Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Reality That's Stranger Than Fiction

It has been interesting watching WWE as of late. Very interesting how now it seems the thing to do to come to wrestling fans to peddle your wares. This is in response to the new Jenny McCarty Autism benefit. I've always respected the fact that she has spearheaded this endeavor. In an image obsessed world it's very hard to admit to any imperfections and even harder to decide to try and make a difference. I have tons of respect for that. I find it interesting that when you place A-list Hollywood celebrities in the same room and scenes as wrestlers, they are the ones that look so completely fake. Then I wonder if I am the only person that has noticed. Or if in some ways Hollywood has noticed.

Film acting is as different from stage acting as black is different from white. One is the compass of color the other completely devoid of it. I'm a theatrical purist in a lot of ways. I'll take stage over film any day. But I am a sucker for great CGI and special effects because I'm also a 3D artist as well as a traditional studio artist. And some of the things that have been created with nothing but pixels and imagination are the best displays of art this side of Rembrandts. But I realize that most CGI artists would be a fish out of water if someone handed them a canvas and a paintbrush and asked that they recreate that killer fight scene in 'Transformers'. Not from lack of talent, they just don’t have the proper tools to complete the task. So it seems to go without saying, for most theater enthusiasts, most onscreen actors in Hollywood would be buried on a Broadway stage. A few have made the transition, but most have adapted to their medium in a way that they just can't change gears anymore. They can't emote more because they have no idea of where to start the gauge.

That being said, I'm relatively sure that most of these same people would be smote by the truly talented of the professional wrestling industry. As someone who has always sucked at improv, I understand the circles that have been ran around me in the past by those who had the gift of quick wit and even quicker delivery. I recall watching the truly entertaining chaos that Raw has become in the wake of losing their GM. Specifically the ring work by John Cena, Batista, JBL and CM Punk about two Mondays ago. I found it completely hysterical to watch the gab master JBL, the court jester Cena, and the street tough Batista talk circles around the green horn CM Punk. Don't get me wrong, CM Punks vocalization has improved dramatically. But it was painfully obvious when faced with his main contenders that he was sorely outmatched in verbal sparring and completely out of his league.

Let me clarify a few things. I think JBL was God's gift to color commentating. Not since the great Jesse "the Body" Ventura has there been such invasive, off the cuff but directly on the mark commentating by a broadcaster than was given by JBL during his stick on Smackdown. When I rated Smackdown then, I rated it by how en fuego JBL was. Naturally, I want JBL where he belongs, mic’ed at all times. I have never truly appreciated anything at all about John Cena. His ring work fluctuates, his gimmick is a little too real to be a gimmick which is why it works for him. But there just doesn't seem to be much imagination there. John Cena is truly being John Cena. But I have to begrudgingly admit that when he is verbally on, you will find a select few that can totally own a crowd like he can. Factor in his age and experience and the man is truly scary. What he has been able to accomplish in the time that he has is practically rude. Batista has developed a new level. Somewhere between losing Ric Flair and having to stand opposite the heartbreak Kid, he has come into his own. What was awkward and seemingly a little forced before has adapted into a truly believable and unique presence. Frankly it was the subtle yet suitable addition of silence. Well placed and well used. You don't have to hear what he says. The menace emanates from him better when not a word is spoken. If CM Punk could even be noticed in the ring with all of this going on at the same time than it was a miracle.

Reminds me of the Carol Burnett show. Specifically the skits that involved the big four, Carol Burnett, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway and Harvey Corman. All were very talented performers, but I was always hard pressed to find Vickie Lawrence in any skit that wasn't her staple 'Mama's Family' where she could at least hold her own and not just become wallpaper for the heavyweights. Right now CM Punk is wallpaper for the heavyweights. Without an aggressive character modification and quick, he's going to lose the loyal contingent that he has built. At this stage of the game, his fans are starting to doubt his validity as champ. And for good reason, the past champs are showing them in truly unforgiving ways that he just doesn't measure up. Truly I'm hoping that this is just the result of the angle. Yet I don't know if the angle isn't being written this way because it's the God's honest truth.

And in the meantime Smackdown is becoming the greatest show on mat. Adding Triple H to the mix has proven to be inspired. I had my doubts but after this past Friday night viewing, I'm sold, hook, line and sinker and loving every minute of it. The tongue in cheek, the theatrics. I'm still laughing about the way the 'This is awkward' line was delivered during the unveiling of Edge's affair with the wedding planner. I've read the complaints on other sites and the nit picking of the 'knowledgeable' wrestling fan reviews and this just makes me laugh even harder. The things that were added and cut, the things that seemed suspect and flawed, all just fodder for the fan sites to point out in an attempt to enjoy less of what they profess to love. Just the WWE poking fun at itself.
I have my opinions, and everybody else has there's. Certain things that I can tolerate, and things that drive me nuts. We all just need to let it go, this is entertaining, for all the reasons that you thought it was wrong and all the reasons that I thought it was right.

In life you know a few things, you're never going to please anybody all of the time. When you have an audience as diverse as the WWE has and is trying to maintain, the things that Americans think are stupid may sell well in Europe, Australia or any of the other countries that this product is presented to. This involves a tricky process of mixing in a ton of elements to attract the most enjoyment, not the least. And in the case of what is going on in Smackdown right now the WWE is doing a killer job.

I have always expressed one statement about what makes something good art. No matter the medium, no matter the circumstances. The only qualifier for effective good art is this. Does it solicit a strong response? Whether positive or negative is irrelevant. The fact that I feel the need to write about it tells me. The only bad art is art that leaves you with nothing, not even indifference. People feel a lot of things about professional wrestling, but it's never nothing at all.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Both Sides of the Coin

While we all knew this was coming I was hoping for a bit more leeway. It is fundamentally flawed in every way but the WWE has found a way to place a title into the hands of just about every single performer that truly is not ready, has not truly earned, or has no basis for being champion. With the exception of Matt Hardy, Triple H and the Miz/Morrison dynamic. The recent title changes are just painful to behold. Either watching, in theory or on paper. With the new addition of CM Punk to the championship arena I find myself just a little sick. CM Punk's crowd appeal is truly inexplicable to me. But I realize that I look for different things in wrestling than your average fan. I believe the appeal of Punk has more to do with the character and less to do with the performer or quality of work.

There are literally no figures in wrestling that can be appreciated in the same fashion as this character can be. In our media empire where the cool kids are the skater kids that say no to drugs, BMX bikers that down Red Bull instead of Bacardi. For older fans like myself that were raised during the 70's and early 80's it's against our 'party like a rock star' mentality inherited from our rebellious 60's parents. But for the next generation of mid to late 80's on to early 90's CM Punk is the proper avenue to be 'properly' subversive. All of the attitude and spunk, none of the 'rock star' lifestyle. It can be argued that this character feels real in comparison to some of the over done over worked angles that the sport has always been a victim of. How many guys can actually call themselves 'the King of Kings' and you buy it? What CM Punk represents is a way for a guy that doesn't have the intense cult of personality that some possess to pull people. He does it in pretty much the same way Stone Cold accomplished the feat without the insane fallout. He was just a guy that has made a somewhat unpopular lifestyle decision. But ironically enough is wildly popular.

My issues with CM Punk have nothing to do with the character and everything to do with his ring performance and etiquette. There is just always something lacking when he performs in the ring and also in cutting promos and just general 'face' appeal. Punk loses me because I can't respect someone that can't truly hold their own in a match. I have yet to see a Punk match where I didn't believe he was being carried for roughly 75% of it. Honestly that is really just disrespectful to the lifestyle that he prescribes to. Being that he tots himself as this figure, how can this choice in living be taken seriously if the man can't perform. For that he has to work harder than the other guys, he has to defend not just his own honor but the honor of his decisions. Right now it's just too much work to put over a guy that could probably fully participate in a match if he would just change his conditioning and training. And then he's the champ. I do believe that he's placeholder until the proper long term champ can be located just for storyline reasons. And hopefully this will lead to a heel turn for Punk, who just needs to add a preachy 'holier than thou' attitude to instigate that response. Because while it's okay to make subversive 'for the greater good' lifestyle changes, it is quite frowned upon to judge everyone else in the meantime.

Somehow you had to get a title back to Raw and Money in the Bank has always been the best engine for sudden title changes when unexpected injuries and suspensions occur. But this seems to be a move based solely on story. But I have to wonder whose storyline this really affects, CM Punk's . . . . .or Edge's. I don't know how many people read into the complete meltdown with Ryder and Hawkins on Raw last night, but I did. I hope the writers are on to something inspired instead of the same old hat trick. I recall feeling something that I didn't expect when Edge started smacking around his doppelgangers. It was for lack of a better term, very uncomfortable. As a heel, you can be a truly heinous, self-involved ego maniac. It is almost a gimmy; you beat people as a form of betrayal and are very stand-up about your lecherous intentions. It's all about you all of the time. There are few people in the business who emote like Edge when he's on. In case no one has noticed, he has been on for about a month now. With performers like him you have to pay attention to the nuances. There isn't much that he does without thought and intent. There was just something about watching a man beat and subjugate men that have an almost nihilistic form of hero worship for him down right evil. Especially since we have established a 'family' scenario. What will most likely happen is that he finally alienates all of those who he has used to get to the top now that the object of his obsession is gone. What would be great would be shaking up the entire scene on Smackdown.

Ideally this story should not be about Edge's obsession with the title; it should be about Vickie Guerrero's growing obsession with power. I vote that Vickie Guerrero ruins her own wedding, supplanting Edge with a man that she believes will be able to hold onto the title for the long haul. Perhaps the Undertaker? With the nearly inhuman status of icon that he has taken on this is the only move that could make him a heel instantaneously, because yes, the Vickie Guerrero angle is that good. So the audience discovers that Edge was obsessed with the title for one reason and one reason only. It was the only way to keep the love of his life Vickie Guerrero who had become accustomed to champions and will not be married to a loser. Edge doesn't lose steam; he doesn't even become a different character. After completely falling apart for a while, he should become obsessed with revenge and using the same old tricks to accomplish those ends. But now there is the side car of knowing that he is driven by love and mostly by that love being scorned. What you get in turn is a mutable character. An actual anti hero in the traditional sense that he is merely seeking his revenge, it just happens to be against those that scorned him. Who also happen to be the people everybody hates. This makes for strange and interesting bedfellows as he aligns himself with anyone that will help him stop the regime.

People tend to miss the underlying reasons why certain wrestling angles garner more attention and produce more results. It's very simple cause and effect. All of the great storylines have involved an invasive, liberty taking regime that was finally being confronted by something that played dirty enough to actually defeat it. But like any good tale, the hero or anti-hero is only as good as the villain. Some villains work, some don't. But the villain has to be nigh near unstoppable either to endless power or overwhelming moral corruption.

Stone Cold/ McMahon: It wasn't until Stone Cold proved what a tough SOB he really was did he stand a chance against such evil as Vince McMahon.

NOW/WCW: Not until Sting came back as the Crow, entering in darkness wielding a baseball bat did he stand a chance versus the constantly growing NWO.

Historically this is a theme that is repeated and works from so many different angles. This was something that the writers attempted with Randy Orton and Evolution. It was almost successful, and would've been if it had involved the Randy Orton that the WWE has now. The face Orton was too vanilla and it was just implausible that a mere "'legend killer" could take on the Cerebral Assassin, the Dirtiest Player in the Game and their pet Rockweiller Batista. The angle would've fared better had Triple H been the one betrayed because Ric Flair going with a younger buck to oust The Game carries weight and builds a fascinating story of student being betrayed by their master.

With that in mind I see this Edge/Guerrero angle and cry for a little internal regime betrayal. But the only figure in the mix that is strong enough in character and performance quality is Edge. Talk about biting the hand that feeds. Edge has taught Vickie Guerrero to be the manipulative, conniving vixen that she is. By months of building we have watched her take almost all of her queues from him and enact plans that he has hatched. The next step is obvious; 'La Familia' gets too big for their britches and turn on the Rated R Superstar. Effectively setting Edge up to tear down the house he built. It really is the only twist to this story that can truly save it and make it a tale for the ages. A betrayed heartbroken Vickie Guerrero is cheap and too easy. And honestly Vickie doesn't have the chops at this stage of the game to pull it off, neither does Ryder, Hawkins, or Neely. Chavo could, but there is no incentive for the family to turn on him. And it would be foolish for them to gear it so. The only personality strong enough to make this work and become a foil for Triple H in the battles that are sure to come from his move to Smackdown under the thumb of Vickie Guerrero, is Edge. Honestly the other members of 'La Familia' would all have to be involved to create a proper counterbalance. But they would need a new champ. And that is where things can get very, very interesting.

Here's to hoping that the next few months of wrestling do not disappoint.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

WWE's One Night Stand 2008

Event: WWE One Night Stand Pay Per View
Airdate: Sunday, June 1st, 2008 (Live On PPV)
Location: The San Diego Sports Arena in San Diego, Calif.

Falls Count Anywhere Match: JEFF HARDY V. UMAGA

The performance levels were very high, but both performers are very dynamic. Jeff Hardy does have a little ring rust still that he hasn't completely shaken from his suspension. Umaga carries on as one of the most underrated performers the WWE has. He fully participated in the falls count anywhere match and actually was able to best Jeff Hardy for some of the dramatic flair that is always associated with the name Hardy. As far as the match staging, there were a few instances that left much to be desired. From a television fan perspective it seemed almost too staged and didn't have a natural feel or core of believability. Move content was solid. Just enough basic technical work with just enough specialty moves. The pacing of the match was well handled with the exception of a couple of moments where Hardy was behind. The position of this match was perfect. It was a good introduction to the hard core pay per view. Just light enough for those with delicate constitutions to open with.

Winner: Jeff Hardy

Story Note: This feud seems to be more of a continuation from the previous feud. Due to Jeff Hardy's suspension the intended storyline for him was passed on to CM Punk and is no longer available at this juncture. The discontinuity of the story is an issue. But this is just a side car in the face of the very high match level and high performance level.



Singapore Cane Match(Winner will face Kane for the ECW Title at Night of Champions)BIG SHOW v JOHN MORRISON w/ THE MIZ v. TOMMY DREAMER v. CHAVO GUERRERO w/ BAM NEELY v. CM PUNK

This match was an interesting mix of young and older wrestlers. This gave a wide variety of mix in style, approach and pacing. As usual, Big Show, Guerrero and Dreamer are bread and butter. They always bring consistent solid performances and this was no different. In the onslaught of such seasoned and confident approaches the most notable of the younger stock is Morrison. As a performer he grows by leaps and bounds in every match and this habit was no different in this staging. Also gaining a notable mention is The Miz who outshined Bam Neely in the role of ringside companion. What this match did not lack was energy with the mix of the ECW top dogs and young hopefuls. The match did have a few lulls that mostly involved Big Show's uncharacteristic botching of standard steel step maintenance when he nearly rendered himself blind. But being a top tier performer he merely incorporated his obvious embarrassment into the match. It really gave the match a brutality that I don’t' believe was intended but indeed prepared the viewers for what was to come. CM Punk just truly gets lost in the mix. There are a few moments when he is apparent but is not ever truly a stand out in the match. Football player Shawn Merriman made a stronger impression. This staging was very nice. The suspension of the Singapore Canes from the top of each ring post was really quite enjoyable and added a nice level to what is usually a more flat styled match. The move content and match movement was well spaced. One instance moved naturally into the next. Something that is very hard to accomplish with such a range in styles, talent levels and personalities.

Winner: Big Show

Match Note: It was very classy of the WWE to let the match hinge with Big Show and Tommy Dreamer at the end. Naturally for pure physicality sake Dreamer doesn't beat Show, but it was nice to show the fan base the level of respect he still has within the organization.

Story Note: This one is easy; everyone wants to be the champ. The build of it was very well done and showed a level of story that ECW has lacked since they had to patch in Morrison in lieu of the Chris Benoit tragedy.

Performance Note: And in light of such performances I am still waiting for CM Punk to wow me.



First Blood Match: JOHN CENA v. JBL

This is the only match of the night that was truly missing a few levels. With the ideal that John Cena is still actually recovering from an injury and JBL is lucky to even be still walking the ability of these two men to emote animosity was called to the forefront. Both men are masters at cultivating an air of honest naked aggression towards an opponent. Unfortunately when the actual move content and match pacing doesn't match those levels, the end result is very flat, calling out more flaws than not. As a spectator you find yourself very excited with the match and then you realize that this is a smoke and mirrors job. You are being conned and there is nothing in the content to back up what the performers are eluding to. By far this was the weakest match on the card, even in description. But they are two big names and any company would be hard-pressed not to find a way to include them. The staging was done well, but there really isn't bad staging for little content. The vocal performance was off the charts amazing with both men stating their hate and intentions loud enough to carry. But in the end it seems they would have been better served by downplaying the tone of the match so that it was consistent with the ring work.

Winner: John Cena

Story Note: This feud was begun at Backlash and this chapter of it does not suit the perpetual build that has taken place since. This story needs a spike, a new element to complicate matters or it will soon fall on its face because the match aspect has fallen well short of the intended peak. Until both performers can physically achieve what this story suggests it will always feel a little lacking.




Honestly there is not a female performer currently in the WWE that can actually compliment Melina to the level that she deserves. And in this case with Beth Phoenix it was no different. While all performance is a little false and overdone because that is the nature of it, the levels of plastic vacant space playing a role that Beth puts out are painful to watch on the other side of Melina. While strictly physical performance favors Beth Phoenix, Melina's overall performance lays her to waste. The match content was good; both women are quite highly rated among the most competent technical female wrestlers in the WWE. The lungs on Melina are both a blessing and a curse, but add to the overall reception of the match and progression of the ring work. Good pacing, not amazing, but still nothing to ignore. Staging was well done for the desired effect.

Winner: Beth Phoenix

Match Note: It would be nice if the WWE would occasionally film the female matches as if they were matches and not advertising for Playboy. It is this type of presentation that is causing the female contingent for WWE to lose validity.

Story Note: Hopefully the WWE will recognize the potential to carry this story on. This should ideally be the start of the feud and not truly a resolution.




With the way this has been built the performers would have had to be dead to not respond well. Batista has a physical presence that is hard to negotiate. Shawn Michaels has always suffered from the same issue. Together they have the energy potential reminiscent of Rock-Stone Cold. The performances were excellent. There were areas where Batista was a little over shadowed. But when your opponent is Shawn Michaels you can count yourself very, very successful if that only happens a few times. Chris Jericho has a couple of wonderful cameos. But that is also a very gifted performer. Only when the interaction was among the three did Batista truly come off as flat. Ring work was excellent, content was nice. They gave all of the standards and added some match specific work that blended relatively well with a foreign object as unruly as stretchers can be. The pacing was as near to perfect as you can get. Nothing felt flat dull or sluggish. All rest breaks were handled very well, with both performers emoting just enough to keep the viewer involved. The story was ever present in the ring. At no point in time did you forget what this was about, revenge. Out of all the matches, this is the one that melded performance, story and match the best.

Winner: Batista

Story Note: The introduction of Chris Jericho as a participant is very interesting, should prove to be the element that perpetuates this storyline and quite possibly vaults it in a new direction. This is now an open door.

Match Note: Was the best match of the night as far as all elements are concerned.

Performance Note: What makes Shawn Michaels great isn't just his ability to sell, or his performance. It's what he can pull out of his opponent. Batista demonstrated a higher level of 'selling' than he has in the past, his aggression levels were dead on and his vocal tendencies while low and unheard felt and looked natural. Well placed and very effective.



WWE Championship - Last Man Standing Match: TRIPLE H v. RANDY ORTON

This match had such a strong start. The performers were in another place. This match had the best display of natural foreign object usage. All things were in play and it seemed like the right thing to do to pick it up and go after the opponent with it. This match was on the path to being a great one. Randy Orton is the best 'seller' in the game. Triple H is the best 'attacker' in the game. No one gets closer, better and more pinpoint than H. No one makes it look more devastating than Randy Orton. Their ring work together is impressive. They flow from one move to the next, execute switches, repositions and changes before the viewer even knows where they are going. The technical proficiency is so good; it's almost too good sometimes because you lose what this is about. But knowing this there are lulls for character building and moments for storyline acknowledgment. They teased appropriately with signature moves and made higher level technical moves more for momentum shifts. But this is a characteristic that is prevalent in Triple H matches. Great pace for the style of the performers, sometimes smooth and methodical, and then erratic and spontaneous. The match moved based on which performer had the momentum, as they all should.

Winner & Still WWE Champion: Triple H

Match Note: This match ended early due to Orton taking an over the top rope counter to the RKO badly and breaking his collarbone.

Story Note: Well this can go in one or two ways now. But the wisest thing to do is to handle this much in the way that Randy's original shoulder injury was handled with the weekly reports. Or he could drop off the face of the earth and have an Edgelike return at the end of pay per view when his animosity has been relatively forgotten.



TLC Match for the vacant World Heavyweight title - If Taker loses, he must leave the WWE: THE UNDERTAKER v. EDGE

Great performers, great match. The mystic that surrounds the Undertaker is one of those tough to manage elements. Undertaker is the consummate performer, in just about every aspect. He has this untouchable presence, a pervasive character with the ringmanship of Shawn Michaels. Combine this with the technical proficiency of Edge and his dedication to character and performance and you almost have it all. This match moves faster than the other matches because these men gave themselves a lot of jobs to do while putting on a great show. Staging was insanely effective and plotted well. Edge can run a clinic on TLC management. Everything is being set-up and staged as if it were as natural as breathing. The moves and content are all high impact. There are no basic moves in this match, unless you count chair shots. Like machines they hit stunt, after stunt, after stunt with very little glitches or hitches along the way. At least not any that involved the two of them. Pacing was outstanding, this thing moved like a force of nature leaving carnage and destruction in its wake. There was lots of cracking wood, lots of painful ladder interactions and a sickening amount of chair shots. The story development during this match was almost completely ignored. There are a few moments when you think one of the performers remembers all that is on the line here but it starts to move like an automaton. The ring performance didn't have a soul, meaning there was no underlying context evident. The characters are very clear, but more because both men know their characters very well. Eventually the staggering amounts of carnage, the character acting and ridiculous pace saves the match as a whole making it a successful ending to the pay per view of hardcore.


Match Note: Out of all foreign objects, tables, ladders and chairs can be very unforgiving and wholly uncooperative. For a first time TLC matcher Undertaker was great. He and Edge took on a workload that has in the past been reserved for at least 3 tag teams equating at least 6 men and whoever else decides to get involved. La Familia was used well, but briefly for bigger stunts that needed more recovery time than a 2 man match could permit. But it was obvious from the reaction of the La Familia members to the 'low' impact TLC work that this is a match that hurts.

Performance Note: Some of the lack of emotion can be excused because of the level of work that needs to be done to insure that everyone can at least crawl away from the ring as Edge literally did. While there was a superficial level of the desire to hurt, the desire to not hurt being emoted by both men was very hard to ignore.

Story Note: Edge wins, Undertaker is gone. This was an expected outcome but the fruition is very anticlimactic. The ongoing battle to acquire the gold by any means necessary has lost weight, steam and validity. The matches between Taker and Edge are great matches, so they are always watchable it would be nice if there was a story surrounding it that could keep up. Although I must admit I am looking forward the ‘La Familia’ celebration that will surely ensue.




This pay per view did live up to its' name in many ways and only provided a few avenues for disappointment. For the most part the viewer got what they wanted and what they expected in most cases. The most interesting thing to pull away from this is that while good ring performance can save a match that is without a plausible story, okay ring performance can't be saved by the story aided by amazing vocal performance. In the case of Jeff Hardy and Umaga, the story is nearly nonexistent, but did not deter from the ability to enjoy the match. This is something that is performer based, because it takes a special performer to keep an audience interested when they have no reason to be. While with Cena and JBL, no amount of lip service or efficient story building made the match itself any better.

Because this is an entertainment field and it has its area of expertise that has to be seen to first. There are no award winning Broadway players that can't act and substitute with a great singing voice and amazing dance ability. No highly rated dancers, that can't dance but can act and sing. No Oscar winning screenwriters that can't craft dialogue but can set scenes and develop characters. No quarterbacks that can't throw, no soccer players that can't run. It will carry them only so far.

On average all storylines are rehashed. There are not new inventive plot lines and they don't cross groundbreaking planes. But not in just this arena, all of entertainment can say the same. In all performance venues they are a vehicle to enable the performer to find their way. Every role in every avenue of performance is created anew by the performer. Writers set guidelines and provide the opportunity to be great. Only the performer can see it realized.

At One Night Stand, the WWE cream of the crop were all placed on equal footing. Everyone had a grudge to settle, everyone had an objective to see to, everyone had an adversary to enact it with and everyone was given a destructive way to settle it. The performers and matches that stand out are just as they are. But the reasons they stand out has very little to do with story and everything to do with performance quality and ring work management. Think if you switched any two storylines, any set of hardcore circumstances, what would be the deciding factor in what was good, what was great and what was epic. The same thing as for anything else, what the performer brings to the table. Some people have the gift to enchant, others to annoy and some just to move, whether for ill or will.

I enjoyed this pay per view much more than I thought I would. I realized that with the lessened match load the fans were able to actually focus on what was being presented and not just walk away feeling full. There is something to be said for quality over quantity after all. Perhaps this pay per view should be the start of a trend.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Genius of Matt Hardy

The Genius of Matt Hardy

Just as I was complaining about needing a new kind of magician ( see my blog Changing the Face of the Game posted 5/30/08) I am shown the way by Matt Hardy. As the walls around professional wrestling come down and we are being shown the more 'Hollywood' aspects of this sport, the average fan is starting to appreciate different performers for different reasons. Now the show is what it is. Entertainment that is good, great or simply okay. A fan can now appreciate a great heel as well as a great face. It's all about finding your stroke as the saying goes.

This leads me to MySpace. Yes MySpace, the over advertised, super exposed monster of online cacophony on the internet. As my interest and fascination with professional wrestling peaked out after attending Wrestlemania 24 and watching the man that I've grown up watching Ric Flair, retire, I discovered an interesting thing. Some of the performers had pages on MySpace. I thought it was pretty open and rather progressive at first and then I started to truly pay attention. I'm fascinated by the process of celebrity. Not truly with the figures themselves, I am more fascinated by the ability to convince hundreds and thousands of people that who you are being is worth paying attention to.

Months ago just for the hell of it, I asked Matt Hardy to be a friend. Well, I must admit, it was after my roommate showed me an excerpt from the Hardy Show and I fondly commented, "I grew up with those guys," as any tomboy growing up in the South can attest to. At a time when I was missing home terribly, watching the Hardy's in their natural habitat was ambrosia. So I requested and was accepted. Over the past few months I have been enjoying the blogging and the pictures and the whole floorshow of the slew of performers that have created pages if for no other reason than to make sure that someone else hadn't created a page and claimed that it was them. Seems smart and insanely astute as a public figure. But while paying attention I noticed the most interesting thing. Some people used MySpace as a means to an end. Others as a tool.

The media beast is so unruly because no one knows where it’s going. Not the stat monkeys, not the performers, no one knows in the end what is going to get you an audience and what will lose it. Every once in a while the Fates blink and something that should've been panned completely annihilates all. Speaking as an artist, I've always cheated. I cake on stage make-up to a degree that my own mother couldn't recognize me and then I scrub myself clean, dress horribly and mingle after performances and listen to what is being said. And then the very next night, I do the exact opposite and rate the change. If all is the same, I'm doing my part, if not; I then find it very hard to discover what exactly flopped, other than asking other performers. But we ruin this for each other because as performers we have a whole different language and culture all our own. Depending on the art form what is considered great by another player is crap for the viewing audience. In other words, knowing what we like to see in a performance binds us. We are not always the best judge of what the audience actually wants.

Right before Wrestlemania, Stone Cold Steve Austin did an interview with one of the Wrestling Podcast shows. During the interview he talked about Jeff Hardy and commented that the people just seem to love him. It was inexplicable and without a push from the company. My roommate and I agreed and I looked over at her and said, “It's the same for both of them."

This is where the genius of Matt Hardy begins. Since the beginning of the WWE tour in Australia there is no forum more up-to-date about the live events than the blog of Matt Hardy. He requests comments from fans and tells them in full detail what has happened. Simultaneously the man runs his own PR and color commentary. I looked over at my roommate last night and just said, "Brilliant, that one has figured it out." What Matt Hardy and by proxy Jeff Hardy have done is create a cost efficient media machine that just keeps giving. Through constant blogging, Hardy Show production and availability, and personal pics, the people are always in touch with the Hardys. In a media culture where even your lowest level NFL player considers himself untouchable, you know that Matt Hardy just read what you had to say. The popularity of MySpace, FaceBook, Digg, YouTube, Blogger and everything that says loudly and passionately, you have a voice and I want to hear what you want to say dictates that the general public is very sick of being general. They want to be individual. What better way to endear a loyal fan base than to show them that you care enough to let them be individual. In turn, they will care enough to give you the world.

While I've seen this done in many ways by many people, from musicians to politicians I must admit I'm quite partial to the Matt Hardy approach. Unlike other celebrity and sports figures, this presentation is in just the way and to just the depth that the person behind the character can condone. The fan becomes comfortable watching and reading because it is comfortably given. And it actively deters from seeking information outside of the source. There is no point, he’s shooting you straight. You know that because whether it actually is or isn’t, it feels real. Seemingly unbeknownst to the wrestling hierarchy, Matt Hardy and company have raised the bar and the playing field has just acquired a new virtually limitless element. Within this new element is the aspect of wrestling that I thought always needed to come back. The fans have to know you, they have to love you, and they have to know that you want them there or can't stand them there. There is no art worth watching that doesn't emotionally involve you. The audience is too smart; you can't use smoke and mirrors on them anymore. They need flesh and bone.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Changing the Face of the Game

If someone had told me 1 year ago that the most hated person in the WWE would be Vickie Guerrero, I would've called them a liar. And yet here we are and no one pulls as much reaction out of an audience as this woman. For better or worse, the seemingly sweetest woman in the world has become the front runner for villainy on Smackdown. Absolutely priceless.

These thoughts on the character of Vickie Guerrero stem from recently reading one of Lance Storm's blogs. As most people know who follow wrestling online, Lance Storm is very vocal about the business in terms of where it's been and where it's going. In his blog he rages against the decision made by the WWE to drop the curtain so to speak and unveil what everyone already knew. Wrestling is a planned stage show, with sets, scripts and storylines. I've been very vocal about how astute I believe the move the WWE took was. After all they had truly backed themselves into a corner. There was only one way to go.

All in all, I was relatively unmoved by Storm's rant. This was just a guy that was nostalgic for the old days and needed to express it in some way. That I completely understand. There are a lot things I miss about the heyday of wrestling as well. But in his ranting he stumbled across something that he knew nothing about and I was instantly enraged over.

I had the great honor and pleasure of growing up watching World Class Championship Wrestling based in the now defunct Sportatorium in Dallas Texas. I saw all the greats live every Saturday night for years during my very impressionable formative years. After the first time I attended at the tender age of 8 and my mother noticed how upset it made me because I thought people were getting hurt, she immediately told me the truth. It's not real, they aren't really hurting each other, it's like what you and your brother do. They are playing.

Being a naturally inquisitive child I asked why did everyone get upset? She told me, they were playing too, we're all part of the show. This is how we show that we appreciate them. My mother was well informed due to being on speaking terms with Iceman King Parsons, the benefactor of our weekly tickets. The true issue is that during Lance Storm's blog he cites the manic and almost vividly violent reaction of the crowd during the slow extinction of Dallas based wrestling. In his blog he claims that the reason why this was so extreme is due to the fans not being aware that it was not 'real'. And thus late generations have lost the magic that could be had in this type of environment.

The comments are not only offensive but condescending. When live tapings ended, fans were still usually fired up and wired because they had been part of the show. There were a few instances when accidents happened and everyone knew that an injury or angle was real. The energy was completely different. Subdued and respectful.The wrestling community was very close knit in Dallas, half the crowd had grown up with the performers and the other half had met enough of the guys on the street to make this venue worth their time. Everybody knew that it was a show, and they did what good fans do, they played along to the caliber that the performers performed. The reason why the shows were so amazing had nothing to do with suspension of reality and everything to do with the fact that most audience members actually cared about the performers and wanted to see them do well. They knew how wonderful it made them feel to have the people there helping to suspend their own reality. This caused things to feed off of each other.

It was customary for a guy to get done with a match and go to his section and hug everyone that had come to support him. His elementary school teachers, next door neighbors, parents of his friends and neighbors. Truly it was a family affair. This was an extension of your family because of the community and how much of it was fostered and built by the performers themselves. The biggest seller of tickets for the Sportatorium was word of mouth. Only when the wrestlers became too big to actually pound the pavement anymore did it start to die. Our sense of family and the good 'ole boy' network was effectively torn down because we didn't know these people anymore. It wasn't the loss of the lie; it was the loss of the people, of sincerity and the loss of community.

When a guy was being a heel you hated him for it, because you knew what an awesome guy he was or was not. The wrestlers participated in the community. My mother met Iceman King Parsons because she sold him a refrigerator. I knew the church the Von Erichs went to, can name each brother to this day. The Freebirds frequented the same bars and clubs. You didn't have to stage meet and greets, the guys were with you, in your communities, your grocery stores, your gas stations. They lived among the people humbly and asked that you come and watch them do what they loved to do. If wrestling is missing anything at this stage of the game it is this sense of community loyalty that is only captured now at the independent circuit levels.

But it’s this idea that leads me back to the emergence of Vickie Guerrero. She isn't hated because she's that good with a mic or is that vile. She's hated because we all know this woman. This is the love of Eddie Guerrero’s life. This is the woman that stood by him during his treacherous path and ultimate resurrection. This is the same woman that fought along side him, without him, to keep their home and raise their children. And she had enough gumption to chuck in with the big dogs to preserve her life and provide for her family in his absence. She holds in her all we would hope to have in this world. And for the sake of the story is pissing it all away on an opportunistic gigolo. The only response suitable for such a woman is uproarious, thunderous deafening booing. It truly pays her the ultimate amount of respect. The use of the family connections of her nephew-in-law Chavo and the addition of adopted family members pulls us all in because we think we know these people. This premise has been driving the paparazzi in Hollywood for years.

Human beings have to feel connected to something to respond to it emotionally. Our media monster has pulled our strings and manipulated us to the degree that it takes so much more in this day and age to get the average person's goat. In general we are much more informed and better educated than a lot of our political and social structures would like to admit. In this case, Professional Wrestling is no different. To some degree the fans are still being treated like backwood rednecks that can't multiple. The truth is, from my perspective, the fans never were. I knew kind, compassionate, caring people who could tell you things about life that couldn't be learned out of a book.

Today, the fan base is varied, the education levels, the skill levels, the social levels. But they share the commonality that for whatever reason, they care about this sport and these people. Ratings drop because people stop caring as some wrestling brands try and blur the lines, bringing back the lie like in the Shawn Michaels-Batista situation. It’s degrading and insulting. And honestly the seasoned wrestling fan thought that we had all gotten over that. The lie was false and hanging on by a thin thread when WWE took their step years ago. It is not what needs to be recaptured. What should be recaptured are the people that can make their audience care. That is where the magic lies, not in a lie.

Professional wrestling has not lost its magic, what it lacks now are magicians.

Monday, April 28, 2008

How Do They Do That?

Is the question that I had to ask myself after the Undertaker/Edge match at Backlash last night. How do they do that? By that, I am referring to something that happened at Wrestlemania this past March that happened again at Backlash last night. The ‘that’ I am referring to is this way of pacing a match that slowly draws the crowd in and ends with them erupting in a fury, all on their feet and screaming their hearts out when just minutes before there was only passive engagement. This is what Wrestlemania 24 ended on. Only there I was one of the mindless hordes that were completely enrapt with their performance. And last night I had enough awareness of the phenomenon that I stopped and watched the crowd. Amazed that like clockwork they had done it again.

What makes professional wrestling hard to manage is that it has one of the most diverse fan bases in entertainment. Some are going to be socially inept, some are going to be theater sophisticates, some are politicians and some are athletes in other sports, and the list can go on indefinitely. How do you entertain such a wide audience? Easy, you give them basic entertainment. The classic Greek mythology storylines with a modern twist, it worked for Homer and Hollywood still puts out a high amount of movies that are twists of the standard hero or heroine / villain or villainess dynamic that culminates with some profound self-discovery or violent resolution.

The only other arts that have attained this type of cross racial cross cultural cross everything audience ratio are television, movies and sports franchises. Basically the broadcasted media theory is that people who watch wrestling, basic television and sports in general are stupid and don’t actually require a high level of entertainment. The demographic of fans argues that theory, but how many industries would lose money if it were thought that professional wrestling was a suitable entertainment source? Why else would these factions make a point of telling audiences, you may be stupid, but at least you don't watch wrestling. I digress.

With that said, everything is in the hands of the performer. That is what is astounding about what I’ve witnessed two times in a row from The Undertaker and Edge. That type of consistency is pretty impressive. It’s knowing that Lebron James is going to give you 30 points tonight at least. That Jason Kidd will have double digit assists. That Kathleen Battle will always be on-key and that Jose Manuel Correno will be Jose Manuel Correno. This was a statement, that Edge and Taker will be gold, every time.

It reminded me of Stone Cold and Rock confrontations that left arenas practically ripping apart from the energy levels vibrating through the participants and the crowd. But Rock/Stone Cold was always as the characters were, barely leashed aggression threatening to boil over. Depending on the length of the match you would get quick bursts and pops when people were involved. But like most things that explode, the aftermath is short lived and generally just exhausts the source.

I am recalling specifically Wrestlemania 17, which I also was in attendance for. This pay per view was emotionally devastating from onset. After covering my eyes and cringing through TLC 2 and spending Triple H/ ‘Taker recovering still from TLC 2 and whatever other match happened in the interim, I was finally ready for Rock/Stone Cold. And the crowd was barely tethered. The match was long and the energy was high throughout, but lulled in odd spots. The crowd was growing increasingly exhausted, some fans couldn’t participate anymore because the intensely high energy level. Had the match been shorter it would’ve been outstanding, but the length, the energy, the dips and peaks were just too much. The ideal was the roller coaster effect, sudden pitches, hills and valleys, culminating in the big drop at the end as Stone Cold sells out to Vince McMahon in front of his hometown crowd. There was actual crying among the fans by the way.

I must admit that the slow build ending a pay per view as opposed to a roller coaster end is preferable. After Wrestlemania 24 I was resplendent in the after glow of this slow build match as I was able to slowly get there and burn everything out in the last few minutes, leaving me in a good place where I was properly emotionally exhausted while not being over-taxed. After the roller coaster 4-way elimination match I was agitated, a little jittery and had completely lost the glow from Undertaker/Edge 2. I’m all for diversity but it was hard not to notice the difference in the audience as well. But it accomplished its goal, left the people clamoring for more.

So back to the question at hand, how do they do that? How is it that two, although very talented performers, can go into a match and perform in a way that by increments the crowd is drawn in until eruption? It is amazing to me and mystifying all at the same time. This force, cult of personality that some people have and can channel for this business. How is it that this type of thing continues to not garner the respect it deserves in the public eye?

Vocally I’ve been known to bring down the house, no problem. But the idea of doing it on so many levels with such a widely diverse audience and with a partner is frankly beyond my skill set. Regardless I would like to say Kudos to The Undertaker and Edge, and huzzah. Fine performance gentlemen.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Salvation in the form of . . . . Steven Regal

I don't know about my professional wrestling contemporaries but I was taken aback by the culmination of the King of the Ring tournament and very grateful for it. As a seasoned wrestling fan I remember Lord Regal from days long past. And truly he is a character and performer that deserves the hall of fame without question. As I watched my choices fall one by one and had the unpleasant realization that it was going to either be CM Punk or Steven Regal, I knew without doubt that I wanted Regal. But was still pleasantly surprised that the WWE gave it to us.

I'm not an anti-CM Punkist. I believe that one day he will be a very accomplished performer and time spent on developing him is not wasted. My concern is that he will become a victim of too much too soon, or Lesnered as the case maybe. The WWE is in a lot of ways so very desperate for the younger generation of performers to assume the very big shoes that are about to be left open in coming years, that I think they are inadvertedly falling into the Brady trap. Which is the idea that you can take a young quarterback put him out there and have instant success. Not every young talented quarterback is Tom Brady, and not every young talented wrestler is Randy Orton. I realize that for gestation period concerns, CM Punk is not truly as new to this scene as he may seem. Unfortunately as his workload has gone up, there have been instances that have looked frighteningly similar to Tito Ortiz gassing out after the first round. Clumsily and sometimes sloppy ring work, a lackluster performance and a lack of commitment to hard sells and story while performing in the ring. When was the last time you saw Matt Hardy beat red and breathing heavy after 3 minutes of ring time? I believe my concern is well placed.

I openly questioned the decision to make CM Punk the new Money in the Bank at Wrestlemania. Let's be honest, Edge has wrecked that spot for anyone that comes after him. It will be very hard to fill the very heavy shoes of the Rated R Superstar who made Money in the Bank the sleazy opportunistic bacchanalia that it was always meant to be. I believe Ken Kennedy would've made it his own, John Morrison would've made it positively decadent and even Shelton Benjamin would've lived it up a little. The issue is that Money in the Bank was test driven by Rob Van Dam, his casual stoner ideology towards it made the story fly. Then Edge got a hold of it and the whole concept developed flesh and bones to become a living breathing presence. Now Money in the Bank has to be an aggressively talented heel, unless there is a face performer strong enough to reassign it. One day that face maybe CM Punk. But right now, he just isn't ready for that large of a task.

So I was relieved when Punk tapped out to Regal. With there being a question as to how well of a Money in the Bank he can actually be, adding the reintroduction of King of the Ring would’ve been devastating. Considering that the last King of the Ring was the always increasingly en fuego King Booker and Sharmell combo that brought back the original insanity of the Macho King and the Sensational Queen Sherri, this was not a job for a rookie. Only a seasoned veteran like Lord Regal could ever hope to reign in and supplant the legacy left by the last great King of the Ring and his unruly queen.

Being that I love the sport, the business, the performance, whatever you want to call it. I'm hoping that CM Punk will surprise me and make Money in the Bank his own. I'm hoping that this enables him to attain the status that the majority of fans seem to want for him and the organization wants for him. In the end perhaps these conditioning issues that I noticed are the real reason why he was de-throned so quickly for a ring warrior like Chavo Guerrero. ECW is a tough gig these days. Easily the least watched of the WWE television programming. This is not the time to present a champ that may not be up to snuff in some capacity. Hopefully sometime soon I can celebrate with the fan base the arrival of someone who can truly carry being the straight-edged hardcore Mr. Money in the Bank.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


On a very recent episode of the WWE’s main flagship show Monday Night Raw, third generation professional wrestler Randy Orton declared to all that would hear him that we, being fans and other performers alike, had entered the “Age of Orton.” I thought the gesture was perfect, outlandish, idealistic and oppressively decisive all at once, a true masterstroke in regards to endearing envy and distain with faint traces of admiration. That is what the best heels do well, make you love to hate them. Over the weeks that followed I would find myself sitting somewhere in traffic or in a grocery store and I would randomly recall the declaration and giggle to myself. Not truly knowing what happened to spark the inspired moment to come to me again. But today I found myself reconsidering what had been said, and then honestly viewing it with a discerning eye, had to concede, mayhap the boy is right. Not just in regards to where this generation of individual wrestler stands but in regards to where this time period finds the state of professional wrestling in America. After all, Backlash pending, if he remains the WWE champion for the bulk of this intense transition period for the performing art that wrestling is starting to be recognized as, what better name for it could there be. I’m sure a few arguments could be raised for the ‘Era Rated R’ or perhaps a ‘V 1 Renaissance’, I digress.

Professional wrestling finds itself in a very interesting position in this new age of Sports Entertainment. Thanks to the outcry from the World Wildlife Federation, the organization that was incensed at the idea of having to share the acronym of WWF with an entity they considered false and ultimately beneath them, the owners of the WWE were forced to change what they had owned outright for years. Rightfully so, no astute businessman in his right mind goes to war with an organization that is trying to protect nature, it’s a no win situation. If you win, you’re the bad guy; if you lose you’re the bad guy and a loser. So, in a shrewd, but much debated move, Vince McMahon and family decided years ago to declare in a loud and unwavering voice. Yes, ‘wrestling is fake.’

The general public hasn’t been foolish enough to believe that professional wrestling was real for years now. But the general public is in general, much brighter than it used to be. There are plenty of factions in this country amongst higher education and big business that like to remind the civilians constantly in increasingly more offensive ways, that we are not the brightest lamps in the den. Vince McMahon and his board understood that as a popular source of entertainment for the upper middle to the lowest lower income ‘peasant’ classes that this country’s powers that be like to pretend don’t exist, perhaps they should stop doing so as well. Instead they have opted to use the very thing that none of the other outfits have even considered, the truth. In an age where just about every medication from a pharmaceutical company has to reveal months, sometimes years after product release, that it not only isn’t the best option to cure what ails you, but could now be the cause of your death, a little honesty is like a breath of fresh air. In a time where information about Senatorial, House Representative and Federal money misconduct is rampant and right-wing oppression is actively making a bid to try and make our democracy a monarchy, a little ‘we are not trying to pull the wool over your eyes’ feels like cold ice tea on a hot Sunday afternoon. Instead the WWE and other less affluent wrestling brands are handing out the blindfolds and letting their fans choose for themselves how much they will or won’t believe. This is in direct contrast and sometimes at the expense of our government which is making the rapid production of falsified ‘audience tailored’ information its own twisted art form. No blindfolds here, they’re opting to just poke out our eyes.

Wrestling has always held high levels of popularity depending on locale because the genre has always been more in touch with the common man than any other American entertainment vehicle. What is confusing to critics now is the somewhat sudden increase in popularity. My first thought is, this is not sudden. Wrestling events have been filling arenas with 50,000+ people since Hulkamania got its legs planted underneath it. But there has been a spike and I don’t believe anyone has factored into the equation the increasing number of people being relegated to common due to economic chaos. Tickets to professional level sporting events increase substantially every quarter to counter act the greed of the owners, players and agents in between. A family of four can expect to pay $200 for a mid to low ranking baseball game, a price increase of roughly 10.9 percent as studied by the Boston Globe. On average the prices for basketball and football have a similar rate of increase. Tickets for local wrestling events have an average price as what one would pay to go to the movies. With the exception of the WWE that starts tickets at about $19 to level at about $150 ringside for a weekly show. But if you plan a vacation around a Wrestlemania, not including flight and using the most frugal WWE offered vacation option for 4 days, 3 nights, that same family can go, with daily and nightly events included, for about $2000. For the last SuperBowl, average cost per ticket was $3000. Also I don’t think the fact that international audiences get quite a kick out of watching America finally making fun of itself with a respectable amount of cheek has been taken into account.

This new culture of wrestling works because it’s tapping into the crux of American frustration for mainlanders and international audiences alike. The fact that Americans constantly suffer the pangs of those in power feeling obligated to lie to them instead of being obligated by office to tell the truth opens a door for the sport that’s always not been considered one. And through this door there is an opportunity for this entertainment vehicle to redefine itself in an image that is true to form, making it the only aspect of American pop culture that actually tells the truth anymore. The truth is that this is all an elaborate stage show, complete with top tier performers, grand costumes, elaborate sets and stunning special effects. Professional wrestling is the new form of the Hollywood mega blockbuster.

Long gone are the days when one needed to be the much acclaimed triple threat. This now almost mythical creature that flaunted the ability to act intertwined lovingly with a great stage voice and an unhealthy amount of natural movement quality and rhythm. In my opinion the most ludicrous idea I’ve heard is the theory that wrestlers are bargain basement performers and low rent entertainers. In ancient Greece where the art of acting was cultivated and refined they would be larded as the most gifted of entertainers due to versatility and the way the art form has to be delivered. But not in this reality show driven age of Hollywood where a decent face and the ability to be obnoxious on queue tends to garner more attention and respect than a man or woman with a classical dance background, extensive voice training and the ability to perform physically almost nightly without many mistakes does. And yes I was actually speaking about a decent number of the men and women who are WWE top tier talent.

I have often likened this entertainment sport to classic Vaudeville. Where everybody knows where they stand. There’s going to be a good guy, there’s going to be a villain and just when you think that guys gonna actually get away with it, no dice; he gets what’s coming to him instead. The genre of professional wrestling is live stage performance, extreme theatre if you will. Men and women sacrifice their physical safety every single performance to insure the entertainment of their fans. But it is just a performance, sometimes it becomes bloody and a hair brutal because they respect our intelligence enough to give us as close to real as can be had without anyone getting seriously injured. They know that we love the live theatre of good versus evil, of struggle and triumph that is up to date with our concerns and our times. So while footage from war torn countries may pacify this nihilistic urge in some, most wrestling fans are just too humane to believe that anybody needs to get legitimately hurt or actually die for it to be entertainment worth watching. If only our politicians felt the same way.