Neill
6) Husky Harris
7) Eli Cottonwood
8) Lucky Cannon