Saturday, December 21, 2013

NXT Highlights

Best matches of 2013

Antonio Cesaro vs Sami Zayn (2 out of 3 falls)

Corey Graves vs Adrian Neville (2 out of 3 falls)

Kassius Ohno vs Luke Harper

Leo Kruger (now Adam Rose) vs Antonio Cesaro

Ascension vs Corey Graves and Adrian Neville

Emma vs Paige

Bailey vs AJ Lee

Monday, July 18, 2011

Had I Been Betting I Would've Lost The Bank!

There were twists and turns and surprises OH MY!! The Money in the Bank pay per view actually delivered on something the WWE hasn't been able to produce in a while. SURPRISES!! I don't think I've watched an offering in the past year or so that left me so dumbfounded. But this is not a bad thing and not in a bad way. The Achilles heel of professional wrestling is predictability. In a world where nothing is a surprise anymore, and even sports victories can be accurately predicated if you do enough research, professional wrestling and its fans have an unspoken rule with one another. Fool me once shame on you, fool me always and I'll love you forever. It's the ultimate trick. The magician knows that the fans know that what they do is a trick. Yet the fans are always trying to figure the trick out before the trick is over. The magician is then responsible for being able to make the trick as believable as possible. So believable that the fan doubts that what they guessed would happen would still happen. That's the key to good professional wrestling. The trick that deceives and lies about itself and yet still forces belief.

The opening entry of the Smackdown! ladder match was well received. While in the past I have balked at the idea of starting with a bang I realize it was more of a conditioned response that I was desperate to reinforce. The slow build has been the bread and butter for wrestling for years. However this new 'start with a bang' approach is growing on me. I'm actually starting to see the merit and value of it.

Even if a little birdie had sat on my shoulder and told me it was going to be Daniel Bryan, I wouldn't have believed it. If the birdie told me that Sin Cara would be wiped out in the first big bump I would've laughed at its stupidity. The other moments of the match were pretty expected. Like the brief Nexus/ Corre reunion only to turn on each other. I understand the historical appeal of this approach but it's kitschy and old. There has to be a better way to deal with and expound upon old relationships in a match like this. Why wasn't there some form of "I know you and your secrets" blackmailing going on between the disrupted Corre members? Some sidebar or agreements between gentlemen. They were seemingly thrown into the match without much back story or filler.
And speaking of being back story, it seems Sheamus is relegated to being a berserker hitman of sorts blindly taking his rage out on all others around him. The one dimensional layer of this isn't going to work and will bury him faster than a constant loss record. Your scariest heels are not just mindless demolition machines. They are vindictive, opportunistic, predatory, and the scariest thing of all, intelligent. There has to be a little mad scientist in the mix because no one fears a storm trooper, only the emperor. The character Sheamus plays is going to have to show some highly evolved smarts and quick if he plans to be in the big title scene with any legitimacy.

I'm not sure how this Daniel Bryan Money in the Bank winner thing is going to play out, but I am fascinated by the idea that he has been given the chance. I was a big fan of Daniel Bryan when he first showed up because he felt fresh. I thought he was the beginning of a new era in the WWE where you would actually start to get athletes of all sizes giving the overall backdrop the variety it is sorely lacking. But then it seems he was instantly pushed into substandard hell and not a peep has been made since. Well as I've said before, this is a performance based industry and if you really want it, you need to get in there and take it. Just look at Zack Ryder. Let's see if D. Bryan is really ready to take it.

This is a brief note about the women's championship match and then I will say nothing else about it. One of my favorite local bands recently announced during a show that they were debuting a new song. While announcing it they told the fan base well this is a new style, and we were experimenting, and we're not sure if you'll like it but here it is. In a nutshell this is what the WWE has been doing to its women's division for years. Since the day they decided that the fans were stupid enough to only want to see commercially 'hot' women in skimpy clothes who don't really need to know how to wrestle but look a certain way while pretending that they can. They have taken a proud legacy and talked the fans into not liking or respecting it because they have made it so very obvious that they never really did. No offense to Kelly Kelly or the Bellas, but when was the last time you saw Beth Phoenix, Gail Kim, or Natalya Niedhart wrestle? Yeah that's what I thought. As in most things, actions speak louder than words.

Mark Henry and Big Show was the big bruiser match that I expected. Not much finesse or style but a lot of strength displays and some pretty impressive grandstanding. With that being said why did it all feel so . . .wrong? It wasn't the style of match or what was to be accomplished. It was the feel. This was a mostly surface feud meaning that you could replace factor A with factor B and the emotional content doesn't change. This story did nothing to build any complexity into either man's character. Instead it actually scaled Big Show back from being a multi-dimensional character. Quite depressing because I feel like both men deserved better from this feud. So I wonder if it’s over. Dead and gone from lack of actual content or will it be built upon to make it what it should've been. They have left the door open but that isn't enough. You actually have to walk through it.

The Raw ladder match was a good one and for the first time in many pay per views the Raw match was not completely skunked by the Smackdown match. In fact I believe the Raw match was actually better. I'll decline to mention the former Smackdown! roster members in the match that are now Raw members that were crucial to the previous pay per view victories by Smackdown! It would make for a hollow victory. This match did well with building intrigue. When the Miz came hopping back to the ring you could almost hear the resigned sigh of those I was watching with as we all thought that it went without saying that he would now carry it away. Surprise surprise, Alberto Del Rio and it apparently was not his destiny. Ok, pointless backtrack, but appreciated none the less. I was not looking forward to another series of promos that spoke of his destiny and nothing really else. Now that he is the Money in the Bank winner I hope there is inspiration to take his character into another direction other than entitled mildly offensive Mexican aristocrat with a fetish for nice cars and a chip on his shoulder. Once again the good heel rule goes into play. He can't just be mean; he has to be smart about being mean.

I knew that the Randy Orton Christian match was going to be my favorite before it even started. I enjoy both performers and before the CM Punk Cena angle came into play they had the most fascinating story being offered. Snotty witty whining, an elitist attitude, enough smarminess to get it seen to with a hint of legal team. Ah yes, this my friends is a fine heel stew. The most interesting thing about this rivalry is that somehow Christian's heel has been able to almost legitimize Randy's face. Which as far as face's go, Randy is hard sell as a face. The issue is that his demeanor has only changed slightly and without being rebranded as something friendlier than an apex predatory, you can get anti-hero at best. However here is the thing. For the anti-hero to work there has to be an oppressive force that makes the normally self indulgent acts of this person for the greater good and not just this person. On his own in the benign world were Teddy Long is GM this is not happening. Then enter Christian and his illogical take of the entire situation with his feelings of being misused his entire career. He is the antithesis of the American Dream of going out and working hard for what you want. Instead he is demanding handouts and wants exceptions to be made for him. He has destroyed property, committed assault and defamation of character and has gotten away with it. Christian is a walking American political debate and I'm not sure if this was planned or just magically happened without anyone knowing. So Randy should now be exalted as the common man getting screwed over by the political grandstanding of a lunatic. I hope the WWE smells this and keeps this pot simmering. The result could be one of the best rivalries of the coming years and talked about in the chronicles of wrestling history.

By the way, the match was wonderful and the culmination absolutely perfect. The benign offering of weapons to be assaulted by, the posturing in the corner, and the ultimate spitting insult. A little Curt Henning with a splash of Cowboy Bob Orton, seasoned Eddie Guerrero style. Mmm, that's good soup.

Chicago made what should've been a pretty cut and dry entrance into one of the best I've ever seen, heard, or experienced. The reception that CM Punk got is the kind of thing that makes all the trials, tribulations, and accompanied bullshit with any career choice made out of love worth every sacrifice. This was a culmination of loyalty on the fans part, years of service on Punk's part, and a very well devised plot that erupted into a moment of wrestling legend. Witnessed right before your disbelieving eyes.

I wanted the match to be epic because after a beginning like that how could it not be. And so it was. I forgot about my dislike of John Cena and I saw a wrestler in a match. Not the marketing cash cow, or the 'safe' bumps only wrestler, but a character in a moving story. I let go of my aspirations for the future of the WWE and how unbelievable it would be if CM Punk actually won. I gave no consideration to where the story would go, or how would they reconcile this. I let go of all of it and was a victim to watching it unfold moment by moment, frame by frame with the same detached wonder that I used to experience when I watched as a child. This is why after all these years despite the ups and downs, I still watch. Because when these moments happen they are magic and very little in this world holds that type of dominion anymore. Just the pleasure of watching the passion of an artist at work. Nothing beats it, and last night Punk could not be beat.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Someone Should Apologize

I was going to post a review for Extreme Rules. However the aftermath has made me decide to speak about something else. I watched Extreme Rules with an audience. Together we groaned at some things and cheered at others. This is normal at the bar I watch most WWE pay per views from. It's a community, and I often proudly refer to wrestling fans as my people. Because in that room as we are all enjoying what we love, they feel like my people. I've blogged before about how hard it is to be an adult wrestling fan. I don't think I've ever taken a classist approach to it though because on most days of the week I see no difference between my self and other adult wrestling fans. We may in general have different perspectives in life, but we can usually agree to disagree at the outcome of a match which is something to be appreciated in a world that is always trying to divorce itself from simple none-argumentative compromise. Well last week I found myself feeling a little classist for the first time.

Overall I enjoyed the pay per view. It was a nice one. Besides my usual personal preference issues with timing, I really thought it was worth the money spent to watch it. I was disappointed that Cody and Rey Mysterio's match seemed to fall short of the promise the past few months of building generated. I wasn't shocked at the lack of seemingly actual animosity between CM Punk and Randy Orton. I thought it was the most foolish thing in the world to take the strap off of The Miz considering the press he's been getting as champ. After all I can't remember the last time I saw Cena on the talk show circuit. As a matter of fact I think the last champion to even participate in such tomfoolery was Chris Jericho. Finally I was also overjoyed at seeing Christian finally be given the big belt.

Now I'm not one for spoilers so I try to refrain from finding out the results before the show airs, but the headlines from the fan sites caught my attention. Like everyone else I was crushed to learn that our hero who had finally reached the mountain top would be just as quickly dethroned. Heartache thy name would be the Friday night Smackdown we all just witnessed. When the headlines hit I was prepared for all manner of things. People trashing Vince and his good sense, WWE creative being called to task for this outrage, hell even right down to blaming other fans for not being more vocal about their desires for Christian as champion. Just about everything except for what actually happened.

What I did not expect was a concentrated and malicious series of ugly attacks on Randy Orton. I felt like I had been dropped in an alternate universe as I openly wondered, "How is this his fault now?" Last I checked Randy Orton was a gainfully employed performer for the WWE. The WWE is an organization that produces a fiction based product. The man was told that his job that night was to leave as champion. I'm not going to bandy about regarding levels of storyline control and aspects of guys pushing for their way or anything like that cause in the end none of us on the outside really know how that plays out. All we know is what we see and what we get. All we know is that this is a storyline that uses the athletic contest of wrestling to tell a fictitious account of some form of melodrama. I’m all about freedom of speech, obviously. If you don't like how the finish went, tell the producers of the content, they are always asking for feedback. Rant and rave online, that’s what the internet is for. Start a blog! Build a site! Do it right! However have the personal dignity and grace to not make the attacks personal in nature.

Needless to say I was embarrassed and ashamed for my people. I understand the issue, and I understand the upset. None of what happened on television shocked me. It was the reaction that left me stunned. In my naiveté I thought that the adult wrestling fan had matured beyond the point of taking events in wrestling out of context and confusing them with actual personal facts. Call yourself whatever you want, mark, smark, I thought everyone at least understood that this is a production, e.i. a show. The operative word here being SHOW. The story is only as good as the emotional involvement which makes where ever this is going a good move because people are emotionally involved. So emotionally involved its eating their brain cells because in this reaction is every single ugly, neglectful, inappropriate, and insulting stereotype that has ever been applied to wrestling fans. In this reaction years of wrestling trying to promote itself and its fan base as something other than delusional idiots is wiped away.

Now I don't mean to insult those who understand what is actually happening when they watch a wrestling match. The people that I have storyline conversations with, and wax poetic about past rivalries and performers; this shame isn't for them, and hopefully they will realize what I did. This is not a fair sampling of us. After all it never is the whole that acts in such a way, it is always the louder, more obnoxious vocal few. This whole affair just left me with the desire to speak for what I still hope is the majority. They maybe our people, but we are not all in agreement. With that being said, now maybe we can all get back to being what we claim we are. . fans.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Wrestlemania 27 review

This mania actually had some unexpected moments for me. Number one being the match order. Starting the whole show with the World Heavyweight Championship match left me a little gap mouthed. I don't know if I should be more offended for the title or for the participants. It was just an unsettling way to begin the event as most people might have missed it expecting a nice 'none title' opening match. The placement of 'Taker- HHH was also questionable as well as scrapping the US title match. All awkward things when you compare it to traditional pay per view set ups as the idea is to have a BIG finish with a gradual and careful glide throughout.

I however understand what they were trying to accomplish. It seemed to shoot for more of an ebb and flow type pacing where you are supposed to have rollercoasterlike ups and downs. Basically they applied some theatrical approaches to their match placement. It was gutsy and admirable, but not really 'successful'.

As a rule of thumb I think it will always be anti-climatic to try and keep going with the pay per view after one of these 'streak ending' 'Taker matches and that's for a couple of reasons. One being emotional investment by the fans, and the other emotional investment by the performers. It does not matter what rivalry you start, it cannot compete with what is now going to be a 2 decade long build. The fast revolutions on storylines guarantee that the amount of time invested cannot compete with an ongoing legend. This match had the shortest build on this pay per view, and yet it held the most impact. All the matches were good. Some were surprisingly better than I thought they would be including the couple of gimmick matches. But none of them contain the memorable impact of the fans believing, really believing that something amazing was about to end right before their eyes. And like all of the great streak matches before, for a moment there, you really believed it was going to happen, and that H was going to do it. You can't train that type of story telling and you can't write it in a script. It unfolds live right before your disbelieving eyes. Magic gentlemen, pure magic.

So let's start from the top shall we. The Rock was as I thought he would be, ELECTRIFYING. I really can't get enough of the John Cena cracks. For any other man this would be tired, but that was always the Rock's true talent. With him nothing ever gets tired.

I'm still not sold on Alberto Del Rio regardless of how well received he is among my contemporaries. But I told myself that like in the past if he started to become fruitful with his grandeur I would eat my words and jump on the bandwagon. So I told myself, this is the opening match of Wrestlemania. This story has had a decent build. He and Edge have been working house shows for months now, if it will ever start to happen, it will be here and now. Unfortunately there were so many participants in the match, the fact that Del Rio was the one actually challenging for the title got lost. This within itself is pretty self explanatory. I suppose I wanted a nice one on one where Del Rio would have to at least hold up his side of the tale because even at house shows the matches have been 3 ways between Del Rio, Edge, and another opponent. So it forced me to wonder why is this man in the race for the World Heavyweight Title if he can't carry a match with Edge during a house show? Let's be honest, carrying a match with Edge is like dead lifting a coffee cup. You should be able to manage unless your ego is getting in your way. I wanted this match to be more, because I have become accustomed to Wrestlemania matches with Edge being 'more'. I don't think the addition of Christian and Brodus was a good move. In addition to Del Rio's ring announcer, Del Rio's car, Michael Cole's Pod, and that creepy cube thing, there was just too much going on. However we did solidify the idea that Edge will in fact drop an elbow on ANYTHING.

Cody Rhodes has been doing an AMAZING job of fleshing out this Phantom of the Opera heel he has been developing. I mean I've spent the last month of Smackdown eating it up. I am hoping that it isn't lost just because this angle is over. This is a lifelong heel thing that should not be tossed out at the end of the Wrestlemania road. It is this wonderful old school heel bit that is just inspiring to watch. I love Rey so there really isn't much to do there but gush, so on to the match. While it was not spectacular, it was interesting, and kept the attention of the viewers. The knee brace action and face mask stealing really worked and got the most response out of the crowd I was in. There were some things that could've worked better. Somehow I was waiting for an actual berserker rage. It seems to me this character is building to actual homicidal tendencies. No one says he has to get away with it, but it needs to feel more like he will do ANYTHING to avenge what has been lost. In laymen's terms, one victory at Wrestlemania shouldn't be enough. This program can easily run to about SummerSlam if worked carefully.

I think the 8 man lasted exactly as long as it should've. This match was placed well overall. It was a quick and dirty camp match for those who love the camp, the kids, and it gave most hardcore fans their first bathroom break of the night. People complain about these matches, but honestly they are necessary for show pacing. This is a 4 hour live performance event with technically no intermissions. If these matches are not there, fan satisfaction overall dies out because the pacing is too much, too hard, and too heavy. Any live show is a balance, plain and simple. With that being said I want the Corre to be more. This is a dangerous time for these future main eventers, and I think the WWE has to be careful with how many of these 'gimmick' matches they get put in. Honestly I think groups should hit their first Wrestlemania with an impact. With lack of better examples I think back to the TLC matches that put Edge and Christian, the Hardy Boys, and the Dudley Boys on the map. This is where these teams should be. Let the New Nexus and the Corre show their quality instead of making them an afterthought. This is the stage, and the time is now.

I have been skeptical about Orton-Punk for a while because of the overwhelming heel on heel feeling the rivalry gives off. This match though was the only one that truly benefited from the 'flashback' package that is shown before matches because of how far back this reference was. It was a hard sell, but somehow the editing crew managed to make a 2 year grudge that nothing was ever done about quite plausible. The match was butter, undeniable butter. I always expect good things out of Randy, and have always been on the fence with Punk. But somewhere in his match against Rey Mysterio at Over the Limit about a year ago something changed, and it's been a good change that has shown clearly in all the things that Punk does now. It was like this wall between his true nature and his ring performance was torn down, and I haven't had a bad thing to say about his in ring performance since. This match had great personality. You didn't have to guess at anything that was going on. Everyone told you clearly. There were some awkward moments that seemed forced, like Randy's dead fall to indicate that his leg was shot. However none of them were bad enough to actually kill the momentum of the match.

I wanted Michael Cole to experience more pain. Period. If I had to be pained by watching him shamelessly reference Lawler's living and dead family members then he deserved to hurt more for it. Some would say that having to wear that unflattering leotard was enough. I say that hurt ME more.

I didn't expect much from the Diva match except the needful bathroom break after being thoroughly owned by H and 'Taker. With that being said I got more than I expected. Trish looked great, but that was a no brainer. I knew she'd come ready to go. Now for surprise number two, Snooki wasn't completely awful. No one was more surprised than me.

Miz and Cena had the match I knew that they were capable of giving. Not to say it wasn't a viable nice match but more to say I think Cena has a ceiling in the ring, and he has reached it. The Miz however has yet to reach his, and I would like to see him in matches that would explore this a bit more. The whole thing ended up being set-up for a future Rock-Cena super match. I love the Rock, but I think the champ deserved better.

Where were Sheamus and Bryan? Bad form to still be promoting a match 20 minutes before start time when you have no intention of showing it. Feels a little TNA if you know what I mean.

Some of the in between segments held a little too much camp. I love campiness in wrestling, don't get me wrong, it belongs there, and they are made for each other. The issue is that they are telling the same jokes over and over again with different dressing. Very few people can make that constantly work. Ask any old or current Saturday Night Live cast member. Steven Regal can however, and was the only one outside of the "Rock featured" skits that worked. I liked the glossier entrances over all. Some worked for some people and others were just TOO put on. H's entrance was spot on. Could not have been done better. Barbarian king made flesh; it was perfect, and a good way to erase the horror of the King of Kings disaster that was WM 22 in Chicago. Taker has always had the best entrance in wrestling so it goes without saying, but finally the challenger’s entrance stayed with you as the Deadman did his epic pacing to the ring.

I'm not one for involving religious allegory in wrestling because your fan base is multicultural, and the assumption that everyone is not just Christian, but Baptist is insulting. Considering the area you are having this in, it's also downright condescending. All I can hear is, "We in Georgia, and Lordy be they'd love them a gospel choir." Wow. I am with involving social media because your fan base is multicultural. In that promo The Miz was not arrogant, he was in fact doing all the things that Cena claims as his moral guide. Against the odds and wishes and desires of others he declared a dream, and made it real. He's on talk shows talking about the greatness of his chosen business and he's promoting his love for it, not himself. He is a hero, Cena a self righteous jerk. In a few words The Miz's was perfect and Cena's was an epic fail.

There it went for the grandest stage of them all Circa 2011 Atlanta Georgia. Now let's get to work on MIAMI!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Keep It Electrifying!

Last Sunday I did myself the favor of watching all 3 discs of “The Rock: The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment”. I love the matches, but as usual I marveled at the brilliance, and the flippant arresting charm of a good old fashioned Rock promo. As I watched the referencing of the build for the Stone Cold/Rock main event for Wrestlemania 17 a decade ago, I tried to put my finger on what it was that made me nearly come out of my skin at the thought of being at the Astrodome in Houston.

I recall the energy of the crowd, and the absolute devastation of the ending of the main event. It was this transcendent instance in the heart of Houston where our hero fell yet not in the way we thought. Somehow it would’ve been tolerable if he had just lost. Instead he turned on us as we sat watching and adoring him the whole time. Through no fault of our own the ultimate champion of the weak and downtrodden finally did the unthinkable and succumbed to the machine.

As the 10 year anniversary of what is internationally known as the best Wrestlemania EVER happens this Friday, I find myself looking for that potential in Wrestlemania 27. I’m looking for that potential blindsiding, searching for that level of ferocity and untapped potential wondering why I don't have it. I know many will blame the PG rating. I don't really believe that is at fault. Technically until the Attitude era, wrestling had always been PG.

When I watch wrestling now I notice a few things. I notice movement. I notice queues, and I notice attitudes. More than that I notice how different they are when there isn't a red recording light flashing from when there is one.

I personally have always preferred performing for live audiences without being recorded. Mostly because I noticed the disconnect between live performance and recorded live performance. The feel and energy I thought I was conveying from the stage as opposed to the perception of that same instance through the eye of a camera. The audience was with me, but myself, the other people on stage, and the audience were the only ones who knew it. Watching the recording later doesn’t reveal any of the nuances that I can feel from the stage. This can be a very confusing thing to use to sort reality from perception with so many different avenues to view this single moment from. Needless to say I understand why almost no television is live anymore.

What I’m talking about is the nature of television production as opposed to audience perception. When you are live, you see and feel what is happening. You can trick a crowd into believing a few things, but you can't trick them into believing everything. People instinctively know when something is 'too' planned and has just now fallen apart. The key to any great live performance is a very simple concept that not many people can achieve. Plausible versatility. It is the ability to make a F-up seem like only a slight hitch. In some cases make it even look like this was supposed to happen. Dancers are VERY good at this, and I believe great wrestlers are as well. That is when they are allowed to be.

The disclaimer to this entire piece is this; I would no sooner tell a writer for professional wrestling how to write a good rivalry than I would trust a professional wrestling writer who doesn’t program to explain to me how to write a loop in C++. While they both involve the verb ‘write’ the way the writing is done is drastically different. However I would let someone who is an avid user of the type of technology I program tell me what’s working and what isn’t. That’s how all technology companies do it because they realize that the average tech is ‘too close’ to see the issues anymore. So I find myself wondering how much in professional wrestling is suffering because someone who is a television writer is presuming to tell a live audience performer how to project coupled with no one actually listening to the users of the product in order to make the product more user friendly.

Live TV is a fascinating thing. It has to be one of the hardest things to gauge because of how it develops. The standard industry rule is never work with kids or animals. The rule should be never work with kids, animals, or live audiences. The tone of the crowd can make or break the atmosphere your writers intend. I think live television is the one avenue where too much writing actually detracts from the tone. First and foremost, to the audience, this has to feel LIVE. Being live and feeling live are two separate things. You cannot convince a live audience that what they just saw, felt, and heard was natural and unscripted if it doesn’t come off that way. As a result the overall product suffers from what feels like a lack of spontaneity. Live fans love Murphy’s Law. It gives them something to talk about with fans that weren’t live so they have expectations in that domain. And usually with the big stars they get it. It's still more so in house shows than in televised events though and the difference shouldn't be that telling.

My issue is that I see new performers that seem to have missed a step, like a "How to Sell a Crowd" 101 course; "How to Adlib" 210; "When a Bit is Dying" 315. It reminds me of what happens to the human body when a drug starts taking the place of a function. Eventually the body adapts to not even allocating energy for the function solely relying on the drug to do all the work now. While the use of writers in a lot of aspects has sharpened the pen so to speak, and streamlined the functionality, it has created a body that cannot function without it if it needed to. Which would be great job security if the methods used were always successful. There are things that happen live that cannot be re-written, and the performer has to be able to perform on the fly. I know that this is what house shows are for, but it's not a good gauge for what will happen in front of a camera unless you know what it is you are looking for.

I'm not sure how wrestling schools go about training. I've researched a few, and checked out their classes and training methods. Frankly I fear for the direction something that I've loved all my life is going towards. I see an avenue where many things can be enlisted and added. I have what some would probably consider crackpot theories on some of the things that I think would be useful in a wrestler's arsenal. I’m just not sure how else you would custom build a performer without seeing to the process from beginning to end. Right now wrestling feels and acts a little outsourced if you are looking at the next generation of superstars.

Hollywood realized that if you want a certain quality you have to build them yourself which is why there are so many collegiate programs that train people to work in the film industry. There are standards set and schools of thought explored and expounded upon. I really think professional wrestling needs to take the same position because what I find throughout is a lack of continuity when I look at these schools.

Were I head of whatever at the WWE, I would propose an actual professional wrestling farming school ran by the WWE to supply exactly what they are looking for in all aspects. Not just on-air talent, mind you, but in technical support, administration, booking, and right down to ‘in the arena’ merchandise stand operators because unlike a live show, you can actually manage all of those operational incidentals. Eventually you fill your payroll with ‘your people’ meaning that they are exclusive to professional wrestling. Your writers are trained writers for professional wrestling, your refs know how to adlib and buy time. Your announcers are wrestling announcers. That’s what they do. Your light and sound guys, your grips and runners all understand this dichotomy before they even show up for their first day of work.

I think to the debacle that is happening on Broadway with Spiderman the Musical and I see the problem relatively clearly. This is an instance of people actively trying to use hammers to secure screws. It simply is not a long term solution and it shows after a brief period of time. There is a reason why when Pink decided she wanted to do acrobatics during concerts she hired circus performers instead of stunt guys. This live audience, no re-take, rig this up on the fly atmosphere is their bread and butter. No one knows this subject better. Honestly is there a career or any type of vocational training that prepares you for the unique atmosphere of live recorded professional wrestling? Not really. I suppose I’m wondering why there isn’t more formalized training for something that is making millions of dollars annually.

Then I realize the very interesting facts about the guys that have had longevity. I look at their histories. They usually had a great love for wrestling as a child, or they are the sons and daughters of wrestlers, and the children of key people in the wrestling world. This is not a coincidence. This is an aspect that I believe is taken for granted more times than not, and I’m not sure that the well will continue to replenish itself. Were I in a power position in professional wrestling I wouldn’t expect it to. I would instead look to the future of how this can be expanded, modified, and ultimately refined without losing that needful sense of live spontaneous action.

Wrestling has had some wonderful accidents over the years. I felt like these 'accidents' were obvious signs and could be used as guides to make sure these lovely accidents aren't accidental at all, but carefully cultivated. I'm not sure if professional wrestling is still feeling its way out, or if it's committed itself to gambler's tricks and swings of good luck to see it through. I do know that no industry, even gambling, has survived on luck and happy accidents alone.

Well enough of my ramblings. I’m going to look forward to Wrestlemania 27. I’m going to remind myself of the passion, the fervor, and anticipation the ones I’ve been too have filled me with. On Sunday I’ll go to my bar, saddle up, and let them wow me again.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

So Who Was That Guy Again?

As a rule I prefer house shows to televised events. I think in many situations you will find the ‘truth’ of wrestling fans at these shows. Without the devilish lure of being on TV, and being ‘seen’, fans have this opportunity to just be fans instead of painful attempts at being their own version of the entertainment they enjoy. There are not many human beings that can resist becoming a spectacle when the opportunity presents itself. I cringe weekly when watching Raw, Smackdown! and TNA. Please note that I did not mention Superstars. I’ll get to that, but back to the subject. So when a sign is put up, or a chant is started, it bares the purity of the action. I as a fan would like to show you my appreciation of you as a wrestler.

The energy is completely different because it reminds me of my first experiences watching World Class Championship Wrestling at the Sportatorium in Dallas Texas, and how that spurned a lifelong love for professional wrestling. It is that sense of burgeoning wonder and spontaneity that is usually lost in the televised events as everyone has to be so mindful of the glaring eye of the camera lens. So if you have not attended a house show, I highly recommend them because of this energy. It feels like life; real and upstaged. Even though we all know that everything is, it doesn’t feel like it because of the nature of the show. Everyone is free to respond as they see fit without much penalty. No one has any evidence other than what they thought they saw or heard. The difference is telling in how the fans respond, and how the wrestlers themselves are able to respond back. Then wrestling becomes more of the community that I’ve always felt like it should be. When I go to a wrestling event, I fondly refer to other wrestling fans as my people, and I see them as that. This feeling is even more so at house shows than any other.

During these shows you do meet a different kind of fan than you run across in an average televised event. I’ve had more conversations about wrestling, and why it is enjoyed within these audiences than I do at televised events. The air is calmer, more casual, and people know that they are speaking to someone else that actually loves wrestling, and isn’t there just to be on TV. This creates a bond that cannot be surpassed. So when one of these conversations reveal something about the way wrestling is perceived, I listen because there is an undeniable level of truth here that should be considered.

My best friend and I usually attend wrestling events together, and last night in Roanoke Virginia for a Smackdown! house show was no different. We sat next to a family that we ended up having a conversation with throughout the night, which is our way. We talked shop. Who we like, who we don’t like, and what is going on with this story. You know wrestling fan shop talk. The moment of revelation happened during the Curt Hawkins – Percy Watson match as the family told us that they had no idea who either of these men were, and furthermore why should they care. So my best friend took the hit, and explained the story with a brief history of each performer. Then after a few details they were able to admit that some of this sounded familiar. This is not an uncommon story when you go to wrestling events. Performers are often either well known, or floundering in obscurity before being handed their future endeavors packet. However I’m not entirely sure if this is fair.

Case in point. Normally I would just assume that these people are just not avid fans like my best friend and myself. But this was not the case. After speaking to the husband/father half of this family we learned that he had actually trained to be a wrestler in the feeder federation that was based in the area for WCW before it was bought out. He was being trained to go in as a Piper relative before WCW completely imploded. So this was not a casual fan by any means. He understood the nature of the performance, had some pretty successful matches, and knew the sometimes hidden ins and outs of the business. So this revelation makes me rethink this assumption. If this person who is an avid watcher of most WWE programming has no idea who either participant is in one match of a house show event when this person is not prescreened talent, how does the average fan fair?

Now we talk about Superstars. While Percy Watson is explained by the NXT debacle, Superstars is the show that had been doing Curt Hawkins a grave injustice. This has been the show that has featured performers like Curt Hawkins, Tyler Reks, Chavo Guerrero, the previous tag team champions of Santino and Koslov for months now as the A-listers only made brief appearances during the first month or so of production. So this spurred a logistics conversation between my best friend and I. Does the WWE creative staff consider featuring this level of talent on Superstars ‘pertinent’ TV time? Because if it is, or was as the case may be since it has been cancelled, the fan base may be virtually unaware that they were to use Superstars to discover new talent. While pre-established characters like Guerrero, Santino, and Koslov can survive the Superstars burying, a new and growing character like Hawkins cannot.

I stopped watching Superstars about 2 months ago when it became apparent that all I would be watching was the same series of matches without any additional information. Keep in mind that I have rescheduled dates and events to make sure I catch wrestling. Storylines were not created on Superstars. They weren’t even fleshed out. These were all mostly stand-alone matches that offered the appeal of preteen tennis when none of the kids participating are yours. It’s cute enough, but not able to sustain a wide audience.

Near the end, Superstars was more of a recap show for Raw, which I think was the final nail in its coffin. If the WWE is not careful, Smackdown! will have to deal with the same disturbing distinction as more Raw programming is being featured on Smackdown! because of the ratings it is generating on SyFy. I wonder why the WWE elite have assumed that people who are tuning in to Smackdown! would like more Raw? Why would people watching Superstars really want more Raw? But this seems to be a reoccurring theme that is not doing lower tier performers or other shows any favors.

Performers like Curt Hawkins can no more be repacked as a new range Triple H no more than Superstars can be used solely to advertise for Raw. You see you already have viewers for Raw, and it will grow, or recede based on its own merit. The idea is to create viewers for that show through that show’s programming that may one day decide to watch other WWE programming as well. Superstars never had a chance because the name of the show implied something that the show could not deliver, and the fan base was never really told what to expect.

As a romance novelist I have been accused of designing covers that don’t let the reader know that this is a romance novel. I maintain this is for a reason. I have a niche audience. I am looking for readers who don’t want your average formulaic romance novel so that I can avoid the customary ‘romance’ stigma.

Unfortunately the WWE has not endeavored to do the same for some of their burgeoning talent. The packaging after all is very important. I understand that wrestling is a form of entertainment, and like any other form, there are levels of self-making that have to be created by the performer themselves. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about sheer exposure so that the performer can ‘make’ themselves. Being featured weekly on Superstars turned into a death keel for many of the burgeoning talents. So I’m not sorry to see it go. I’m just afraid that it will not send the proper message to WWE higher ups in regards to handling programming, and how it effects talent development in the future.

I suppose I’m thinking that maybe with different goals that are more based on individual shows, and what they would like to achieve, something else can happen besides shows that all seem to try to lead the viewer back to the same show that just happened. With these shows not being used as baldy wielded marketing tools, things may feel a lot less like production. If it feels a lot less like production, maybe it will feel more like community. Then the truth that fans experience at house shows will be broadened, and perhaps that will increase the fan base as fans feel included instead of exploited. Then maybe every show can feel like a house show.

Curt Hawkins and Percy Watson had a good match last night, and people will be looking for them when they tune in. It’s a shame that they won’t find them.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

In the Distance WRESTLEMANIA!!!!

Long time no blog for me and wrestling. While I haven't had much I've wanted to talk about it, this hiatus had a lot more to do with finishing my Bachelor's, and finally self publishing a couple of my novels. Now that this is done I can once again concentrate on what I really like to hash about, professional wrestling. No wonder my first published novel features one.

So what has changed since I last blogged? Quite a bit actually. What are the highlights of the Pay Per Views from Survivor Series to the Elimination Chamber? Number one for me is how much fun The Miz as champion has become.

I was one of the people that thought it was too soon. I must now call myself a liar because I think The Miz is becoming a fine WWE Heel Champion. Now if we can only figure out a way to keep Alex Riley from constantly botching in ring work, and saying the lamest things, we could have an evil two some that would do the world proud. Honestly A-Ri could get away with the ultra lame scripting if he could manage to do the physical part of the job without such obvious screw-ups. Even people that don’t know what to look for can tell that something is not quite right with what they saw. While the 'internship' angle is a nice updated homage to the champ with a bodyguard days, it seems to have the exact same shelf life as all of those did then. End result is you have a great heel champ that seems to be being dragged down by his deadweight staff. Which within itself is pretty entertaining in an earned bad karma kind of way. It just seems to be a hard sell with Riley being the avatar.

I was pretty unhappy when Alberto Del Rio won the Royal Rumble mostly because I'm still waiting for him to wow me. Yes I am one of those people who felt that he was not going to benefit from what is thought of as his current designation as the new JBL. While there are character differences between the two, it is difficult for the average fan to separate the similarities. We are human beings, and our main functionality is in pattern forming. From a wrestling family, nice car driving, self-promoting Mexican athlete should've pinged more like an obnoxious royal Eddie Guerrero, but instead it registers like 'JBL En Espanol'. This pattern is too difficult to ignore because of the timeliness of JBL’s departure to Del Rio's arrival. Quick fix I thought, he just has to establish himself as his own viable character. So I want more meat to the character before moving him into the title scene. I think putting the strap on an up and coming new star before he's actually ready to bear the weight of it has become a WWE staple, and the World Heavyweight Championship has earned a tarnished legacy for it.

****I have to interrupt this blog for a rant. If you would like to avoid this rant please continue to the other side of the * designations to continue this blog reading rant free. This is a rant that is of my own personal opinion, and should not be used as a legitimate reference when arguing this point to anyone. This is only a rant.****

I've spent the past few years disappointed at the path the World Heavyweight title has taken. This is a title who's legacy is over a 100 years old. In my mind it means more than the WWE Championship because it is what has enabled the other to exist. I know the story. Technically this is not that championship. When Jericho became the first Undisputed (GREAT book by the way), it was discontinued, and then blah, blah, blah, Triple H, blah blah, new title formed by brand, blah. Too me it’s PR mumbo jumbo to try and deny the history of it, and the history of wrestling before Vince McMahon. Ask any political campaign manager, the truth is in what it is perceived as, and not what people are being told it is. It still looks like the belt that Flair wore in WCW, and most fans still see the legacy behind it, and that cannot be denied. SO they want to change to look of it. It won't change what the older fans know and think of it. Honestly I don’t think it should be changed. Doing that is the same beast as trying to take the N word out of Huckleberry Finn because we don’t like to admit our nation’s ignorance. It doesn’t make it actually disappear. We are being naïve in assuming that letting people forget it is better for us all. It’s not when you consider that analogy about not knowing your history, and repeating it and all. This is not a chicken and egg analogy. You can’t philosophize origin when it has been given. This is now simply history. Bottom line is I'm personally picky about who should have it, and I've been upset with the WWE for using it from time to time as a 'superstar' builder. I think it is a title that should always be in the hands of an established superstar out of respect for its implied heritage. But I was also against discontinuing the Women's title in favor or the Diva's title. I understand the math. Like any ruler, the WWE would like to rebuild the world of wrestling in it's own image, but losing the history that was a part of making the company so successful isn't going to accomplish it. This is something that older companies are now discovering as many are trying to go back to their roots to try and foster some of the product loyalty they lost by trying to keep up with the times. Re-branding is a lie, and eventually everyone catches on.

****This concludes this rant. Please continue with your normally scheduled blog reading.****

I'm not sure what is next for Randy Orton, and I'm not sure anyone else is either. It seems from WM26 to now the hottest star in the business has been losing steam, and through no fault of his own. I think it's the need to push his face turn. Randy Orton is a heel, plain and simple, and no amount of built up "face" time is going to change that. Which is what I think is backfiring on the CM Punk-New Nexus angle. The storyline with him and Punk is missing something. In a way it looks like two heels facing off, and yet not. There is a definite lack of heat, which I suppose is the real issue. I don't believe that Randy really wants to hurt Punk. I don't believe Punk is really serious about getting to Randy. However I do admit that even I cringe when he refers to him as Randall Keith Orton. Ahh, gratuitous use of mommy krytonite is effective and annoying, but it doesn't inspire that sense of true hate that Punk has been able to inspire in the past. Unfortunately Punk and company are going to have to do something truly heinous to put them on the map as the 'more brutal and hardcore' version of the Nexus. Randy is always good, its just that right now it seems over blown because the other end is not meeting his intensity. So it comes off as battling a squirt gun with a water hose. People still need to believe that the match is somewhat even. We all know that Randy is willing to do whatever it takes. Now Punk and the New Nexus need to show him the same. Beating each other up in the back just doesn't cut it.

I could talk about H and Taker. I could talk about Rock and Cena. I could talk about Divas. I could even talk about how truly annoying Michael Cole has gotten. However I think that is all hashed. People are beating it into the ground. In the meantime something truly spectacular happened during the Smackdown! Elimination Chamber match, and no one has even spoken a peep about it. (That is a cheap Christian plug.) The match itself was wonderful; solid with big spots, and some really nice moments. When it got down to the final two and only Edge and Mysterio lay in the ring panting, I looked over at my best friend and said, "They're resting because they are about to GO!" Even with this expectation, I could not imagine how much GO! they had left in them. Gentlemen, if no one else told you, that was an amazing performance, and it has been years, literally, since I have seen such a magnificent culmination to a rough match. The Raw side tried to keep up, and normally it would've ranked as a valiant effort. Had I been them I would've cut my losses and tried for another pay per view to steal because you can't take what's already gone.

So I look to Wrestlemania and the way it is building with a resurgence of Tough Enough in the wings, and I feel good about the direction one of my favorite forms of entertainment is going. Hopefully people will begin to understand that Rock-Cena isn't the main event of WM27. Miz-Cena is the main event, and I've been cheering on the WWE champ as he has been petulantly trying to remind everyone of that simple fact. I hope Del Rio can calm down his nerves, and actually get through the Mania match with Edge with a good showing proving me wrong about it being too soon. However his showing on Smackdown! this past week makes me real nervous for the current World Heavyweight champ. Cody is showing us visions of heel greatness, and I highly anticipate the culmination of his feud with Rey Mysterio. Hopefully the New Nexus can truly horrify before April and give the Orton-Punk match the teeth it's currently missing. Maybe we'll all get that knockout that Michael Cole deserves for actually being classless enough to reference Jerry Lawler's mother for cheap heat, may she rest in peace. Oh, has anyone put an APB out on Ted DiBiase Jr., just wondering? And 'Taker and H will be, well 'Taker and H. We all know what it means, and there is no need to elaborate.

See you on the other side of Atlanta.