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

Taker last ride

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

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

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

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

Taker coat

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

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

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

Wyatt Rock

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

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

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

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

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

Wyatt cockroaches

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

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

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

Taker coat 2

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

Thank you Undertaker.

 

 

 

 

Monsters in Pro-wrestling: Cult Success and B-movie Awkwardness

Bray Wyatt after scalping the Monster Kane last year, credit: http://www.wrestlingrumors.net/update-bray-wyatts-injury-status/13010/

Bray Wyatt after scalping the Monster Kane last year, credit: http://www.wrestlingrumors.net/update-bray-wyatts-injury-status/13010/

2014’s Extreme Rules PPV and the RAW following it have suffered a great deal of criticism in relation to two separate monstrous characters: Bray Wyatt and Kane. In Wyatt’s case, the criticism wasn’t directed at the almost universally lauded Wyatt specifically, but the booking of his cage match with John Cena which saw Wyatt win, but only after a great deal of help from his two regular followers, Harper and Rowan, and an extra follower, a child singing Bray’s ‘Whole World’ refrain with a demonic voice. In Kane’s case, there has been criticism of his presentation being hokey during his feud with new(ish) WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Bryan; indeed I have heard two separate comparisons between Kane on RAW and the popcorn horror film, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’. It may seem crazy to describe Wyatt as a ‘realistic’ character here, but that’s precisely what i’m going to do in comparison to Kane while hoping to rebuff criticism of Wyatt and his Extreme Rules match.

Bray Wyatt defeated John Cena at Extreme Rules. That alone is a fantastic boost for Wyatt as a character and potential ‘main eventer’, but for many it was tainted by the fact that Cena was clearly the stronger fighter in the match, only losing because his attempts were repeatedly scuppered by Wyatt followers. The problem with that is that it relies on a ‘textbook’ approach to wrestling where ‘looking strong’ is all that matters for key wrestlers, and where all wrestlers have the same background, skills, and motivations as each other. Bray Wyatt is scary, and his over the top performance of offense is very unique and fitting of his maniacal character; so I certainly don’t believe Wyatt is being depicted as someone who can’t beat anyone, but Bray Wyatt is a wrestler who – and I think this is deliberate – has a degree of physical vulnerability, but gets a lot of his power from how he presents himself. In short, he is the perfect depiction of a cult leader: an ordinary man who gains power through charisma and brainwashing. Bray Wyatt has been one of my favourite wrestlers and characters since his start on NXT, and he is becoming the most realistically-drawn character in WWE today, and perhaps the problem is that realism isn’t always the first concern in pro-wrestling matches.

To apply this to Wyatt’s cage match with Cena, it was a great example of how a cultish can use his ‘powers’ to overcome a stronger opponent. Wyatt as a wrestler could beat lots of wrestlers on his own; he isn’t some helpless jobber, but remember, he was facing the most unbeatable wrestler in at least ten years in John Cena, and that was something Wyatt could never achieve on his own. Thankfully, that is perfect for him. The key here is that Wyatt is not special in any tangiable way – he is not a ‘demon’ or impervious to pain, but he has the incredible ability to make people believe he is, and gain followers through his somewhat-sensical but warped view of the world and it’s heroes. It is this power that allows him to engender help from a pair of scary country-hosses who are mentally incapable of rejecting Wyatt’s ‘truth’, to scare ‘normal’ people like John Cena and make him question himself, and ultimately makes him capable of beating anyone, half with his physical skills, and topped up by dominating the mind of his opponent. I don’t mean he uses ‘mind control’, I mean he psychologically dominates them with his charismatic, earnest, melodic delivery; it puts whoever he is facing at a disadvantage, and even more so when the ring is surrounded by ‘followers’ who will do anything for him, so brainwashed are they.

Cena confronted by a brainwashed Wyatt-follower, credit: http://www.wwelivetv.com/extreme-rules

Cena confronted by a brainwashed Wyatt-follower, credit: http://www.wwelivetv.com/extreme-rules

Even when looked at as a fraud, this idea of Wyatt seems crazy, but then again, it is a lot easier to suspend that disbelief as soon as you type “Jim Jones” or “David Koresh” in to Wikipedia. That is what makes Wyatt so great, and so genuinely scary because, though rare, this sort of devotion, and abuse of that devotion is possible, with Wyatt playing up to it so convincingly that people genuinely worry for him as a human being away from the ring. While the match with Cena at Extreme Rules was probably a little overbooked, and maybe taken a little too far with the sheer amount of interference and the Wyatt’s ending up in the cage etc, I think the general idea at play was perfect. Man-on-man, Cena would always beat a non-cultist Wyatt every time, because Cena would beat most other wrestlers every time, or nearly every time. But for a cultist Bray, he would use the interference of his dedicated followers, and his psychological abuse of Cena through a genuinely scary brainwashed child to help him beat ‘The Franchise’ at all costs; and then use that victory to reaffirm his power. This is a perfect way to present such a different, unique talent, and I hope it continues like this for a long, long time.

One area I agree with a lot of criticism recently is to do with how Kane has been presented. It wasn’t so much his match with Daniel Bryan at Extreme Rules that bothered me, but the follow-up the next night on RAW. Where Wyatt is all talk, so to speak, Kane is, in kayfabe, a genuine fire-throwing monster. Now don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed the supernatural logic behind the Brothers of Destruction in the past – silly as it really is, both Kane and Undertaker have in the past been great at playing supernatural beings/monsters within a wrestling context and within some defined internal logic; the problem here was the presentation. While I feel the supernatural characters I was just discussing have maybe reached a shelf-life (for now at least), I would be ok with it if it was within the same wrestling context and logic they have always lived within, but in Kane’s case on RAW, they moved outside of that. As I mentioned, I have heard more than one flippant comparison to ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ in relation to this presentation, and it’s not inaccurate either. Kane has had these powers for most of his careers, but it has all taken part in the context of a wrestling ring/arena and has had a lot of power by being shot in the same way as the rest of the show (backstage segments, pyro from the ring/stage as if he controls it, etc), but this past Monday, it became this movie-like presentation, with reverse angles and a universe outside of the arena. Wrestling always requires some suspension of disbelief (blood feuds being solved with formal wrestling matches, only ever doing anything on Mondays in agreed upon arenas, etc), but we accept that as long as everything makes sense in context as the rest of the show. The Kane segments ripped that apart because while Bryan and Brie Bella showed up to the arena because that’s just what happens, they immediately wanted to get out of there, and their escape was suddenly filmed like a milktoast horror movie. From the ‘car troubles’ to the in-car reverse angles of the action, it felt different, a splice of pro-wrestling and horror movie, and it became almost nauseatingly awkward as a result.

A mystery camera films Brie and Daniel as the prepare to flee the arena. Credit: http://uk.ign.com/articles/2014/05/06/wrestling-wrap-up-demon-kane-stalks-bryan-and-brie

A mystery camera films Brie and Daniel as the prepare to flee the arena. Credit: http://uk.ign.com/articles/2014/05/06/wrestling-wrap-up-demon-kane-stalks-bryan-and-brie

While I find Wade Keller of the pro-wrestling torch a frequent indulger in pessimism and narrow-mindedness, he made a very good point about it on this week’s pro-wrestling torch – this would have worked so much better if it would have been in a pro-wrestling context, for instance, Renee Young interviews Bryan and Brie backstage when Kane appears to menace them with Bryan and Brie reacting in whatever way you want them too and have a backstage fight/chase. Just by doing that, it fits in to the wrestling context and logic; instead we got a not terribly threatening ‘monster’ falling off a car before it cuts to him sat lying perfectly flat on the floor and sitting up like Michael Myers or something. None of it rang true, and therefore, none of it rang scary. No doubt Bryan will show up again next week, and so will Brie, and they’ll both be terrified again.

Speaking of which, why is out new HERO BABYFACE WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION running away from a threat!? If you buy the somewhat patronising angle that he’s ‘protecting his wife’, then he should have told Brie to get out of there while he deals with Kane. Instead, Bryan looked as scared of Kane as Brie despite beating him the night before. What are we to think of Bryan now? The tenacious undersized peoples champion we’ve loved for years is running away from an obstacle! He’s coming across as cowardly and a bit stupid thanks to this, and I think we should all heed Mick Foley’s twitter warning that this is starting to seem like the Zack Ryder angle which turned him from Internet and US Champion, to well, essentially nothing important. Bryan is much much better than Ryder, will wrestle better matches with Kane, and will move on successfully, but I just worry this will effect his longevity as a top hero, and I hope the Yessing never ends, despite this nonsense.

WrestleMania XXVIII Review: Rock Beats Cena! End of an Era?

An iconic image: A despondent Cena following his loss to The Rock on the grandest stage

An iconic image: A despondent Cena following his loss to The Rock on the grandest stage

With the caveat that I have enjoyed every recent WrestleMania, I can quite confidently say that this was the best WrestleMania in years, and can less confidently suggest (without the benefit of historical hindsight) that it will stand out as one of the best ever. That’s not to say it was perfect, but each of the top three matches delivered in their own unique way, while being backed up by decent enough to strong matches pretty much throughout. The set was also ‘da bomb’. But more on all that, well, NOW! (It should also be noted that I only predicted one match incorrectly here, so my opinion must be worth something, right?)

Match 1) Sheamus def. Daniel Bryan w/ AJ to Win the World Heavyweight Championship
What to say about this match? Well, nothing, as it lasted one move and eighteen seconds. That doesn’t, however mean there’s nothing to say. My initial reaction to Bryan being pinned before I was even really prepared (never mind Bryan!) was like everyone else on the internet -fury, indignation, a feeling of being cheated because Daniel Bryan deserves to show his wrestling wares on the grandest stage and be given time to shine. However, it is important to realise that the IWC isn’t the only audience, and is in fact probably the minority audience, especially for WrestleMania, when more people are watching generally. Daniel Bryan, completely unlike Daniel Bryan the wrestler, deserved what happened to him. His reign was characterised by escaping title defences in the least satisfying ways possible, and constantly dodging challenges. Sheamus, as Royal Rumble winner, and a very popular wrestler, was destined to finally end all that and deal out ‘Art of War’ style justice in blunt fashion, and this effect was achieved with perfection. Sheamus came out without too much pomp, but Bryan came out with a brand new robe for the occasion, chanting the now iconic ‘YES!’ chant, and insisted on an ceremonial kiss from AJ before the match, only for all that to be met with a kick to the face and pin to undermine it all. The more I think about it, the better it was for Bryan, allowing him a memorable moment that will actually add to his character and help him move to the next level, but more on that in my RAW post following this, where i’m sure ‘YES!’ will be typed a lot.

Match 2) Kane def. Randy Orton
This was the match I was looking forward to least going in to WrestleMania, and it seems the fans felt the same as the match started, showing solidarity with Daniel Bryan, who everyone felt slighted, by chanting his name just as they did when he was fired in 2010. It should be said though, that this match was pretty good. Not great, especially when compared to the top three matches, but good. The first half was some very equal and watchable brawling, and the match built in the second half, achieving a dramatic feel I wouldn’t have thought possible. After kicking out of a Chokeslam, I was sure of a tokenistic RKO victory, but instead it was just helping Orton’s reputation, as soon after he climbed to the second rope, only to be Chockeslammed again, this time from the greater elevation, a move he couldn’t kick out of. I think Kane winning makes a lot of difference here. In my preview, I spoke of how the story was boring and lazy, and that a Randy Orton win would only add to that, and at least a Kane victory would make people take notice and hopefully save the Kane character from industry burial (I differentiate because with Kane, ya never know!). Luckily, that is exactly what happened, and guess what? I’m actually interested in what happens next between them. This match did a good job of saving two cool characters from a lackluster feud.

Match 3) The Big Show def. Cody Rhodes to Win the Intercontinental Championship
And now to the only match the result of which I was wrong about. Rhodes-Big Show was thematically very similar to Bryan-Sheamus in that Rhodes had been scoring victories and psychological points against Big Show while usually avoiding a one-on-one physical confrontation. For that reason, the story of this match was Big Show finally getting his hands on Rhodes, just as the earlier story was Sheamus finally getting his hands on Daniel Bryan. The main difference between the matches (time aside) was that Rhodes was taking on a Giant. Rhodes had built to this in a very well-imagined match with The Great Khali in which he systematically took the Punjabi (Wrestling) Nightmare before beating him. In this match, Big Show swatted Rhodes away in the early going before Rhodes went back to his Khali strategy, targeting the leg of Show and applying heel hooks and other submissions to it. Of course The Giant wasn’t going to tap, but it weakened him, allowing Rhodes to hit more impact moves, including a thunderous Disaster Kick. Instead of going for the pin though, Rhodes went for another, only to be (kind of awkwardly but still devestatingly) speared by Big Show. This left him vulnerable to what Big Show has wanted to do for months: knock out Rhodes – which he did momentarily to win the Intercontinental Championship. A good match with a strong story there with Rhodes doing as well as he could against Big Show. I was disappointed that Rhodes lost, and lost his title, but I see this as an opportunity. He had the title for one of the longest reigns in it’s illustrious history, and that’s a good start; now he can take the traditional route of moving on to a top title. My worry is that the title will languish in the hands of the Big Show, but on the other hand, he is a big name to be holding the belt, and could only add to it’s prestige. Hopefully he can drop it to a hot up-and-comer like a Drew McIntyre.

Match 4) Maria Menounos & Kelly Kelly def. Beth Phoenix & Eve Torres
Where did it all go wrong? I remember Beth & Nattie tearing through the divas division for a while, and now Maria Menounos walks off a set with broken ribs and rolls up The Champazon on the biggest stage of them all. Now, credit where it’s due – I really like Maria Menounos; she seems really nice, she genuinely likes wrestling, and she’s actually at least as good as some of the divas currently employed, even selling her ribs rather well. She’s also really pretty, so strictly-speaking, she belongs in a WrestleMania divas match, but it was still unnerving. It again shows the state of the division that showing the strength of the celebrity comes before getting the champion over. Menounos gets her moment if she pins Eve or if Kelly Kelly pins either (Kelly being a former champ), but to have Menounos pin Beth clean was the worst outcome for the champion and the championship. Not only that, but it was pointed out to me that Beth and Eve came out to Eve’s music and not the champion Beth’s! Our dominant divas champion was literally the least important competitor in that match, and that makes it a travesty. It was fun, and seeing Menounos in a WWE ring is a boon, but these plusses are only momentary; the continued death of women’s wrestling on WWE is chronic. Please, please let us have Beth, Kharma and Nattie (or a combination thereof) work together in the near future! It’s desperately needed!

Match 5) The Undertaker def. Triple H in a Hell in a Cell Match with Special Guest Referee Shawn Michaels to Bring his WrestleMania Streak to 20-0
“Don’t worry, ‘The Streak’ always makes for a good match. It has to.” I said to best friend and Mania watching-mate Luke Healey before this match began. This was said because the build to this match had grown a little tiresome and staid in the weeks running up to WrestleMania, leading to it not being quite as anticipated by us as perhaps it should have been. Indeed, this match deserved all our attention, becoming as it did, an instant classic of wrestling, theatre and emotion. Not only that, but it will be instantly added to my list of nominees for 2012 Match of the Year, just as it’s predecessor was last year. HHH’s entrance was as grandiosely medieval as ever, and Undertaker’s was the same as always, never having to change to remain the most eerie, thrilling entrance in history. The only change, in fact, was Undertaker’s hair. Many knew he had shaved off his iconic jet black long hair, but I worried that this would make Taker look more elderly and vulnerable than phenom; boy was I wrong as, if anything, it made him look more threatening than ever, and provided a necessary alteration to the character that was needed to prefigure what would happen in the match. Indeed this, more than any other match I have seen, was incredibly self-referential in regards to their history and especially their WrestleMania match last year. No more was this more apparent, perhaps, than with the inclusion of the Hell in a Cell structure. Usually, this structure is intended to be used as a prop in an ultra-violent match, with people being thrown in to, off of, and through the walls and roof of the cell, all while providing a rather uneasy, ominous atmosphere to do it all in. The atmosphere was sure there in this match, but aside from a move or two, the cell played no part in the match; it was almost irrelevent to the physical match. It wasn’t, however, irrelevant. Instead, the cell was used as a scene-setting prop that helped ground the occasion as the end of an era that it is symbolic of. The cell was created for The Undertaker, and he has had numerous amazing, iconic, and important moments in it, while Triple H has become almost equally connected to the cell, being extremely successful in matches involving it. As the announcers pointed out, before this Sunday there had been 24 cell matches, with only 6 of them not featuring either Undertaker or HHH. Another piece of trivia: between them, Undertaker and Triple H have won 11 of the 24 matches. They own this match, and it is only right that the end of their era featured the cell. Not only all that, but as I said, the cell brings with it an ominous atmosphere; an atmosphere perfect for the constant, knife-edge jeopardy of ‘The Streak’.

The match itself started normally enough, with the two brawling in the ring, and a little outside with the cell, but it was notable that at this stage, Undertaker was in control, having his way with HHH and reasserting, crucially, his dominance after being humbled last year including using Old Skool, a move associated with the best of the Undertaker. The scene shifted though when Trips managed to reverse Taker in to a spinebuster on to the steel steps; a sickening bump made more sickening by the way Taker cracked his head on the steps. Following this, we went in to an almost hold for hold reply of segments from their match last year. With Taker down on the steps, Triple H approached him only to find himself caught in a Hell’s Gate. Last year, Triple H was supposed to pick Taker up and powerbomb him, but couldn’t due to exhaustion. This year, with a fresher Hunter and the boost of the steps, he managed the maneuver to finally take control of the match, and when he did, the scenes were eerily similar to last year. Triple H taking the opportunity to beat Taker down to a pulp, doing so with numerous, sickening times, leaving horrific welts on the Deadman’s body and a cut to his face. This was where Shawn Michaels came in. Up until now he had been simply fulfilling his duties, but Michaels is known for his incredibly earnest human emotion and conscience. Indeed, it is this trait which canonically contributed to him not being able to beat Taker on two separate occasions, and not one that his best friend shares. With Trips mercilessly pummeling Taker, Shawn was begging him to stop, and remarkably, Triple H was asking him to ring the bell: “You end it.” And indeed, HBK had the power to, and really looked like he may do it. The tension was unbelievable, Michaels was downright unstable, and somehow, someway, I was convinced, again, that The Streak could be in jeopardy. This was perhaps the best theatre WWE and wrestling has ever produced, and again, Shawn Michaels was stealing the show. HHH was telling Shawn to end it, Taker was telling him not to, and Shawn was conflicted between honour, compassion, and loyalty, and it was amazing. HHH then took it to the next level. He had seemingly learned from last year when even a glimmer of hesitation cost him the match, and this time he took no time in nailing Taker in the head with the sledgehammer. Even that couldn’t keep Taker down, so he moved to crush his head with a straight down-swing to Taker’s head, a motion which led to a gasp from the fans, genuine fear in JR and the announcer’s voices, and a thankful intervention from HBK. With things escalating, it looks like Shawn’s about to genuinely end it, leaving a somehow supernaturally Taker with no choice but to incapacitate him with a Hell’s Gate. HHH broke it up, but only ended up in the move himself. At this point, the callbacks continued as the finish of last year’s match was replayed. With HHH in the Hell’s Gate, he was reaching for his sledgehammer, but unable to get it, and looked like he might tap. From here, Taker regained the momentum, but couldn’t put HHH away with either a Chokeslam or a Tombstone Piledriver as the tension and drama only grew! Indeed, in the best near fall of the match, a conflicted Shawn Michaels  Sweet Chin Music’d Taker straight in to a Pedigree before counting him, but only for a two! Shawn looked shocked, at Taker kicking out, and at his own actions. Amazing storytelling. With both men spent, HHH tried to pick up the sledgehammer, but Taker stood on it to stop him, and this time, Taker was the one dishing out hard chair shots. Again, they started echoing last year’s match, but this time, with Taker in complete control, and HHH a spent, almost pathetic force. Like when HHH simply refused Taker Chokeslamming him last year, Taker simply refused HHH’s sledgehammer shot, catching it, shaking his head, and knocking him away. Now like Shawn at WrestleMania 26, HHH gave Taker one last sign of defiance, a crotch chop for him, which led to Taker nailing him with the sledgehammer before Tombstoning him decisively for the win, finally, counted by Shawn.

Unlike last year, Undertaker was the one standing as his record flashed up on the stage brandishing his remarkable 20-0 record. Taker looked emotional, and despite what has been speculated, it really felt like an ‘end’ for him, and for HHH too, just as it already is for HBK. These three men, so indelibly linked in their recent careers and in their generation, finally stood on the ramp together, looking back at the ring after Shawn and Taker had tenderly helped HHH up the ramp. Truly, this felt like the closing shot to an era. About that, we’ll see, but don’t you ever tell me wrestling isn’t real; this match is one of the realest things i’ve ever seen, and certainly some of the best art i’ve ever seen. A 5-star in anyone’s book.

Match 6) Team Johnny (The Miz, David Otunga, Mark Henry, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger & Drew McIntyre) def. Team Teddy (Zack Ryder, Santino Marella, R-Truth, Kofi Kingston, The Great Khali & Booker T) to Win Control of Both RAW and Smackdown
Well, after that mammoth write up for Taker-Trips, i’m going to take it easier with this match, partly because this match effectively did what it’s job was, a nice palette-cleanser following the intense Cell match, preparing us for the WWE Championship match. This was a really fun match and exactly what we needed. Dolph and Drew stood out to me, bumping around like masters and really selling the atmosphere of the match and making it exciting. After lots of trading of big moves, including a double plancha from Kofi and Ryder. Finally, Ryder was left in the ring with Ziggler. He fist pumped signalling the Broski Boot, it was his WrestleMania moment with Eve by his side. Unfortunately, this distracted Zack and he ended up taking a gorgeous Skull Crushing Finalé from The Miz to pick up the loss and hand all the power to John Laurinaitis. Obviously this was a great moment for Miz, and I see things only getting better for him (again, wait for my RAW write up), especially given the potential for Big Johnny to favour him following him taking him to victory. Meanwhile, Zack Ryder was a picture of defeat, especially when Eve kicked him in the grapefruits! Not to worry though, Ryder got his big Mania moment and will gain sympathy for how Eve has treated him (though the ‘hoeski’ chants were a little off – if you kick a man in the ballski’s, it doesn’t make you sexually promiscuous!) As for Eve, she’ll get more heat because of it, which will help her too. Everyone a winner!

Match 7) CM Punk def. Chris Jericho to Retain the WWE Championship
And so CM Punk has done it, he’s won the WWE Championship match in the main event of every one of the ‘Big 4’ PPV’s in the PPV calendar. I believe the only man to do that previously was … John Cena. Punk is certainly being positioned for that level of ‘guy’, and WrestleMania just showed again why he deserved it. There was a lot of talk of this match being akin to Savage/Steamboat, and indeed, it was. I wont actually compare the two separate matches, but they certainly had the same role at their respective WrestleManias, and they certainly were both fantastic matches. There was one problem with this match, and it was the recycled ‘if you get DQ’d, you lose your title’ stip added five seconds before. I realise it was to sell Punk’s absolute fury with Jericho and to add another layer of tension to the match, but it didn’t really pull that feeling off. The selling point of this specific match was that two of the best wrestlers ever were going to wrestle. Compared again to Savage/Steamboat, there was no DQ and you lose the Intercontinental Title to Steamboat at WrestleMania 3, and that was good because it kept the match a simple story of wrestling. Punk-Jericho could’ve done with that, and if i’m being overly-criticial, I would have liked them to have saved the entire ‘You’re a drunk’ stuff for after WrestleMania and kept this match pure, as it were. So while the first five minutes or so of this match was good, and told an interesting story about Jericho goading Punk and Punk controlling himself, it was only after that first portion that the match became great; and boy, was it great! In fact, i’ve said in the past that it doesn’t really make sense for two matches from the same show to be in Match of the Year contention, but after this event, I feel I have to ignore that this time. Yes, this will be the second match from WrestleMania 28 that will make the list of nominees for 2012 Match of the Year.

Once Punk dropped that chair, this match became 5-star worthy. Because of the sheer involvement of the moves, and the amount of time I spent writing about HHH-Taker, but mostly because in a pure wrestling match like this, writing about it doesn’t really do it justice, and so I wont be going over it hold for hold. Early on came a sickening sacrificial spot where Jericho hit the rarely seen actually-achieved suplex from the ring to the floor, the start of one of the sub-stories of the match – Jericho destroying Punk’s back throughout. We then entered an amazing section of hold and counter-hold, mostly seemingly improvised, punctuated by well-timed and dramatic near-falls. Each man also hit their most powerful moves, the GTS and the Codebreaker, but were unable to capitalise, but because of each man’s ingenuity and skill, rather than their own lack of luck or skill; after Punk hit the GTS, Jericho escaped losing because he was able to grab the rope while Punk was able to escape a pinfall after a Codebreaker because he managed to use the momentum from the move to take him out of the ring and out of harm’s way from pins. One of the greatest moments of the match came shortly after when Punk had Jericho sitting on the turnbuckle, and went for a Frankensteiner, only for Jericho to catch him, step off the ropes, and lock him in the Walls of Jericho to which Punk responded by showing a true champion’s grit and determination by slowly crawling to the safety of the ropes. Having escaped, thrown Jericho out, and hit a suicide dive, Punk then proceeded to hit a sickening version of his running knee, using it to smash Jericho’s head in to the ringpost. Indeed, for all the technical charm of this match, it was punctuated by appropriate brutality like this which made it stand out for other reasons. While earlier, both guys were allowed to escape the other’s finisher through ingenuity, Punk was about to be able to kick out of Kericho’s finisher, not to make Jericho look bad, but to make Punk look great, which he certainly did after springboarding towards Jericho only to be caught by a SuperCodebreaker, which Punk again kicked out of for a great near-fall. Soon after, we entered in to the final exchange of the match, and it was brilliant in terms of wrestling and storytelling. After a slightly presumptive shout of ‘Best in the World! from Punk (he don’t wear no white hat), Jericho reversed an attempted GTS into another Walls of Jericho (Liontamer version), and from here on in, the two were constantly connected in a chain of wrestling leading to the eventual finish of the match. After clawing towards the ropes and being pulled back, Punk rolled through between Jericho’s legs and traded small cradle attempts before Punk eventually managed to lock in the Anaconda Vice. Jericho rolled for another pin, but when unsuccessful, had to escape by kneeing Punk in the head – a really intuitive and good reversal to the move. Having weakened Punk, he rolled through going for the Walls of Jericho again, but Punk fought him off with kicks from his free leg before re-locking Jericho in the Vice. Jericho tried the same knees to Punk escape, but Punk was wise to it, and showing logical storytelling, shifted himself up Jericho’s body and out of reach of his knees. With Punk’s weight on him, and no way out, Jericho was forced to tap to hand Punk a famous and impressive match to be proud of (though Jericho of course should also be proud). The match started out well and grew phenomenally to the crescendo of a submission; the right way to finish a match about who the best wrestler in the world is, and you know what? Maybe Punk is exactly that.

FUNKASAURUS AND HIS MOMMA’S BRIDGE CLUB
I loved this, and am surprised to see the level of dissatisfaction with it. Funkasaurus is great, and fun, and is outrageously camp enough to warrant a place at WrestleMania. I didn’t want to see him job out Heath Slater, not at WrestleMania, I wanted Funkaspectacle, and that is what we were given. It also served it’s purpose; after an intense, 25 minute technical wrestling match, we needed another palette cleanser for the main event. This was it, and it was funny, so thanks.

Match 8) The Rock def. John Cena
Undertaker-HHH was about tension, history, and drama; Punk-Jericho was about breathtaking wrestling; and Rock-Cena was about two people from (slightly) different times who represent different things and don’t like each other. In some ways, this match wasn’t about what these guys did to each other, it was just about seeing them face off. The holds didn’t mean much. In fact, the biggest wrestling story came early on as the two locked up, finally visualising what their whole feud is, and reaching deadlock. This isn’t to play down the excitement of the match. While no Punk/Jericho, the wrestling was pretty good, and the match as a whole was great. What I mean by that is the atmosphere (embellishing the build and story of course) made this match great, and instantly iconic. Some of the ‘greatest’ matches in WWE history (Hulk/Andre, Rock/Hogan, for instance) weren’t good technical matches. This was better than those matches technically, and, I think, managed to match those two in stature. And like in a lot of these matches, it soon became something of a signature fest early on, with Rock and Cena kicking out of AAs and Rock Bottoms seemingly all over the place. As flippant as that sounds, the occasion made every single one dramatic, even if some where more believable than others. One criticism would be that both men’s submissions (the Sharpshooter and STF) were executed rather poorly, making those moments less believable. Nonetheless, as time ran, the tension was building. The finish to the match was very considered and very good. We should have known something was up when Rock climbed the turnbuckle. He leaped at Cena for a cross-body, but Cena rolled through and in a legitimately impressive feat, picked up the jacked People’s Champ and hit a big AA. A lot of people would have predicted the match over, including me, but it wasn’t. Cena got complacent, visibly so, wanting to make a statement to The Rock. This is uncharacteristic of Cena, but it fits him situationally after over a year of build between the two, and wanting to get one over on Rocky, Cena set up to finish him with his own People’s Elbow. But smirking, complacent Cena (representing what a lot of people dislike about him!) ran in to a Rock Bottom from the Rock, which, this time, saw him go down for three.

Now at the time, I had no problem with this; it was a great spectacle, and I knew it was just delaying Cena’s eventual overcoming of The Rock. I still feel that way, but i’m worried. I’m worried about how Brock Lesnar may ruin it all, but more on that in my RAW post too. If Cena does eventually overcome The Rock – which surely he must – then this match is justified as a classic to cement The Rock even further, but if he doesn’t, it shows a shocking disregard for Cena and the future of the WWE as it is pointless glorification of a man who doesn’t even work here being favoured to the guys who hold the future in their grapplin’ hands. We will see. But being confident that Cena will at least get to beat Rock clean (its only fair!), I would like to say I hope you guys enjoyed WrestleMania like I did. Of course, like any wrestling show, it wasn’t perfect, but as a spectacle, it was as sublime as we could want, and the three marquee matches were all classics while fulfilling their very unique briefs.

Plug!: Follow me @RTVWOW. I try to be entertaining and give quality commentary on wrestling, so if you like this, you’ll like that!

The RAW View (30/01/2012): Triple H Changes His Tune On ‘The Streak’

Triple H and Undertaker staring down, but unlike last year, Taker is the instigator

FUNKASAURUS WHAT THE FUNKED tyler reks TO FUNKIN HELL
My subtitles are supposed to be official-sounding representations of the segments I am reviewing, but seriously, it’s the Funkasaurus, and no matter what, I’ll always love what he does. Ok, so he’s done basically the same schtik every week, twice a week, for four weeks or so now, but it’s fun! I still almost cackle with excitement. And he keeps on adding funk elements in nonchalantly; this week, using his raptor claws as a mid-match taunt, and of course, the actual disco ball! The problem is, I figured the jobbing jobbers out would only be an introduction leading up to a big Royal Rumble performance. But he wasn’t in the Rumble, and now that it’s behind us, nothing’s changed; and while I love Funkasaurus, it’s getting to be a problem, and it has to change. I wont post this every week, but as soon as possible, he needs a storyline. Simple as that.

World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan def. WWE Champion CM Punk in a Champion vs Champion Match
Well, it’s safe to say that most people watching loved the idea of this match happening, and that most people thought this match was excellent. Building up to this match, Punk and Bryan had traded passive-aggressive jibes about their respective alternative lifestyles (21st Century trash-talkin’, yo) in a slightly weird but entertaining back and forth; though it would possibly have been better if Punk would’ve said ‘Hey Daniel, why have you become a douche since the last time you were here? You’re a joke to that championship etc’. Starting with the Code of Honor, the match started slow in the way that the best wrestlers are confident enough to do while attempting to complete a great match. I’m hesitant to list this match play by play because quality matches like this deserve to be seen in more than words. With that in mind:

I will mention a couple of things though: Bryan playing off Ziggler’s working of Punk’s arm with a horrible-looking move as he bent back the fingers of Punk’s right hand, pushed his hand flat on the mat, then stomped on the back of Punk’s elbow. There were numerous great progressions regarding slow-developing submissions, and importantly, ones that the fans liked, showing that this stuff have a place in ‘Sports Entertainment’. The final thing i’ll mention that I liked during the match was the other constant thread through it, with each man (who has at one time or another been called the ‘Best in the World’ by peers/themselves) entering into a game of oneupsmanship in the match; something which reached it’s height when Punk shouted Best in the World in Bryan’s face before hitting a Frankensteiner. Though Punk marginally had the upper hand, this match was very good for Bryan as it gave him stronger booking than he has understandably been allowed against giants like The Big Show and Mark Henry. Basically, Bryan has never looked stronger, and this was the time and marquee to achieve that most effectively for his career. Or was it? After all, it did come at the top of the hour. Its a high-profile slot, but not the main event. I understand the argument that HHH/Taker should have gone out last, but I don’t agree; I don’t see why doing it at the top of hour one would be so bad. If anything, it would have highlighted Triple H’s nausea at the prospect of Taker is Johnny Ace would have hung around and managed RAW despite nearly getting fired. Also, I don’t think it showed disrespect in any way to those involved, but it did waste them. My problem isn’t that it was given away for free because, after all, it didn’t have a clean finish, my problem is that a champion vs champion match was treated as a less important afterthought. I would have rather Laurinaitis announce the Champion vs Champion match as the MAIN EVENT of next week’s RAW (so he can keep up the conceit of being an exciting GM before his appraisal) and make a big deal out of it … because it’s a big deal. It seems like a minor point, but Idon’t think it is – it’s important to position your champions as important. The other problem was that the Jericho interruption seemed like a bit of an afterthought; whereas if it was last, Jericho’s action would necessarily have more gravitas.

Speaking of Jericho, part of the nous behind having Punk and Bryan spend their night argue over who the best in the world is, is that when Jericho makes his appearance to attack Punk, it is instantly clear what he’s doing and why. A bonus which came from the run-in was that, because Bryan was in Jericho’s way to get to Punk, he was shoved out of the way, causing him to win by DQ; and watching Bryan’s face change to a smile when he realised was fantastic. There is something so perfect about Bryan’s characterisation here that after a fantastic wrestling match, he will be happy to celebrate the cheapest of victories like that. Excellent all round.

Triple H Tried to Fire John Laurinaitis, Was Interrupted By the Undertaker Challenging Him for WrestleMania
I don’t have much to say about HHH and Johnny Ace because it’s not really the important part of the segment. HHH was at his best here, funny and effortless rather than tiresome. Just as he was about to deliver the infamous words , the iconic toll of the bell sounded. Ace slipped away in to the ether as Taker made his way to the ring to his old pre-WrestleMania XXVII gothic theme. In the ring, it was consciously like deja vu from this time last year when HHH interrupted Undertaker’s big return. This time of course, it was Undertaker doing the chasing, and this seems to me like the main talking point here. After all, why is Undertaker interested in facing HHH? Maybe he’s realised that HHH is the best prospect after all, like an ex-partner coming crawling back. It depends on how it’s sold: if it’s sold like Undertaker has unfinished business with Triple H, it’ll be bad – after all, he did win, and that was the second time he beat him at WrestleMania; but if it’s sold like the Hunter (literally, ha) becoming the hunted, and Taker hand-picking his opponents, it’ll be better and add even more to The Phenom’s presence. Still, i’m simply not interested in seeing Taker-HHH again. I want a new, fresh challenge for Taker, especially given the natural suspicions that his 20th WrestleMania appearance will be his last; either HHH goes down to The Streak again or HHH is the one to break The Streak, which would be totally unacceptable. The next interesting difference was HHH apparently turning Taker down. The talking point isn’t whether or not Triple H will be his opponent as he surely will be with these seeds sown, but I suppose his reaction to the challenge is of interest for the same reason that Undertaker doing the challenging is interesting. If this wants to interest me, the answer to these questions will have to be intriguing. Saying all that, I said the same stuff when it transpired that Shawn Michaels would challenge Taker for a second year running, and that match at WrestleMania XXVI turned out to be my favourite of the two between them.

2011 Match of the Year: The Results

So finally, after a period of voting, the results are in for the 2011 Match of the Year. There were only really two candidates for the honour: CM Punk vs John Cena for the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank, and Undertaker vs Triple H at WrestleMania XXVII. And out of those two matches, there was a clear winner.

CM Punk def. John Cena to Win the WWE Championship (Money in the Bank): 71.43%
The Undertaker def. Triple H to Maintain ‘The Streak’ (WrestleMania XXVII): 28.57%

I agree with this anyway, so without further ado, the top 3 matches of 2011

1) CM Punk def. John Cena to Win the WWE Championship (Money in the Bank)
Pro-wrestling perfection is what sums this match, and the story behind it. With CM Punk holding the WWE status quo hostage, he stepped in to the All State Arena in his hometown of Chicago and became a hero for millions in one of the most heated, intense atmospheres ever seen in wrestling. Wrestling a 30+ minute classic with WWE posterboy, John Cena, Punk came out victorious, to the delight of everyone watching. After frustrating every effort by Mr. McMahon to scupper him, by blowing a kiss and holding the WWE Championship over his head among the crowd, and out of the WWE.

2) The Undertaker def. Triple H to Maintain ‘The Streak’ (WrestleMania XXVII)
The Streak is arguably the most precious accolade in all of pro wrestling, and legend upon legend has tried and failed to break it. HHH had failed ten years earlier, would try the feat again, and this time, he seemed to be an even bigger threat. This was one of the most emotionally draining matches I have ever seen, as after some great back and forth and great spots in themselves, worthy of any MOTY themselves, HHH got the upper hand, mercilessly beating down Undertaker. The Phenom’s body was broken, but his black spirit remained. HHH couldn’t beat him, even after several Pedigrees, chair shots, and finally a Tombstone Piledriver. Finally, resorting to his trademark sledgehammer, he approached Taker, only to get lost in the Hells Gate with the last of the Phenom’s strength for the win. Genuinely beautiful.

3) Randy Orton def. Christian to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship (Over the Limit)
Seen as there was no third runner in the voting, I decided to nominate my choice for third place in the MOTY competition, and I’ve chosen a great match from one of the best series of matches of the year between Randy Orton and Christian. At this point, both guys were still babyfaces, and this led to a great match, shrouded in honour and respect. After a long back and forth match, the end came after a brilliant, quick progression of move and counter, Orton hit the RKO to cement a great win.

So, any thoughts on this. PLEASE SHARE … obviously, and continue to enjoy the blog! In the mean time, follow me on twitter at @RTVWOW, for thoughts on the world and wrestling, as well live-blogging of live events. Thanks y’all!

Who Will Return to RAW On January 2nd, 2012?

A screenshot from the enigmatic vignette

Before I write my RAW View, I thought i’d try YET ANOTHER first for RTV-WOW. Three very interesting things happened last night on RAW, all ostensibly pertaining to a return/returns of major superstars to RAW. First of all, we saw this, which is clearly to do with Kane – but which Kane? It seems to tease what would be a hugely popular return of the masked Kane, but he also seems to burn his trademark old mask.

Also, in what first appeared to be a visual botch, the now familiar ‘Trending Now’ graphic, which obviously attracts visual attention, seemed to be interrupted by a surreptitious message, and indeed, it was, as this helpful post makes clear:

http://chaddukeswrestlingshow.com/2011/11/21/it-begins/

The message directed viewers to this video, which, in elevated, ecclesiastical language, seems to promise a return on ‘the second day of 2012’ – which just so happens to fall on a Monday …

Like the infamous ‘2 21 11’ vignettes last year which signalled the return of The Undertaker, these enigmatic and well made vignettes have cause a swell of debate and wonder amongst wrestling fans wondering who they pertain to. So, why not do a first ever poll for RTV-WOW for a bit of fun? It seems to me the front-runners for the 2 01 12 return are The Undertaker, Kane, The Brothers of Destruction together, and Chris Jericho. I will vote on this, but I wont reveal my pick. I’ll simply explain the theories behind each candidate, and the potential problems with these theories:

The Undertaker: Taker is a ghostly phenom who only ever appears around WrestleMania these days, and with the new year the start of WrestleMania season, he’s always going to be in consideration. The biblical tone of the vignette also seems to relate to the ‘dark side’ of Undertaker. It fits perfectly. However, one problem with this is that the words in the vignette claim that the returning person will return to claim what is ‘rightfully’ theirs. Does that mean the WWE Championship? I can’t imagine what else it could be (though of course it could be a storyline in itself). Now, i’m pretty certain that on the 2nd January, CM Punk will still be WWE Champion, and perhaps the babyface Undertaker wont come back to confront babyface CM Punk. Also, one person who I can’t see holding that title again is Undertaker, simply because I can’t see him being able to defend it regularly enough.

Kane: Kane obviously shares a lot of the semantics of his ‘brother’, so for a lot of the same reasons as him, he is in the picture to return on January 2nd. What makes him really viable though is the earlier vignette that aired. We know Kane is returning, after all. Could the two vignette’s be a two-pronged device to hype the return of a newly-monstrous Kane? Indeed, the fact that this is seperate to the original Kane vignette is also a weakness in the theory – if they’ve already given away that Kane is returning with a compelling vignette, would they really flog the dead horse?

The Brothers of Destruction: What if the videos are related, perhaps they could be separate teasers for the same return – perhaps both Masked Kane and The Undertaker are returning as the Brothers of Destruction. This could actually be compelling way beyond the immediate nostalgic  pop of seeing them come out together. Undertaker is an old, fragile Phenom, and perhaps he would struggle to carry another WrestleMania classic alone. Imagine then, that for the first time, The Streak could be on the line in a tag team match, which brings with it the whole new aspect of The Streak’s integrity being on Kane’s shoulders too. Who else could share the burden but Undertaker’s brother? Perhaps though, people would be unsure about a Streak match which wasn’t a one-on-one match.

Chris Jericho: Chris Jericho loves a vignette. When he debuted in the WWF in 1999, it was the culmination of a long ‘Countdown to the Millenium’ series of vignettes, and when he returned in 2007, it was at the end of a series of ‘Second Coming’ vignettes. His third return will quite possibly have accompanying vignettes, and he has been rumoured to return soon. What is more, he and Punk have had a lot of back-and-forth on twitter because Jericho is said to want a match with Punk at WrestleMania. Jericho, a heel, would be a much more fitting candidate to confront Punk with the vitriolic language we have seen in the vignette. The only problem, however, is that talks between Jericho and WWE reportedly hit problems recently.

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RAW Recall (04/04/2011): The Dream Match of Our Generation is Set

Icon faces off against Icon

Before getting in to my post, I should first say that unfortunately, my in-depth coverage of the past week was only out of respect to WrestleMania. I’m still not in a position to post full reviews of shows for a while, and may even miss the odd show. I hope you can all keep the faith. For the time being, i’ll only be posting on things that specifically strike me in the world of wrestling.

I should quickly mention my surprise at King and J.R. remaining on commentary for the start of the show. What a treat! I get the feeling that neither J.R. nor WWE want J.R. on the road again permanently, but he is clearly the best ever and adds an extra notch of quality to any broadcast. Cole’s ‘attack’ on J.R. with his BBQ sauce was ‘vintage Cole’ and I expect to see Ross play some part in what eventually becomes the layoff of the Cole-Lawler feud.

First thing’s first. Triple H’s promo was very respectful, but the main talking point to come from it was obviously his apparent challenge to Undertaker for next year’s WrestleMania. That being the case, it seems like a difficult thing to back out of, and i’m not that thrilled. Their match at WrestleMania XXVII was obviously the stand-out, but does that mean I want to see it again? I’m not so sure, even if its because i’m worried it wont live up to their match this year. This echoes a lot of my thoughts when I heard HBK would be having another crack at ‘Taker at WrestleMania XVI, and that actually turned out to be, in my opinion, an even better match, so maybe I should shut up. I just think booking a re-match the night after the original, though creating a long build, is a little rash. The aura of WrestleMania should last for the week following it, and to concentrate on the next Mania straight after the last one kinda sweeps it under the carpet. Obviously, this is a point that can be made about the main event segment of this RAW …

I thought the tag match between Orton & Rey against Rhodes & Punk was excellent. They worked really well together and furthered two feuds consecutively that deserve to be continued, while really giving a rub to Rhodes, who more than held his own. In fact, he was probably given the spot of the match with that sick Beautiful Disaster to Mysterio as he was charging for a 619. Excellent timing, and had the whole arena gasping. The one thing I noticed was that the announcers (this being after J.R. and Lawler had vacated) failed to mention Rhodes’s history with Orton in Legacy. It would have been an easy and obvious way to add extra story to the match, as well as helping Cody even more in appearing on Orton’s level. Stupid. Nonetheless, great match.

Another meeting of Attitude supernovas this time between Austin and HHH. Great atmosphere. I’m waiting on Rock-HHH now. That’s the one i’m dying to see.

God I hated the Austin-Tough Enough section. Did we learn anything about the show, or the contestants? Nah, it just wasted 5-10 minutes which could have been added on to the Bryan-Sheamus match. Thank God for Miz, who is now coming out to pops it seems. I can understand why in this instance! He was the first guy to put Tough Enough over in any meaningful way, by pointing out the obvious: that he started on Tough Enough, and is now among the very top performers in the WWE (all with characteristic smugness). Then a really interesting moment, suggesting to Austin that he have one more match in him; something Austin seemed to agree with, asking for the ring to be cleared. What we got was Riley attacking Austin, and Austin coming back against Riley, but this wasn’t just a Stunner for the fans, he was pulling out all his signitures, his Lou Thesz press, his big elbow, and of course, a Stunner. Something about this made me think that, contrary to what seemed to be clear, maybe Austin could have one more match. He certainly looked ready, as the announcers said. It comes at an interesting time, too, with it unclear who will be the next challenger to Miz’s title. Ignoring Austin, I think it’s between two people: Cena and Morrison. The assist from The Rock might legitimise a re-match for Cena. That all depends on what his plans are going forward (something I will discuss later). With their history, Morrison’s also a legitimate choice, especially given he’s coming off a win at WrestleMania, and the relative lack of pressure on an Extreme Rules card. All this said, could Austin be a choice? It would be a huge draw, and presuming that Miz would retain, what a further rub for him. I’ll be interested to see the booking.

A quick note on the Del Rio squash of Bourne: I completely understand why they needed him to squash someone as they needed him to seem even stronger and even more determined in the wake of his loss at WrestleMania and make sure he didn’t look weak. But why Evan Bourne? A young guy like that with great support and tonnes of potential. I’d have much preferred to see him dominate a guy like Mark Henry or Khali – someone with some gravitas, but who isn’t on any upward climb.

The Sheamus-Bryan title match was relatively short and sweet. I was worried we were seeing another squash in the early going, but it certainly grew as a resilient Bryan grew and took it somewhat to Sheamus. Though he lost, he has nothing to be ashamed of – it’s just important he moves on to something meaningful. As for Sheamus, I like the new red, white and blue attire for the US Champion. It’s such a simple thing, but it could be used to great effect when drawing heat. The major talking point after this match was the debut of Sin Cara, ostensibly to save Bryan from a Sheamus beat-down and maybe stake a claim to the US title. His entrance was superb, leaping over the top rope from the floor and absolutely running rings around The Celtic Warrior, absolutely too hot to handle, culminating in a remarkable cross-body from the turnbuckle to the floor in which he just seemed to soar. He reminds me of a Rey Mysterio from the 90s, which is a huge compliment. Maybe he and Bryan will be tagging together against Sheamus in the coming weeks, which is incredibly mouth-watering!

The main event segment saw John Cena ‘calling out’ The Rock. This I thought was perfect ground for a Cena heel-turn. That didn’t materialise, but i’m not complaining; for one thing, there is plenty of scope for that going forward, secondly, what we got instead was the booking of a dream match, what I will refer to as ‘Icon vs Icon II’, and finally, if we pin all our enjoyment on whether Cena is heel or face, we’re liable to ruin what could be, whatever his status, an iconic feud and an era defining match. I’m not going to say any more than that about the match itself as we have no idea as to how it will be treated come the time. I will reiterate though, that I would have liked this to have waited for a little while before being announced. Like the HHH-‘Taker re-match, it is booking that completely ignores what is supposed to be the biggest spectacle in the business happening just the night before, and treats it as more transient than it is, or should be. What was surprising was the run-in of The Corre. I thought we might be seeing something huge at this point, but it turned out that they were just fodder for the story between Rock and Cena as they tried to out-do each other. I understand why they did it, but it seemed a bit needless and arbitrary. It should have been just the two, face to face, up close, getting more and more intense, before agreeing to the match. Anyway, that’s a pretty small point. There are, nonetheless, lots of questions coming out of this, the answers of which may decide the success of the angle: The main one is how often will we see Rocky? If we see him at least relatively regularly, at timely and surprising times, it will be great. Secondly, how exclusively will he be dealing with Cena? He should be his main concern, but Rock should possibly be allowed to stray from that over the year to make sure his feud doesn’t get stale while giving rubs to the up-and-comers. Whatever way you look at it, this is an awesome announcement, and already lends the next WrestleMania a huge gravitas.