Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Whoa. . . We just had Night of Champions!!!

Well the Fates attempted to have their way with me last Sunday as I thought I would have to choose between Night of Champions and the Sunday Night Football Manning vs. Manning extravaganza. Luckily the bar I frequent for my WWE watching was playing both. This was only mildly distracting as it became obvious that big brother Manning was handing out whippings and little brother Manning was going to be taking them.

So I was then able to devote all of my attention to Night of Champions. Overall it seemed to be a solid pay per view. I really am enjoying the average number of matches at a pay per view and was really startled when I heard that Hell in the Cell was going to be happening just 2 weeks later. Yikes!! Talk about a fast turnaround can you even build something that anyone wants to watch by then?

It's not just a time issue, it's a finance issue. In the current economy yes people can rationalize one WWE 'splurge' pay per view a month. Two, even if it technically falls in the next month, can be easily considered missable. I just think this quick turnaround will burn the WWE in the end seeing as I have not decided yet if it is worth going to the bar for.

With that said and me still trying to decide if I will leave the house for Hell in the Cell I realized that they had better do a really good job of set up in Night of Champions to meet that two week pay per view deadline. So you have my attention, wow me, sell me.

The Ziggler Kingston match moved well. I think Dolph Ziggler is highly underrated. He has a very impressive flow in ring and I think his 'character' is finally catching up. Little more work with Mrs. Guerrero and I think people will be able to truly enjoy his work like with all the really good heels. You know the guys that are so good that you find yourself laughing instead of booing. On a side note, Dolph at a house show is a different beast, truly entertaining when the cameras aren’t rolling.

Kofi feels like he's leveled out. Not in a bad way just in a 'this is where I'm comfortable' way. I'd like to see a storyline that pushes him out of that comfort zone, really asks for more. I think a lot of people would be surprised with the results. It was a solid match but it was more about the match than about context, even with the talented Mrs. Guerrero doing her thing and a title on the line.

I'm usually quite a CM Punk basher. And I now realize it was because this guy is not a face. This guy should never have been a face. And now that he's not I will right here right now eat my words and sing the praises of CM Punk on the mic. His hazing of his hometown crowd was a thing of beauty. I found the match with Big Show engaging and entertaining. Mostly because I love the Big Show but more because CM Punk is becoming a great guy to watch get menaced.

Call it Fate or Karma or whatever you believe in, the unfortunate injury or public relations issues that have plagued the Straight Edge Society has made it impossible for Punk to stand behind others and the gimmick is better for it. This was the most fun match of the night. And I have to say a special 'Thank You' to CM Punk for making last week's episode of NXT watchable.

I really wanted Daniel Bryan to win but I didn't think I'd get it. Which from crowd reaction seemed to be the general consensus. So the next time fans get out of hand talking about creative not giving them what they want, Night of Champions should be the card pulled to negate that thought. We got what we wanted, the Miz tapped out. Now for months in arenas around the world the fans can graciously regale him with a rhythmic retelling of his recent shame.

I know there are mixed reviews on Daniel Bryan and I'm not talking about Michael Cole's attempt to resurrect the 'heel' commentator. I'm talking about the people that don't like what he brings to the table. You have the guys that have the look and feel, the sheer charisma that carries a long way. But there has to be levels, everybody can't be the Rock, literally and figuratively. Then why would the Rock be so special. I want the work horse back. It's one of those elements that just give the writers and others more to work with. It makes the thing grander when everyone is just different enough.

The match was pretty predictable right up to the finish which was sweet and poetic. I suppose the arenas chanting Daniel Bryan and the confiscated signs actually paid off. I dub Daniel Bryan the Grassroots Champion.

The LayCool thing is actually getting better. And the use of all the Divas for the unification match was an appropriate send off. I am old school through and through and my goodness I didn't know how much it would pain me to see the Women's title go till it was gone, replaced by the frilly, lacey Divas championship. Feels like throwing out the pants your gender fought for to re-lace that corset. Made the match a little bittersweet cause no one wins.

However Layla pouting at ring side nearly made me miss most of the match. As well as the 'selective' lumber jacking, which was actually I think the truest part of the match and thus quite hilarious. Michelle and Melina gave the match I expected. It moved well had great hijinks and ended just like you thought it would. With the BFF's making up and celebrating their victory.

I’ve been enjoying Kane and Taker because of Kane. I think it’s great that he is headlining right now. I suppose my only issue with it is the way it is being done. The whole Taker powers Kane powers thing. I don’t mind the cheesy of the powers I’ve always dug the fact that the supernatural edge has never been dropped. Keeps the characters pure. There is just something about it all that feels so dirty. It’s like watching Lex Luthor actually defeat Superman. The Joker killing off a Robin, you know, dirty. And if that is what they are going for, they are winning cause I cringed the entire match and I just don’t know how much more Superhero destruction I can take from this rivalry. The ultimate Kane vs. Abel tale and man does it feel like it.

The surprising Tag Team Turmoil was shades of the good old days and a good way to let some of the younger generation tag teams get into something with some of the interesting tag team pairings. My only issue was that it moved too fast. It's was like a series of matches that didn't take time to appreciate themselves. With the exception of Koslov and Santino. Of course it goes without saying that Santino always takes the time to appreciate himself and Koslov has admirably followed suit. I'm curious to see what happens with Rhodes and McIntyre as champs. I'll say that I already like what has happened with Drew since the pairing, it's given him an edge back that was lost after the Matt Hardy feud. Cody is ahead of the game period. It will be a good time watching him really come into his own.

Now to the main event, the 5 pack, sorry, once again 6 pack challenge. I remember when this match was announced I was upset for Wade Barrett. I understand baby steps I really do but it seemed a little unfair that his promised title shot was coming equipped with 5 of the WWE cream. Talk about trial by fire. For the weeks preceding it I internally cringed for Barrett for having to face off with Cena, Orton, Edge, Sheamus and Jericho. Jesus just unplug your mic and go home was my thought. But he did well, held his own and never got lost in the shuffle, I call that a victory.

The match itself was fun in the way that those multi participant matches can be. Jericho getting eliminated first was not as shocking. The stopping of all events afterwards was a little. And for dramatic purposes a nice touch. I love those moments because it teaches the fans how and what to pay attention to. "Stop the presses, that was shocking!" Sometimes things move too fast and you can't give things the proper time they need to flesh out. So when you can, take it!

The rest seemed natural, the Edge Sheamus alliance, Edge Sheamus alliance dissolution, The Nexus interference, Cena eliminated. Ok so that last one was a little shocking and interesting. But not for the normal reasons. Usually Cena whether he gets the strap or not is left in the fray till the bitter end. Bold move to declare loudly, Not Cena. I think I would've been tempted to keep it on Sheamus because he was really figuring out how to work it. But I told my friend when the whole thing started, if you're worried about story you leave it on Sheamus, if you're going old school rules and crown by butts in the seats, you put it on Randy. Old school Ruled.

The way it ended made me pretty eager for Monday night and I was not disappointed. For those of you who haven't noticed Randy Orton is still a heel, you just happen to cheer for him now, which is rather odd but . . ok. I need more Zack Ryder Edge action. It's awesomely wonderfully lame. If you didn't know that Daniel Bryan's new song was "Ride of the Valkyries" from the Wagner ring cycle, then shame on you, you are missing a hilarious joke.

I like the bully GM angle finally as it's centralized on . . well actual . . bullies. At first it was pretty annoying and with Michael Cole as the mouth piece just unreal. It would be better if someone just actually emailed the script so that Michael Cole doesn't have to pretend to read the screen. It is obvious to anyone with a big enough TV who is paying attention that the screen is filled with some form of webdings.

Anyway, the angle gives some of that 'higher' authority back to wrestling that was lost without a reputable GM. I would like to see the guest host thing continue, but I would like the screening process to be a bit more strict. Some people are not cut out for a live audience and never will be. I'm so glad that Cena his recovered from whatever ate his goat after that Batista business, it's good to have him back to his most entertaining tongue in cheek self.

Well they have one more week to wow me. Let’s see if I’ll be watching Hell in a Cell.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

From NXT to Nexus, What's NEXT?

I have watched and enjoyed professional wrestling for the bulk of my life. The only time I took a break from watching religiously is during the late 90's as WCW was going down the drain and WWE had turned itself into 'shock jock' television.

Needless to say I don't have anything particularly positive to say about the attitude era as it is referred to as. Seemed too much all the time. Seemed very little of it had anything to do with wrestling and more to do with sheer audacity. I couldn't make it through 5 minutes of the original ECW. I don't need people to do tragic things to themselves for the purpose of my entertainment. I respect what they do, but I can't actually enjoy it. I find myself nostalgic about wrestling because of the transformation that it has undertaken in recent years as the WWE has asserted itself as the big dog in this market.

While I was watching Raw last night I saw some of the flashes of old school storytelling and plot building that I used to find so interesting about professional wrestling as I was growing up. So much can be said without the use of a mic and it was nice that someone somewhere remembered that so those moments can happen in a seemingly spontaneous fashion.

The WWE versus Nexus angle and the build to SummerSlam seems to have the writers focused on something else besides fast revolutions of the title. So they had to actually take into account the personalities of the performers' characters and not on who would be what kind of champion. It's always been my opinion that good story telling in wrestling is about the characters not about the title. It isn't for the fan to be focused on the title, that's what the characters do; it's for the fan to be mystified at the lengths the characters will go to for the title. And respectful of what the characters are not willing to do.

I felt for a while that WWE was too title centered making the idea of who had the title the focal point. The title was more of a place setting for who they wanted pushed to the top instead of being an object that is pursued by all. When you view the title as a performer builder, you lose the validity of the title due to having what can be considered "weak' champions here and there. "If this clown can get it, why is it so cool?" ideologies. It limits the believable lengths someone would go to for it making personal grudges and feuds based on religion, family and all else necessary.

When the title is something that has to be plotted for and carefully stalked, it becomes an item of worth and extreme value. This would open up the doorway for intense rivalries again as personalities clash because everyone is reaching for the same spot and enemies are made. It broadens the believable lengths someone would go to for the title. The dynamic of the Nexus sweeping in to gain attention by any means necessary causing the forming, self annihilation and then begrudging kinship of Team WWE is the formula. Broadly state what needs to happen, why and what you are willing to do to get it.

I must admit I was hoping that the story was going in a more deceptive vein but for good. I wanted the old bait and switch route, having it only 'appear' that Edge and Jericho were splitting from the team to make Nexus feel as if they would go into SummerSlam with the advantage and then. . SURPRISE!! It was a trap they never quit, they are just trixy enough to make you believe it and the rest of the team let their more devious members show them how to properly ambush an opponent. Instead it looks like it may be going in the opposite direction. The resolution of this should be interesting.

I do believe it was smart to try and disconnect the Nexus from their original NXT rookie designation. This first group was a very charismatic captivating one. The original format was trying, but basically this group could've made anything work. As they are currently showing the world right now. With the exception of a couple of standouts, season two of NXT feels a little lacking. But I think that has more to do with the show’s sink or swim set-up.

It’s the disconnect between being a professional wrestling fan and a WWE fan. A person can be both like myself but I think a lot of people are just one or the other. I don't really think professional wrestling fans in general like to watch potential wrestlers flounder as they do on NXT. If they're like me they just feel for them. But I also don't really think most WWE fans understand the reason and meaning behind the challenges and what they have to do with someone being a superstar one day. Mostly because some of the challenges come off to me as industry jokes that I think most WWE fans don't get because the majority don't know enough of the history of professional wrestling to get them. Frankly I think it makes people feel stupid and in turn they question the intelligence of the show.

I think back to 'Tough Enough' and how utterly fascinating it was for someone like me. I have a varied performance background, mostly stage and I find the nuts and bolts of production very appealing. I preferred the 'Tough Enough' format because it appealed to my sensibilities of production, stage and training, I was already emotionally involved. People in general only want to know how something works if they get to see it in action so they can understand the connections. I think that is where 'Tough Enough' lost people, not enough of what was being learned was 'in action', in front of an audience. No connection between the work and the payoff.

Taking that queue, enter NXT where all you see is 'in action' in front of an audience. I think in this concept the WWE is trying too hard to focus on one frame instead of letting the reel roll. They insist on proposing that the secrets of professional wrestling are still mostly secret. I suppose for younger generations that is true. But it seems a little disrespectful to older fans and it forces that disconnect when younger fans get old enough that they have to prove they 'know better' than to believe what they are being fed. I realize that I'm still a fan because I've always known. There was no 'There is no Santa Claus' moment for me and professional wrestling. Thus I found the charm in it always pretending to be real. Mostly because as I child I still questioned it. "Mommie how could that not be real!”

Some of the aspects of NXT seem reality based. But with everything else being constantly staged, it’s impossible to believe that any of it is reality based. Something as simple as making things black and white when they are 'not being staged' and color when they are is a quick and dirty fix to that. People have to be able to trust what they see to some degree to become emotionally compelled so there has to be some separation between the 'show' and the 'SHOW'. The whole backstage thing is dead. Gotta find new tricks. Give the illusion of truth. That's what professional wrestling is all about right?

I appreciate the beginnings of wrestling still being honored, the carnival aspect, where they propagated the myths of wrestling instead of showing people the guts that goes along with the glory. It is its history, its magic, and I'm sure many people feel that this idea is part of what makes wrestling. It would be a shame to lose that all together when so much of it has already been lost.

I'm not talking about changing the format to any of the other shows. Just NXT. The WWE has an amazing opportunity with this show that I think they are not fully capitalizing on. I can only assume it’s out of fear, like not letting the competitors find out what the formula for Coke is. No one says you have to Gatorade yourself and tell your competitors exactly why your product is better so that they can mirror it. There has to be somewhere in the middle where just enough so called truth can be given to make it feel real.

A few months ago I watched "Love" which is the documentary that Cirque de Soliel produced to catalogue the show that was being developed using the music of The Beatles. What this did was show rehearsals, training, spoke to performers, producers and then gave glimpses of the finished product. At no point in time did I not believe that what I was watching was absolutely true. It was partially how it was shot but a lot more because of the people putting themselves into it. It focused on the strengths of production, not the weaknesses. I haven't been to a Cirque performance for years. What this did was make me absolutely want to go to the next Cirque performance I saw whether it was this show or not.

NXT should run a format virtually similar. If you don't have these truly larger than life personalities, make them personal interests until they develop the personalities they need to succeed. I would even go so far as to suggest they write who they are when its 'personal'. That's what all the other reality shows do.

What this current batch of rookies have is a lot of potential. They are rough around the edges and really should be given a little more leeway between who they are and who they are developing as a character. I don't think it should go as far as having a house and forcing them to be constantly together as it was in 'Tough Enough'. But it should integrate more behind the scenes information so that the fans learn to respect or dislike the person and then they can appreciate or criticize the development of character instead of just looking at someone and thinking 'they suck! ‘without any knowledge as to why that is. The panel of 'pros' helps but there needs to be more.

Right now NXT is 'Ultimate Fighter' that just shows the cage matches. That show is worth its weight in gold because you get to know a lot of people in a very short period of time. Coaches, potential fighters and the ins and outs of MMA. After watching a season of Ultimate Fighter the average person can speak knowledgeably and confidently about MMA. And they KNOW Dana White, the overseer of the UFC. This is emotional investment. People want to feel good about what they watch and be able to communicate well with other people about it or otherwise share it.

At wrestling events you still hear conversations about the reality of the story being told as fans now make other fans feel stupid because no one has truly come in to end the argument. It’s left all to speculation. People start to resent and judge each other for how they view the same thing. I've said it before I'll say it again. Wrestling needs to settle the argument, write its own truth and set itself free.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Money in the Bank, Ok Let's Give it a GO!

Been a while since I've done one of these.

I admit I was very skeptical about the Money in the Bank pay per view concept. To me it sounded like trying to maximize on a niche market that truly only a limited amount of performers can do well. On paper it sounds wonderful. I just wasn't very sure about the way the thing would play out. In the end the guys in the back set up the finish, but its' up to the guys in front of the audience to make this fly.

In my eyes Money in the Bank lost its chops over the past 3 years in the post Rated R Money in the Bank place with CM Punk two years straight and then Swagger. Ironically enough I think CM Punk would be a devastating Money in the Bank holder right now, yet he seemed to be misplaced in the scene before. The character is much better as a sanctimonious heel rather than a goody two shoes. And Swagger is closer to the IT factor now than I think he has ever been. And if he can stay true to this path, IT will flourish and develop.

While not all matches being Money in the Bank matches is a little misleading, the core concept of the highlight matches being Money in the Bank matches is just stable enough to not garner much complaint. But because of the way this thing works it's hard to account for overall pay per view quality with so many loose ended variables.

For the record Smackdown's build for Money in the Bank was much more insightful than Raw's. While Raw had been letting the microphone handlers do their thing Smackdown was forced to actually confront logical Money in the Bank ladder match concerns. One being, how in the Sam hell is Big Show supposed to even be competitive in this match. The answer for that was done with skill and panache and added an interesting element to the Money in the Bank ladder match for the World Heavyweight Title.

The "Big Show" brand ladder made for a prop that held its own weight, both figuratively and literally. The whole process of unveiling it and getting it into the ring was entertaining without the match. And the subsequent Big Show ladder grave yard that was formed later made me giggle no matter how many replays of it was shown. In fact I am giggling now just remembering.

Heartbreak during this match was the also well seeded Christian Matt Hardy rivalry. I try to watch these things live as much as possible because in the eyes of the audience is the success or failure of this business. What I heard was a collective gasp as both men fell from the top seconds away from attaining that prize. No one could really say who they wanted to have it, but in that moment they knew they couldn't pick. Which made the way the whole thing panned out all the more fitting? As the underdog, always the underdog Kane became the one that everyone actually wanted to have it anyway.

The collective opinion was that the rest of the pay per view was going to have to really swing for the fences if it was going to keep up with the opener. And some ways it did and in some ways it fell short. So a few highlights from the other matches were:

Diva's championship match, it has been forever since I've seen a tilt-a-whirl slam. One of my hands down favorite moves, it was wonderful to see Alicia pull one out for us.

Tag Team Championship match: Good old fashioned sharp shooter ending!

Kane becoming the NEW WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION after saving Rey from Swagger. Somehow seemed rather fitting, he is still a monster no matter how lovable!! Oh YES!

LayCool is gold, hilarious stick that no matter how annoying it should be, it just kills it works so well. Solid entertaining women's match, always like to see those.

Then it's time for the second match of the pay per view namesake. I did feel that Smackdown conducted their build better, but the matches themselves were pretty even for what they were. The differences were in changes, scope and intensity. While the Smackdown version built over time, the Raw one ran more like a flurry of motion. One up, two down, out the ring, over the top rope, it was hard sometimes to keep track of. But that is in a lot of ways the essence of what I feel like the match was founded in.

Evan Bourne flies like he has wings, Morrison always does something during one of these things that makes me gasp, very physically gifted man. I was unsure about MITB newbie Ted Dibiase, but he earned his chops out there. People complain about it and yet seem to not realize that Mark Henry is no Money in the Bank rookie, he knows how to work with these matches despite people's opinions otherwise. Edge, Randy Orton and Jericho delivered as normal and I am a believer, The Miz IS Awesome.

The match itself went well, delivered on almost all the standard Money in the Bank spots that the first one might have fallen short on. I was surprised at how focused it was though on the overall motion and didn't really take the time for BIG spots. Although I must admit, I'm usually very grateful for that.

I thought there was not as many underlying stories being presented during the match as was the Smackdown offering so I wasn't as emotionally involved with the outcome. Could be a time issue, I'm not sure. The Raw version of this match had a more mobile crew in regards to maneuverability. I think it went faster simply because they could. The Miz, way to wrap it up. Hard thing to do to be 'on' right after a rough match like that.

The most interesting aspect of these matches are the selective assistance initiatives that take place. Temporary alliances as it were to accomplish a common goal. They always amuse me greatly.

I took Sheamus and Cena for what it was, a match that was truly intended to further along the Nexus storyline. It was a good match honestly and the interference of the Nexus was reasonably well placed to further the plot. And my it is fun to watch Sheamus run, he's fast for his size.

I think the Nexus storyline is wonderful. Truly great use for faces people have gotten to know over the past few months while letting them adapt to the big show. My only issue with the Nexus storyline is that tendency to believe that it's so good that you can just cut out matches all together.

I don't know about everybody else but I wanted the finish to all the matches the Nexus has ruined. And because I realize its story I don't get annoyed at the Nexus I get annoyed at creative. I don't see less of an impact by attacking after a match is done. If anything it's more because the participants are tired and you are ruining someone's victory time. It has the annoyance of cutting someone off while they're talking.

I know it's the old grudge factor, 'don't jack with my win-loss record', but that horse will only drink so many times before it's not thirsty anymore. The last thing that needs to be done is let the Nexus linger into predictability. When one statement has gotten old it's time to say something else.