Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Survivor Series Review

It's been awhile since I've done one of these, mostly because it's been awhile since I've thought this highly of a WWE pay per view. Survivor Series felt like old wrestling for a little while and its well worth talking about.

I love traditional Survivor Series matches. In the past this is when you would know exactly the cut and core of every performer presented and you could really get a sense of them. You know the standing in the company of the new and old performers and what to expect in the months prior to Wrestlemania. Lately it had been a story builder but it was very selective among 'major' stars with the traditional Survivor series matches being 'gimmicks' and not really story building blocks as they should be. And for the first time in a long time the entire show built a story, there wasn't really a throw away match, well except for the Divas match and they usually are. I noted that TNA can successfully split a show and a pay per view between male and female matches if they needed to. For most WWE events, with a few notable exceptions, women's matches are barely tolerable unless you do believe that emaciated women in hardly enough clothing is the peak of hot and from the crowds I've been in, even that is starting to not hold enough appeal. They're WRESTLING fans, they can get skinny tale from the E network to Vh1.

The first match was a dark match with Chavo Guerrero and Santino. This was a fun match for the most part. Chavo is always game it seems no matter the stitch and Santino, as usual, was doing his funny man thing. Something I really enjoy. Wrestling has the ability to have many faces with the need to try to appeal to such a large demographic these things are necessary. And if we're honest, they're fun. Technically very nice. Santino and Chavo are great wrestlers. I think in general most fans need to learn to appreciate these matches more, it's a great compliment to what came before.

The first match of the pay per view was the traditional Survivor Series match of Team Miz vs. Team Morrison. The new blood, Miz team concoction of Swagger, McIntyre, Sheamus, and Ziggler was very interesting especially versus the standard Team Morrison faction of Finlay, Bourne, Hardy, and Benjamin. This match came off as a changing of the guards so to speak. It became very obvious very quickly that this was set up to build McIntyre and Sheamus into prime time contenders. I was disappointed by the 'brushing off' of Ziggler, he's been a little slow on the rise but I think a little more time placed into him would benefit a lot of people. Hopefully they haven't given up on him. Evan Bourne is actually suffering from being too good in the ring and not good enough on the mic. Before wrestling became more showbiz that would've been more than enough to carry him but he's being lost in the shuffle. Literally I believe he is one GOOD rivalry away from hitting it. I've never really been sold on Swagger, there's just something about him that comes off as being uncomfortably fake and some of his in ring technique has left a lot to be desired. Regardless I think the ring tech can come later or people will adapt to him as they have to others. This guy needs to find a niche, something that is actually his to make him real. McIntyre still feels too much too soon. I don't think he's ready for what he's being given and I'm fearful that he'll blow up in their hands and man would that be a waste. You never know some great things have happened through the trial by fire method. Sheamus though I think is dead on track. You can't get much better than the seemingly 'natural' development he's had. Besides the surprising pin combinations, this was not a very innovative match, you had spots with unexpected outcomes but there was nothing truly shocking or mind blowing just the obvious tread that has to be laid to build new stars.

But this brings to mind that I really want to see more done with Matt Hardy and Shelton Benjamin. Current climate around them aside, you have this new talent and honestly there are not enough veterans to go around. Instead of risking losing a new prospect by having two war with one another these guys should be used further. Benjamin and Sheamus could've been more interesting, it did fall a little flat but that's a story build issue, the next thing you know Sheamus is on Raw (?).

Mysterio Batista played out pretty much the way I expected it too. No surprises there big man crush little man. No thought just base brutality. While it didn't appeal to me apparently DC loved it which was also not a surprise. Failed attempt to further vilify a heel. Remember locale does count. First your heel is a hero of the place. Then you're talking about a location that is becoming increasingly inundated with a particular population that it has never truly had to deal with, they are not going to be sympathetic to Rey Mysterio who is being viewed as a 'graspy' stealing betraying sort by the way the very storyline was plotted. Worst match of the night, but not because of the performers they were given a bad lot to tread.

Can I say I love where Kofi is going. Months ago when Kofi became the US champ I told people, he's great, he's fun, and entertaining, he's not championship material. As that incarnation of Kofi Kingston he wasn't. The put on Jamaican accent and character defining was killing him. I don't know who made the move to make Kofi more of who he actually is but this is the best thing that has been done in a long time. The energy around him is addictive. Night and day. His team benefitted from that. MVP and Mark Henry are in a good place. They aren't mainliners but they aren't being shunted to the side either. Why, because when they come into the picture they are still treated as viable threats. R-Truth is still one of the most underutilized assets the WWE has, he is another good prospect for a new blood rivalry and I really wanted to see where he would go with McIntyre. Although I believe something magical would happen with a Dolph Ziggler.

CM Punk is mouthy but does anyone really believe that he actually matches up personality wise to R-Truth? My issue is that it seems like R-Truth is always being bottled. Not truly stuffed but not at the full weight of what he can bring. I don't think CM Punk is the person that can do that for him. I think this rivalry will leave R-Truth where he is and actually sink Punk. Christian is ECW champion, Christian can be and should be World or WWE champion and it's getting pretty annoying that he isn't in the hunt. Cody and Ted are chugging along at an impressive rate, I'm always entertained by Legacy and always impressed with their ringwork. Steven Regal is an underappreciated legend. I was so annoyed listening to some of the newer fans around me talk about his lack of validity. They have no idea of what they speak or who in the hell they are talking about. Randy Orton is Randy Orton I don't think he can do any wrong. Fun fun match. It moved well and some of the pin attempts and combinations were truly inspired. It was a shakeup ending. Listening to everyone around me, no one expected Kofi to pull it out at the end so it made it all that much sweeter when he did.

Chris Jericho IS the best in the world at what he does, I've always believed it and Survivor Series was no different. I commented to people on several occasions that I was so very happy that they let Big Show carry this role. To me it seemed obvious that the path Jerishow is taking was originally done with the idea that it would be Rated Jericho. For the most part all of the moves that Show has taken are characterwise Edge moves. But with Edge getting injured and Show taking over I thought the path that they would take would be altered but I don't think it has been very much and that is awesome for Show. It still amazes me, the reception Undertaker gets. I've seen them many times over now and still I sit and look around at the crowd in awed fascination. Sunday night the seats shook, the rafters echoed, chanting Undertaker. And out he comes like this nightmare made flesh, the smoke the slow methodical trek to the ring, if you're really paying attention it's chilling. It was a good match between the three of them, not the most entertaining three way of the night, but it pulled the fans in, solid work, no big surprises but good wrestling.

The Divas match wasn't bad. Loved the opening Gail Kim McCool match up as Gail showed some of that fire that she's known for despite McCool. Love what Beth Phoenix does period. Really irritated by the tool armada behind me that insisted on going with the lemming view of Mickie James being fat so I went to get a beer instead of berating them as I saw fit. I love fat people that insist on calling none fat people fat. But I was annoyed because that made me miss Alicia Fox who has been impressing me to no end lately. That one can do a lot if she sticks to her guns and continues to perform at a higher caliber. Its' unfortunate to consider it this way but I was watching a match of hers and had the thought, 'she wrestles like a dude'. That was the thing, there was a time in the WWE where you didn't have to make that distinction, because they wrestled but now you see the difference and that disturbs me.

Okay they got me. Freakin Shawn Michaels and Triple H got me. Everybody comes out, bell rings, superkick to Triple H. That was fantastic, I've never heard a collective crowd reaction that intense, that quick and that flabbergasted. And then they loved him for it. Outstanding match, best of the evening as far as I'm concerned. Which is a lot for me, I'm usually down on John Cena. But somewhere between his ironman match with H on Raw before his Ironman match with Randy something changed for the better. There really is no reason for Cena to improve himself accept for personal respect and pride. From my perspective that finally kicked in. Like them or hate them Shawn Michaels and Triple H are very good at this. Besides Undertaker they get the best crowd reactions, and have the best matches. This isn't opinion from my point of view, this is fact. They mapped out some crazy maneuver and switches with the two of them and Cena. It wasn't a triple threat match all of the time but the times that it was were well done. I only saw one truly tangible 'whoops' considering. But it isn't just about the ring proficiency, it's ironic because level of ring proficiency can kill a match or it can elevate it. But if the level of overall performance, character feel, crowd appeal, is in place you can do anything just about and it still feels like a good match to the people watching. Entertainment is a feeling not a logical outcome.

As a fan I'm concerned about the excessive pay per views, it makes the WWE creative team appear impatient. I realize that like with any company or business sometimes different entities within the structure have different goals and it's difficult to fully realize your goals and do what the boss wants, it’s a constant juggling of personalities, finance and logistics. Catch twenty two of anything. But some of the goals should be altered if they are enabling quality people to be lost in the shuffle. I know of no other successful company that doesn't use all of its assets fully.

This is a relatively ungauged industry. Currently the WWE sets the bar for success, that's the beauty of creating your own product with a wide ranging market. The downside is without an actual competitive market there is no way to gauge success. When there was the WWE almost lost and if the competition hadn't exploded from within, they would've. I support the win, the ruling faction of WCW was after annihilation not friendly competition. But its bad business to sink the competition, just let them meander somewhere away from you to show your product's worth. While I don’t' believe TNA has yet to actually become a market threat, I've heard enough direct comparisons to the TNA product at WWE events to wonder if that is just one small push away. As soon as WM24 which was in Orlando, I heard direct comparisons to TNA that were in favor of the WWE. The one thing that has changed is the bent of the comparisons because now they are TNA favorable.

I sit among the masses and with most things sometimes the people involved are much too close to the thing. They end up having no idea what is actually going on, just the part of the machine they see. This goes for fans as well as the industry itself. Everyone sees exactly what they want to in terms they can negotiate and understand. I think the WWE would be benefitted by a group of people like me. Just people that are fans that have been for a long time and have a good sense of gauging the reactions of other fans. I know they have focus groups and people on payroll that do this but how objective can they really be at this stage of the game? Someone like me has very little to gain by expressing an opinion, really I just have the threat of ridicule by the very people I watch and my peers. But I LOVE this and that makes me desire to see it at its best. You can do polls and you can rate the market by purchasing, but how do you rate that moment when someone comes out, the crowd during a match, the commentary from the not so cheap seats as it were, the true feelings of the people? That would be an interesting and profitable code to crack.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Backlash 2009 Review

If you Compared professional wrestling to fine art, in particular painting then Backlash was a cross between a Salvador Dali and a Picasso (blue period). I don't know if there is such a thing as abstract wrestling. But I believe that what I saw live was the closest you'll ever get to it.

The event started strong with a very nice match between Christian and Jack Swagger for the ECW championship. The match was nice as ring veteran Christian was able to compensate for some of the lags and missed connects that Jack Swagger had. Jack Swagger possess a lot of potential and with a little more grit, experience and let's be honest, a speech therapist(I know I had to see one from Kindergarten to 2nd grade, nothing to be ashamed of), he can at least hold his own one day. The pace of the match was good; it didn't really leave moments that lagged on needlessly. The ebb and flow was actually done very well much to my shock. Swagger was able to help build a good amount of suspense with his end of the match pace. Christian is and will always be one of the most talented performers in the business. You can practically set time to his ring consistency and that night was no different. This was a very straight forward match that had a few unexpected bumps. There was a moment when both challenger and champ decided to remove the turnbuckle for added impact. Just something really enjoyable about watching them race to untie the turnbuckle first. And while the expectation was that Christian leave as champ there was enough tension to make you believe that perhaps he wouldn't. Much better match than I thought it would be from inception. Well played.

Jericho - Steamboat moved with an efficiency and energy that should be unheard of for someone Steamboat's age. Always when one gets the opportunity to view a legend live, reverence should be the first order of business, critiquing comes later. The Dragon is a man to be admired. Chris Jericho is formidable if you're good; Jericho is formidable if you're amazing. He just makes sure you have something to keep up with when you're in the ring with him. Together they worked a great match. Sympathy was high and used to its full effect. Jericho was a disgusting smarmy wretch that took too much pleasure in beating the Dragon to within an inch of his over 60 year old life. And Steamboat did what Steamboat does better than just about anyone else. He made you feel for him and made you believe in him. With that said, Steamboat delivered what is the absolute worst figure-four I'd ever seen. Other than that small moment that wouldn't have been so glaring had the rest of the match not been worked so well it was a class act right till Steamboat left the arena.

Let me preface with my own lack of ability to be objective in regard to one thing. I am not a CM punk fan. I find it very difficult to watch his work and see anything that I enjoy. In this avenue I am very narrow minded and can't seem to figure out a way not to be with this performer. Kane is one of my favorite people to watch. His spatial awareness and concept of in ring persona has always impressed me and I just find his character fascinating to watch no matter what he's doing. My only true irritation with this match was the idea that he didn't have a worthy opponent in CM Punk. But I've felt that way about everyone who has to try and make a match really work with the Punk. On the mic Punk is heads and shoulders better than he ever was, now if his ring work could catch up, we'd be golden.

The I Quit match was interesting. And historic. The very first "I quit" match was Ric Flair and Terry Funk. If you really pay attention to how this match was conducted you realize a few things that the Hardy boys tried to recreate and pay homage to. Within the confines of this match, the idea is to beat a man so badly that he quits. This is not a physical match psychology wise because the other man has to say the words. That makes it a mental match, that's where the match is won. This is a match built for one thing and one thing only, high drama. The match is supposed to horrify, it's supposed to leave a bad taste in your mouth. You should feel a little dirty when they're done if it's done right. The premise is breaking another human being's spirit, not beating a man into submission, that match came later. I don't know about you, but watching one man duct tape and tie down his actual brother in a twisted S&M fashion made me uncomfortable, listening to that man shamelessly pleading from his prone position trussed up Tess Trueheart style to a table added to that. So when people tell me they hated this match I have to wonder what is it they were looking for because I was suitably appalled and horrified.

The Beth Phoenix Santina thing should have already worn out its welcome. But my God Santino is hilarious. It was a welcome entry to get away from the horror of the Hardy brother-on-brother action we had just witnessed. Although the stripping of Santino quickly put us back into that place.

Quite possibly the most unsuccessful abstraction of the night was the plotting of the Orton, Rhodes, Dibiase versus Triple H, Batista and McMahon. Conceptually, Randy hanging back till the right time to strike, keeping Shane McMahon in the ring as the weak link, reads well on paper. It just makes sense for the character, the story, everything. However, the actuality of it is that you end up having your 3 strongest match participants out of one of the biggest matches of the night. In action it ends up having a horrible dynamic. What I've always enjoyed about Triple H Randy Orton matches is fluctuation. At any moment they can go from 0 to 60 and then back again. This is the dynamic that was so very appealing at last year's Backlash that only had 2 less participants in the match than this year's. Out of the 3 that maintained the most time in the match, truly only Cody is watchable for long stretches of time, then Ted and last Shane by default. My concern, since Triple H was taken out of action at the end of the night, is that there could be some unknown injury issue that forced the match to be mapped this way.

Nobody makes Cena look better than Edge. It's been true for a few years now and that dynamic has not changed. This match is the winner of the most abstract match of the night award. Most abstract match of the year pending. I hated this match about 1 minute in. I thought the pace was too slow, the spots unnatural and it seemed much too pleased to be utterly psychology free. And then I started to pay attention. Really pay attention. This is the match that had been being built. It wasn't supposed to be pretty, or make sense. It was supposed to have this wary wild animal feel to it. It was supposed to move like the nature channel. So the slow pacing, stalking as it were. Queues being taken from nature. I could be reading more into it than it was, but really that is the only thing that makes any sense. Well that and just getting back from a European tour. Could you have worse timing that that. The bumps were BIG bumps. The one into the crowd was absolutely insane. And I mean that literally. Speaking for myself, I would not let John 'I am freakshow strong' Cena throw steal steps at my head. I'm just saying. After this match got its legs under it, this became very enjoyable mostly because I did hate it when it started and grew to appreciate it after it was over. I remember thinking I may have just watched the best Last Man Standing match ever and not even known it. How Odd.

And that sums up Backlash for me. I left with an overwhelming sense of I either just watched the most awful Pay Per View in the world, or I just saw the professional wrestling version of Avant Garde art. Until the DVD comes out the jury will remain out.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Of All the Bone Headed . . .

Of all the Bone headed . . . .

Usually I spend my time talking about whats truly important to me in regards to professional wrestling. Why a storyline is working why it isn't. Who is performing out of the stratosphere and who needs to step it up. I try and remain removed from the rumor mill and watch this with some objectivity. I treat it like it's a stage play, a concert, a ballet or any other artistic endeavor. I rate quality of performance, fluidity of script, story and levels of effectiveness, crowd response or lack thereof. The only time I allow myself the forbidden pleasure of delving into the behind the scenes or personal instances of the people portraying these characters is when it directly effects their performance. The difference between understanding yes we should talk about Tony Romo having a busted finger, no we should not be discussing the fact that he's dating Jessica Simpson. One is very crucial to his performance the other we like to cloud up just for the sensationalism of it. Stretching it to seem like it is crucial to his performance. It isn't. And knowledgable sports writers and casters may use it tongue in cheek for a quick laugh, but will never use it as the basis of a legitimate argument for the success or failure of the quarterback himself. In fact they use it as a joke to point out how ridiculous it is. Giving it validity only gives power to the entertainment vehicle that seeks to use this finger into another industry to boost it's own. The acknowledgement by the leeched entity only gives validity to the leecher. Jessica Simpson was having a hard time selling skin cream before she started dating Tony Romo, you do the math.

Now that I've laid my groundwork. I found myself reading and rereading the official release by the WWE in regards to the Darren Aronofsky movie "The Wrestler". For the record I have not seen it yet but I plan on seeing it and when I do I'm going to watch it for what it is. A dramatic story told in the media of cinematic film. I will not make direct comparisons to any particular wrestling organization or brand. I will not as one Sports Illustrated journalist who will remain unnamed in this piece did and have the bad taste and judgement to actually compare the fictional character to a living breathing professional wrestling icon seated near to him. I'll watch a movie and rate it as a movie. I'll ask myself if Mickey Rouke was believeable and if the directing was great, if the story was intact. I'll consider it a fictional work because even when a movie is based on a true story, Hollywood takes a little something called artistic license because first and foremost the bloody thing has to be entertaining.

Culpability is a very tricky and curious thing, ask any attorney. Through implied culpability someone can seem beyond reproach innocent or guilty as sin. By denouncing this movie so thoroughly the WWE has in fact endeared a certain level of culpability. TNA wisely left the film in the vein it was intended as, a very compelling FICTIONAL work. So I sat and said truly the powers that be cannot be quite so foolish in regards to a simple public persona issue. Is it really believed at this stage of the game the general public is foolish enough to believe such a statement at face value. Of course they did this in some twisted vie to gain more viewership by inadvertedly implying that there is some truth to the claims of this film. More people watch the movie, more people watch wrestling, is plausable. This ill advised attempt on the the part of the originally leeched component to leech back as it were. The real issue is that the statement released claiming that this movie is not a reflection of how business is truly conducted with professional wrestlers yells loud and clear: Yes it is and we're now doing damage control because they know. And that statement will eventually be ratings death. There is much to be said for preemtive striking, I am an avid believer in it. There is also much to be said about patience and letting the thing play out. When you are the main provider of a product, when you have the formula and everyone knows you have the formula it is in your best interest to publically ignore all that claims to also have the formula. Lay low, check it out see if they really have it and if they do then do your damndest to pretend that it does not exist because when you start paying attention to it, everyone else does too. They know you're worried and it's for a reason.

Professional wrestling is a tricky thing, part act, part script, part improv, part stunt, and everything else is very, very real. Like most things that can't be really labeled as one thing it's misunderstood. Until someone comes along and teaches people who aren't fans how to deal with it, it always will be. And in a lot of ways the fans need to be educated as well. Most days I think that it's for the best that it is misunderstood. Takes a certain kind of person to do it for a living and a certain kind of person to understand why. It is a very hard thing to negotiate in something as limited as language can be sometimes. But those days of letting it be a mystery are over. Bottom line, the public image for professional wrestling is horrible. There is no way around that. Due to the success of the WWE it has become a whipping boy for a slew 'proprieties' types that would like to regulate it so that they can get thier piece of an ever growing pie. In the end someone is going to get their piece or they will tear it down. Very simple. Very few industries get to establish enough political pull to regulate themselves. And when they do its through religious lobbying and briefly allowing other entities that they are in cohoots with to oversee the regulation. The WWE is bereft of cohorts in this avenue and it's starting to show. What is needed is a persona, an actual public face that is not associated with any wrestling organization and seemingly has nothing to gain but seeking and sending out the truth. This entity has to present itself as always looking out for the best interest of the business and ALL involved, period. With established ties to other industries outside of professional wrestling it will become a trusted source. That is how industries become the masters of their own culpability. Undisclosed funding of a reputable source. Cause no one is going to throw out there the media bear trap of wondering how things are being paid for, too many other people would have to air their dirty laundry as well. It just makes sense that if it is truly just entertainment, they should take the benefits of always living in a fictional sense by never claiming reality.