Sunday, 27 July 2014

Is It Still Cool To Hate John Cena? By Joey Keogh

On foot of the not-so-shocking revelation that John Cena is to Main Event at Summerslam against Brock Lesnar, Kayfabe News published a piece playing off the idea that Cena looks set to headline every major event for the foreseeable future – maybe even forever. Over the past decade, it’s become fashionable, then unfashionable, then fashionable again to really, really, really hate John Cena. However, lately even the clever “John Cena sucks” sing-along in time with his entrance theme, and the warring chants both for and against him, have become stale. Do we still hate John Cena as much as we used to? Do we even know why we hate him?

Cena may be a royal pain in the ass, but he doesn’t suck as much as we all wish he did – or at least, not in the way some of us think he does. The Miz sucks, Eva Marie sucks. The kind of heat their totally unwelcome presence generates isn’t down to great work, it’s because they’re terrible in every conceivable way and their attitudes stink. A million people have come and gone since Cena’s introduction. He couldn’t possibly be worse than all of them. The reality is we’re just sick of Cena. He’s been woefully mis-sold to us throughout his career and, as a result, everything he does tends to grate. He can’t win with us, which is kind of the root of the problem.

The main issue with the character of John Cena – as opposed to the man himself, who seems like a pretty nice dude – is that everything is predicated on him winning. Even when he was cutting promos for Battleground recently, they were all about him “overcoming the odds” yet again, but that’s what he has to do every goddamn time and what he manages to do no matter what. Permanently-excited commentator Michael Cole might be able to muster up the energy to pretend this is a new angle for him each time, but we can’t. Not now, twelve years and a hundred PPVs later.

It’s really easy to get burned out on Cena, because we know he’s not going to lose, we know it’s all just empty talk, even if it is delivered pretty effectively. Even when he was up against Bray Wyatt, who is arguably the best, and most interesting, heel on the current roster, there was that voice in the back of our collective minds that told us not to believe he could really win against Cena. Lo and behold, when his time finally came at Wrestlemania 30, after a spectacular build-up and in spite of a fantastic match, he didn’t.

The legendary, and very lovable, Chris Jericho may have been drafted in to give him a leg-up since, but their feud feels forced, as though Wyatt is just an afterthought now that Cena is occupied elsewhere. True, he succeeded against him at Extreme Rules, but Wyatt cheated and if Cena doesn’t lose clean, it doesn’t count. If Wyatt had have won against Cena properly, like he deserved, he would’ve totally blown up. All of the elements were there – he was killing it and the fans were completely on his side – but WWE are terrified that if Cena loses clean, we’ll think he’s worth nothing and as a result, Wyatt had to take the hit.

According to the Internet Wrestling Database, Cena has wrestled in almost 700 matches since his debut, including headlining over 80 PPVS. He currently has a win rate of almost 70%, including PPV and non-PPV matches. Legends such as Ultimate Warrior and Shawn Michaels have far better records, and both, in particular Michaels, had their fair share of dodgy wins back in the day too.

It’s interesting, then, that everyone hates Cena so damn much just because he wins so often and it’s, supposedly, so easy for him. Is it purely because we still have to put up with him every single week? Lesnar was an obvious choice for the upcoming PPV, because he’s always going to be a big draw, and let’s not forget that the Network contracts will be up for renewal soon, so WWE had to hook us all in somehow. However, if Lesnar is the obvious draw for fans, is Cena in the Main Event just because he’s the kids’ favourite?

His debut is still a hot video on YouTube, with over 4 million views to date and more than 3,000 comments, the majority of which are overwhelmingly negative. The top comments complain that Cena is slowly destroying the company by winning championships he never deserved, and getting pushes every few months, too. Anyone who tries to stick up for him is dismissed as a child, because what adult could possibly see the worth in someone like Cena?

Although we’re all sick to death of him headlining PPVs and winning belts, he’s been undeniably influential in putting fan favourites over. One of the highlights of last year was when he chose Daniel Bryan out of a line-up of Superstars to face him at Summerslam. With the crowd cheering as loud as they could for Bryan, Cena slowly made his way through several obvious, and often quite bizarre, choices including Rob Van Dam, Chris Jericho and, er, Heath Slater. Throughout this segment, the comparatively diminutive Bryan couldn’t even be seen behind the bigger, buffer Superstars.

He wasn’t mentioned as a choice, either, with Cena teasing the crowd as he simply asked “Is there anyone I’m forgetting?” Goofy Cena is the worst kind of Cena – aside from rapping Cena, of course – but he was at his best here, utilising his sense of humour well, and he immediately turned super serious when it was time to choose his opponent. This is a great example of Cena giving someone else a bit of his spotlight and it was a remarkable moment for both of them that paved the way for Bryan to win the title.

For those of us who’ve followed this shit since we were kids, the most infuriating element of the John Cena character is that he’s never properly turned heel. As much as the WWE fear the wrath of toddlers, let’s face it, everyone loves cheering for a heel and, as Bray Wyatt’s recent attempts at cultish sing-alongs prove, you can’t keep a good bad guy down. Do the powers that be have so little faith in Cena that they assume his stock would plummet if he took a step back, or, god forbid, turned heel? Would the kids really cry their eyes out at the sight of him in black jean shorts, waxing lyrical about how sick he is of being the top guy in the company?

A Cena heel angle is so obvious, and so widely-discussed, it’s bizarre that thus far it’s only ever been hinted at here and there. Not only would it shut all of us up, but it’d breathe new life into what has become a very stale character. It’d give Cena an angle, an edge, and he would be able to form alliances with the guys he usually spends half his time scolding. It would totally reinvent him, and maybe even give him a whole new fan base. Nowadays, the main issue with him is that he’s so predictable but, as a heel, there’s no telling what he’d do next.

Considering so much of Cena’s brand, and his worth to fans, hinges on him always, always, always winning, it’s interesting to note that the matches in which he’s lost are some of the most exciting and dynamic of his entire career. In particular, his Summerslam 2011 bout against CM Punk is a highlight, showcasing the best of both participants in a lengthy, well-paced battle of strength, ability and passion. Although Cena always gives his best in the ring, he’s become synonymous with winning in the last minute or two by using a combination of the same moves. At Summerslam 2011, he brought his ‘A’ game, with several near falls during which he seemed predestined to triumph over “adversity” yet again, so when Punk beat him, it was truly glorious.

Often a victim of bad writing that attempts to somehow position him as the underdog, Cena’s match-up against the ultimate underdog Daniel Bryan, again at Summerslam, in 2013, was also exceptional. Losing to Bryan, after he delivered a stunning running knee, Cena managed to simultaneously put his opponent way over and prove that he could not win and still come out on top. WWE backtracked a little following the match – possibly out of fear of the danger of the “Cena is a loser” angle – and indeed Bryan still had a long way to go before the championship was his, but this was a significant moment, and one which epitomised the opposing strengths of both performers.

Cena’s first PPV match was Vengeance, way back in 2002. In triumphing over hot favourite Jericho, he began a path to headline, and mostly win, almost every high-profile show since. A good match, in which he and Jericho fed off each other’s energy well, it marked out what kind of guy Cena was going to be in the ring. Although he only appeared in three out of a possible eight PPVs in 2002, from his first Main Event slot in 2005 onwards Cena was a stalwart of the company, and nowadays we can expect him to headline pretty much every show of the year – including weekly Raw episodes, which he dominates.

Looking back on his debut, Cena hasn’t really aged a day, which is kind of creepy. Maybe he’s a cyborg, programmed only to win matches and grant wishes and sell merch to children and refuse to marry Nikki Bella. His worth to the WWE is obvious, but to fans Cena seems to represent a giant roadblock in the way of our favourites achieving the plaudits they rightly deserve. Cena may still be stealing focus from others, but he’s been taking a backseat more and more often lately, and he’s been owning his brand and his goody-goody image too, facing up to The Authority and choosing Daniel Bryan when he shouldn’t, even triumphing at Battleground so Triple H’s cronies couldn’t.

We can’t hate John Cena because he’s champion yet again. We can hate the character they’ve made him, for WWE vicariously burying new talents through him, and for him headlining every PPV in sight, but when he’s not featured, something feels off, and the balance isn’t right. He’s a fixture whether we like it or not, and the WWE would be a very different place without him. All things considered, he’s a wonderful performer and, when in the right mode, he can be great on the mic, too. He’s the ultimate face, he’s just in desperate need of a heel turn.

However, in spite of the fact that he’s guaranteed to win every single time, it’s unlikely that Lesnar won’t defeat him after beating the streak at Wrestlemania 30 and, when he does, it may just spark the turn that’ll reignite the fuse inside John Cena, and indeed all of us. Cena may always be the Superstar we love to hate, but at least we only have a few more weeks of bullshit before he (hopefully) loses in spectacular fashion and things get interesting again for a bit.

For the moment, though, it makes no sense to hate the player when, really, we should be hating the game.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Why Story Telling Is Vital to Wrestling By Shaun Nichols

In the past few days I have been trying to explain to a friend why the Sting vs. Hollywood Hogan match at Starrcade 1997 is one worst examples of psychology and booking. In response I was told that it's a good match which lots of people wanted to watch. Also it's listed on the WWE's Starrcade: The Essential Collection at a very respectable fourth place, though I think it's more down to the fact that it's a match featuring two big names and the WWE marketing team felt it couldn't be placed any lower.

Wrestling is a very unique model on the PPV platform, unlike boxing and UFC who succeed mainly on unique individuals (think Floyd Mayweather and Georges St Pierre) that appear maybe 1 or 2 times in the way. These are guys who fans can connect to, it really is unimportant if you want to see win or lose you just have to care.

Wrestling doesn't work that way, wrestling stars are always on TV or on the monthly PPV shows. It is supported through episodic weekly television programming leading to grudges and matches that hopefully fans will pay for. It's not a real contest so it relies on creating an emotional connection that the fans can buy into so they'll spend money either on attending live or ordering the PPV. It works like a good TV drama or a movie blockbuster, something that makes you go out of your away to watch the hero win in the end.

I'm going to compare the Hulk Hogan vs. Sting encounter to the match that topped the WWE Starrcade list which was Ric Flair challenging Vader for the WCW title at Starrcade 1993. I'll explain why one was great example of story telling and the other was terrible.

Vader vs. Ric Flair (Starrcade 1993)

The Build: Ric Flair had returned to WCW in February 1993 to a tremendous reception but although he had his moments such as a great tag team match with Arn Anderson vs. The Hollywood Blonds and winning the NWA title against Barry Windham. In general it wasn't the great return that many of us had hoped for, he soon dropped the NWA title to Rick Rude in a very dull and boring affair at Fall Brawl 1993. The plan was to phase him out of the main event picture.

The original plan for Starrcade that year was for Sid to beat Vader and become the top star in WCW, but a night in Blackburn which included a fight in a hotel room with Arn Anderson and a pair of scissors and next thing you know Big Sid was let go. A new plan was required.

Ric Flair was really Mr Starrcade, a man right from the first event in 1983 who was dominating the event either defending or challenging for the world title. He was clearly the most obvious choice to take the vacant challenger spot, it also didn't hurt that the show was being held in Charlotte, NC which is Flair's hometown.

To add to the intrigue, the dominant champion was managed by Harley Race who just happened to have lost the NWA title to Ric Flair at the first Starrcade show back in 1983. This was perfect time for Race to get his revenge, to add the icing on the cake a stipulation was added if Ric Flair failed to win the WCW title then he would be forced to retire, the scene had been set.

The Match: This was exactly what it should have been, this wasn't a battle between two equally matched wrestlers. This was a vicious dominate monster trying to end the career of the overmatched company legend. We've all seen Hollywood films where the hero has to come back one more time and defeat all the odds to save the day. It's one of the easiest and most successful plots of all time and most importantly everyone can relate to.

Ric Flair takes a terrible beating and for the vast majority of the match he's on the defensive as Vader completely dominates proceedings. Occasionally Flair makes a comeback and teases that he's about to turn the tide before Vader again takes control. Each time the fans react louder as they implore Flair to defeat the champion. Finally the hero finally gets the win, he's gone through hell and he's got the bruises to show for it but he leaves victorious.

The fans who willed him to victory, cared about his journey and wanted him to get one final run on top and they got the victory they craved and the memorable moment they came to see.

The Aftermath: The emotional journey for the fans was all about Flair's title chase and saving his career, the continuation of the Vader feud didn't reach the same heights. This was followed by a fun feud with Ricky Steamboat which gave a nod to their great series of 1989 but it was clear that WCW was treading water until Hulk Hogan arrival in the summer of 1994. Flair soon turned heel so he could feud with Hogan and to drop the title in the Hulkster's first WCW match.

Hollywood Hogan vs. Sting (Starrcade 1997)

The Build: There is no denying that the build up for Sting's challenge for the WCW title was really a thing of beauty. Ever since Hogan had turned heel and formed the nWo with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash at Bash at the Beach 1996 PPV they had run roughshod over everyone in WCW.

Well that's not quite correct, they ran roughshod over everyone apart from one man, that man was Sting. The match was planned out for over a year, it had started at Fall Brawl 1996 when the nWo faced Team WCW in the Wargames main event. The nWo claimed that Sting would be their fourth man (well it was a Fake Sting), this caused some mistrust from the other members of the WCW team and although Sting took his part in the main event to show that he had not turned on the promotion. He soon the left the match which led to the nWo team getting the win.

Soon the fun loving Sting character that fans had known for a nearly decade had gone, replaced by a Brandon Lee inspired gimmick based on The Crow film. He started hanging around the rafters and carrying a black baseball bat. While the rest of WCW were getting beaten and embarrassed on a weekly basis, Sting stood on the sidelines biding his time. Eventually he would save WCW, beat Hogan and the nWo and take the WCW title. The build up was excellent, they built it up so slowly and carefully. This was the final battle and the good guys were finally getting their ultimate revenge, right??

The Match: Everything screamed that Sting should just go out and kick Hogan's ass, eventually through the usual nWo shenanigans you'd think Hogan would eventually get control over the match but Sting would make his comeback and pin Hogan clean. How could it be anything else?

Sting was booked like a superhero, he was someone who would not let you down and someone who would defeat the evil Hogan convincingly and take WCW forward. Instead it was Hogan who dominated the match with Sting getting a little bit of offensive in here and there. Fans expected to see Hogan to get his ass kicked but here he was dominating the saviour of WCW.

The farce of the fast count that never was, just to allow Bret Hart 'to save the day' only made Sting look more like a goof and loser than anyone thought was possible. WCW had spent nearly 18 months building up to Sting getting his biggest win, on the biggest WCW show of the year and then when it came down to it they got it horribly wrong.

While Flair in 1993 was playing the role of the underdog going through hell and eventually overcoming the biggest odds, Sting was supposed to be the hero finally saving the town from the evil group who made everyone's lives miserable. He was supposed to be the WCW version of John Wayne or Bruce Lee winning the final standoff to send everyone happy. How could they have got it so wrong?

The Aftermath: This could be seen really as the beginning of WCW's troubles, sure they had drawn the most successful PPV buy-rate in company history with Starrcade 1997. But they had forgotten the golden rule they you have to give the fans what they wanted to see.

They had made the fans wait over a year to see Hogan get what was surely due at the hands of the 'WCW Icon' Sting and failed to deliver it. Even with Bret Hart saving the day, it turned out to be a Dusty finish because the title was held up. Sting did finally win the title at Superbrawl VIII also against Hogan to win the vacant title after Hogan was hit in the head with a spray can by Randy Savage. Again showing that WCW just couldn't bring themselves to have their biggest babyface actually beating Hulk Hogan clean. From a PPV buy-rate perspective, it is interesting to note that Starrcade 1997 drew a rating of 1.9 but the re-match just two months later drew a rating of 1.1 which equates to a drop of over 40%. That's the price you pay for lousy story telling.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

British Boot Camp 2 - Who Will It Be? By Dave Green (@dagreeno)

So TNA have just announced the new series of British Bootcamp. The last series saw Brit standouts Marty Scurl, Rockstar Spud and the Blossom Twins take part in an overly scripted reality show to gain a contract with the US company. I say scripted as during the course of a match, Spud went into business for himself at the end of an OVW tag match with Scurl, to which he received a severe bollocking from Al Snow. There is no way that someone that is trying to get a contract with a big company would do this. Despite the lack of actual reality, the series was entertaining and did well on Challenge. Plus the winner Spud is currently one of the only things worth watching on TNA television. So a new series is not a huge surprise, but the information from Dixie Carter's Twitter is that there are 12 wrestlers in consideration. No idea who is in that list, but here's who I believe should being given huge consideration.

1 - Rampage Brown. The big man straight out of Compton (the Leeds one) must be on the list. He's a power house, solid as a technician and has a scary demeanour. Plus (and this is a major reason for why I think he will be included) he is wrestling TNA's own Samoa Joe at PROGRESS Wrestling forthcoming show. Maybe Joe will have some influence on the short list decision.

2 - Nathan Cruz. Although he has recently been on WWE TV as a Rosebud, Cruz may be considered simply on his reputation as a great talker and a great knack for psychology and storytelling. Plus he's still insanely young. And of course he's a pro.

3 - El Ligero. The "native" of Los Sanchez will be a major consideration, being one of the busiest competitors on the scene. He can do it all in the ring, plus the gimmick would do great business for merchandise. The only drawback would be that he would have to talk in the show, something he does not do due to the gimmick.

4 - Kris Travis. When a discussion takes place about Britain's top wrestler, Travis is usually a name brought up. A fantastic look, which would help with the female demographic, great ability and sheer charisma.

5 - Martin Kirby. If we're talking about Travis, we have to consider his regular tag partner. Kirby can sometimes be overlooked when compared to Travis, but having seen his work at Southside as a vicious heel, Kirby could be a dark horse. Plus the drama on the show brought about by tag partners competing for one contract could draw the viewers in.

6 - Nikki Storm. There will inevitably be a female wrestler involved, so Storm is definitely at the top of the list for UK women to be considered. Apart from the obvious in-ring talent and ability to rile a crowd, she has a lot of international experience, having worked for Shimmer and Shine.

7 - Kay Lee Ray. The other lady I would consider in this list due to her unique look and high flying moveset. Very comparable to Lita, which I'm sure TNA will see as a major plus.

8 - Joe Coffey. An absolute beast, his facepainted look in ICW may be compared to Jeff Hardy, but his rough high impact style would be a welcome addition to the roster.

9 - Joe Hendry. Sticking with the Scots for the moment, I believe Hendry is the next big thing. While still in his early years as a wrestler, he's very skilled. But his major selling point is his talking ability and singing gimmick. His immense charisma reminds me of The Rock, so TNA should definitely have this guy on their radar.

10 - Will Ospreay. The Aerial Assasin would of course be thrust straight into the X Division, but even so he would be an easy fit. Plus, from what I've seen from his recent work at PROGRESS when being tortured (watch the free YouTube show to see what I mean), his selling of a storyline is highly realistic.

11 - Noam Dar. He's young. Bloody young. Despite his age, his ability is beyond his years. Despite some recent injury setbacks, he's a jack of all trades in that he has great technical ability, has personality and can do the high flying when needed.

12 - Dave Mastiff. The Bastard from the Black Country may have some things that hold him back appearance wise (and I mean that from a first impressions from a US audience) but as soon as he wrestles, those impressions soon disappear. He would be compared to Samoa Joe, but his experience and no nonsense style would still impress.

So that's my list. I know there's many I haven't listed that could easily be considered - Mark Andrews, The London Riots, T-Bone, Joey Hayes, Wild Boar - just to name a few. A couple I haven't mentioned for a few reasons would be Mark Haskins and Zack Sabre Jr. Haskins was part of TNA many moons ago, but was messed around by them so I doubt he would consider it. Zack is undoubtedly one of the best wrestlers ever to come out of Britain, but his regular work in Japan would probably preclude him from being considered.

Whoever is chosen, I hope that the winner is given a bit more to do than being an assistant to the boss.

Please do let me know who you think should be part of the show.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Seth Rollins And The Art Of The Perfect Heel Turn By Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG)

Nowadays, it’s sadly rare that we are shocked by the WWE. Whether it’s Raw, Smackdown, even PPVs, it’s annoyingly easy to predict the outcome, and it’s been a long time since they’ve caught us off guard to any notable extent. The shows may elicit laughs, groans, even the odd yawn, but the so-called WWE Universe have got used to the same ol’, same ol’ and, for the most part, we don’t mind it too much.

Punk may have quit just a few months ago, but he did so quietly, with no statement, no big moment, no huge reveal. Daniel Bryan finally won the championship, at arguably the best Wrestlemania event in years, but it was a long time coming, hard fought for and well-deserved. There was no sense that he was a victim of dumb luck, or that it wasn’t the right moment – it wasn’t a surprise, it was a reward.

In fact, most of us would struggle to think of any moment, from the past year, that has genuinely shocked us. However, on an otherwise innocuous episode of Raw, right at the end, when it seemed things were wrapping up and winding down for the night, Seth Rollins turning against his brothers in The Shield did exactly that – and we still haven’t recovered.

After two gloriously unspoiled years delivering justice, The Shield fell apart in a stunningly well-executed matter of moments. The setup was almost too easy, and given the sort-of surprise earlier in the show – Batista quitting and running back to Hollywood, as Triple H hilariously put it – we were lulled into a false sense of security, figuring the rest of the night would be by-the-numbers, even slightly dull.

The so-called muscle of The Shield – and also, weirdly, the most softly spoken member – Roman Reigns was set to fight Evolution’s Randy Orton in the main event, which elicited shrugs of anticipation from those dulled by the boredom of this particular storyline. The Shield/Evolution feud had been shoved down fans’ throats for what felt like an eternity, and considering nobody cared about it much to begin with, by then it was really starting to grate.

Batista leaving hinted the end was nigh, only for Triple H to emerge far too calm, as he accompanied Orton to the ring. Deep down, we knew it couldn’t really be over. It was too easy. As he boasted of a plan B, our hearts sank and our eyes rolled, as we resigned ourselves to the idea there was yet more to come. A split in The Shield was inevitable, and indeed it had been rumoured to happen for months, but not like this, and not because of Rollins, never Rollins.

The Shield were a very simple tag team, with Reigns as the brawn, Dean Ambrose as the brain/lunatic and Rollins as their loyal follower, who stood behind them, nodding politely and sharing the spotlight whenever it was gifted to him. Looking back on their impressively quick rise to prominence, the way in which they fit so well together, bounced off each other and complimented one another cannot be under-stated, and they all played their parts very well.

Trainer Joey Mercury, who has worked with The Shield separately and together since their NXT days, described them as “his babies”, noting their innate strength and incomparable understanding of each other in the ring. Each member has individually credited him for making them better, stronger and more honest as wrestlers, and for ultimately turning them into a team.

We have watched them grow together, too, and although we knew it couldn’t last forever, it was probably always going to feel too soon for us. It seemed almost guaranteed that they’d split because of Ambrose’s ego, or wild temper, or even Reigns’ desire to be a star in his own right.

If one had to guess which member of The Shield was the least likely to turn on his brothers, it would be Rollins without a doubt. Rollins was the old reliable, the chatty, happy one who nodded in the background the whole time and only went against his team-mates once, maybe twice in fleeting, throwaway moments of frustration.

At the close of the preceding week’s Raw, The Shield posed in triumphant unity next to a battered Triple H and his infamous sledgehammer. It was a remarkable moment – and a memorably great shot for the on-point cameraman/men, along with those of us watching at home – that solidified what this team meant to each other, and to us.

The following week, that exact shot would be replicated almost to the letter, with Reigns and Ambrose lying in pieces on the mat, and Rollins, Trips and Orton standing over them with the sledgehammer in hand – the symbolism is so blatant, it’d be annoying if it weren’t so completely brilliant.

Rollins’ heel turn was remarkable for many reasons, but the fact the shock-waves are still being felt weeks later, exemplifies how much pull The Shield have with the fans, and how much heat they created during their two year reign.

Arguably the most popular, and successful, tag team in years, they managed to get a massive reaction as both heels and faces. Crucially, we never got sick of, or bored with, them and the three of them were equally well-liked and supported (especially on Tumblr).

Regardless of what’s to come, it’s unlikely the shock is going to wear off any time soon, and in this way, Rollins himself has managed to do something really special, because he’s affected everything, and everyone, around him with one simple, perfectly-executed move delivered at the least obvious moment imaginable.

He made a small attempt to explain himself on the following week’s Raw, while on the following episode Rollins fully emerged as his own person, challenging his ex-team-mates – both of whom are establishing themselves as individuals, also – and interfering wherever he could.

Back in January, it would’ve been difficult to envision The Shield splitting up at all, let alone gearing up to fight each other at the next PPV – it seems an Ambrose/Rollins match-up is on the horizon, if the latest Raw is any indication – but what’s perhaps most shocking about this development is how exciting of a prospect that is.

If it happens, Ambrose/Rollins will probably be the most anticipated match of Money In The Bank. Who could’ve predicted that!?

Sunday, 1 June 2014

NXT Takeover Review By Justin DiVirgilio (@JDiVirgilio)

Adam Rose vs. Camacho

The match started out with Adam Rose prancing around ring but Camacho hit him with a clothesline. Camacho hit a huge double underhook suplex. Later in the match, Rose hits a very nice double A Spinebuster and after this the crowd chants, "We are rosebuds!". Rose wins with his own version of a headlock driver. This match was an ok match but the crowd was really into Rose.

NXT Tag Title Match: The Ascension (Konnor & Victor) (c) vs. Kalisto & El Local

The match starts off quick as The Ascension attack Kalisto and El Local. Kalisto & El Local hit simultaneous running ranas on The Ascension. The Ascension rolled out and Kalisto and El Local were going for double suicide dives but The Ascension cut them off with forearms. Kalisto is getting dominated by The Ascension throughout the match. Kalisto makes the tag to El Local and he comes
in taking out the Ascension. Local hit a very nice second rope moonsault for a 2 count on Victor. Eventually the Ascension hit their tag team finisher to retain their titles. This was a good match as I thought The Ascension were good and the crowd was into the entire match.

#1 Contenders Match for the NXT title: Sami Zayn vs. Tyler Breeze

The match starts out both by both men using arm locks on each other. Zayn goes up on the second rope and goes for a boot to the face but Breeze catches it and swings it over the ropes and Zayn falls to the floor. Zayn throws Breeze out of the ring and he hits springboard moonsault out to the floor. Breeze tries to get away from Zayn but Zayn hits the Blue Thunder Bomb. Later in the match Breeze hits a brutal Alley Oop Bomb for a 2 count. Breeze hits an very nice superkick to Zayn after both guys kept reversing each others waist locks. Zayn misses the Helloova kick and hurts his groin. Breeze then hits his finisher the Beauty Shot which is a spinning heel kick for the victory. This was an amazing match as Zayn pulled out a couple of different that wowed the crowd and Breeze showed his aggression and ability in the ring.

Rusev w/ Lana vs. Mojo Rawley segment

Rawley insults Rusev and runs into the ring but is hit with a nasty looking superkick. Rusev put him into the Acolade. Rusev then put Rawley in the Acolade on the entrance ramp. This wasn't even a match as Rusev came out and then Rawley came out and Rusev just beat up Rawley.

Paige comes out and thanks all the fans who come out to NXT. Paige then says how worthy you have to be to hold the NXT Women's title.

NXT Women's Title Match: Charlotte w/ Ric Flair vs. Natalya w/ Bret Hart

The match starts out with some very good technical wrestling as neither woman can gain momentum. Natalya gets a wheel barrel pin but Charlotte kicks out at 2. Charlotte hits a signature Flair chop and Flair starts doing the strut on the outside. Natalya puts Charlotte in a sleeper but Charlotte hits a very nice backpack stunner to break the hold. Natalya hits a very nice stomp to the head and dropkick combo while Charlotte is sitting. Charlotte does a top rope moonsault but Natalya moves out of the way just in time. Charlotte reverses a sharpshooter into a figure four leg lock and then roll around to the floor. Charlotte then leans down off of the apron and keeps the hold applied like Bret Hart would do except he did that with the ring post. Charlotte wins with the front flip face crusher. This was one of the best women's match I have ever seen as both women were both using very good technical wrestling.

NXT Title Match: Tyson Kidd vs. Adrian Neville (c)

The match starts with a lot of technical wrestling but Kidd has the upper hand for a lot of it. As both men get more speed Kidd and Neville begin to mirror each other moves. Kidd throws Neville out of the ring and Kidd hits a plancha through the middle rope on Neville. When both men are back in the ring they hit cross bodies on each other leaving both guys laid out. Kidd goes for powerbomb off of the top rope but Neville reverses it by back flipping off of the second rope. Kidd then runs a Neville but then throws him up and hits a tiger bomb for a 2 count. Neville goes for a middle rope springboard but Kidd jumps up with him and hits a side Russian leg sweep off of the middle rope. Neville then vertical suplexes Kidd over the top rope and both men go to the floor. Neville hits a Rana off of the top rope and then hits his finisher off the top rope for the victory. This a was an awesome match as both guys were so similar in style but also pulled out things that wowed the fans.

Overall this was an amazing show. I believe this show was better than NXT Arrival and had the best match I saw in NXT in Zayn vs. Breeze.

Catch me on twitter @JDiVirgilio4

Friday, 25 April 2014

Heels, Babyfaces And The ‘Grey Area’ By Adam Ferguson

It’s 2014 and now, more than ever, professional wrestling is starved of babyfaces who fans love to cheer and heels that people get a kick out of booing. In truth, as avid watchers we’ve been deprived of authentic good guys and absolute baddies for a while now – probably for the best part of a decade. But the troublesome ‘grey area’ that we often speak about has pillaged its way onto shows and into storylines incessantly throughout the last year or so. This zone of moral ambiguity is an invention of perception, playing host to an audience so emphatic in our unquenchable thirst to generate some form of self-control over Monday Night RAW that we occasionally attempt to hijack the show.

Maybe it’s okay that the era of the quintessential protagonist versus model antagonist is gone. Maybe not. It is a debate worth having though and, unsurprisingly, one that I’m going to write about here. In this primarily WWE-focused musing, I’ll firstly consider the possible reasons behind the apparent decrease in outright heels and babyfaces in wrestling. Then, I’ll examine the impacts felt by a contemporary product deprived of said clinical roles. Finally, it’ll all be about looking forward as I question the need for clear-cut personas in 2014 rasslin’.

So what, or who, has ushered in this sense of a moral free-for-all?

John Cena. That’s right, the internet’s favourite wrestltainer. At least, he’s partially to blame. Wrestling is an odd one. It is engulfed in parameters that can be stretched, shrunk and twisted, but it is a phenomenon that also only exists within a bubble separated from all other mainstream forms of entertainment. And the man who embodies all of that contortion better than any other is John Cena. Though we’ve hounded good guys for decades – The Rock’s early years spring to mind – the Cena dynamic since 2006 is unrivalled in terms of audience reception. When Edge cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase on Cena at New Year’s Revolution, a dormant hatred suddenly spewed from the mouths of many WWE fans. Heel Edge was cheered throughout their feud, and from then on the likes of Triple H, Umaga and Randy Orton (all heels) received support from those seated around arenas.

Fast forward to the present day and the Wyatt Family, a trio of men who kidnapped and battered Daniel Bryan not too long ago, are hailed vehemently when pitted against the leader of the Cenation (more on the Wyatts later). These days, you’re guaranteed to hear at least half of the audience boo John Cena and cheer his opponent, which negates any pre-existing heel/babyface interaction. Other than the staleness of his character though, this isn’t necessarily Cena’s fault. He’s not the one booing himself, although I’m sure he does every time his ears ring with Nikki Bella’s requests for more shoes. In reality then, Cena himself just about gets off scot-free. Rather, those who choose to boo him are the culprits. Which is a pretty neat segue into my second reason behind the heel/babyface demise: us fans.

We, the WWE Universe, seemingly pride ourselves in our ability to create change. In a way, we tend to carry around a modernised sense of self-worth, that it is up to us and us alone to dictate who goes ‘over’ and who does not. The Cena issue is a great example of this, and so is our recent treatment of Big Dave. I was excited when the Batista return promo first aired, as I’m sure most of you were too. Yet, before the man had a chance to put on those God-awful tight-shorts, we were booing him. Heck, we even coined him ‘Bootista’. Why? Because we wanted change. Despite their best efforts, WWE had to turn the recently christened movie-star heel, not necessarily because that exact role switch was what we wanted but because, as fans, we had the power to instigate change.

Perhaps then, part of the problem lies with WWE. Like any efficient company looking to shill the next pay-per-view or subscription-based network, WWE places the fans on a pedestal. We’re called the “WWE Universe”, and everything they do is for us. But should WWE be so explicit in their bombastic touting (no pun intended) of fan appreciation? Perhaps rather than spending ten minutes of RAW air-time telling us how to affect the show by voting on the app (on your selected device go to the app store and search for “WWE App”, then hit the downlo- oh, sorry) they should focus on having bad guys do bad things to good guys, or girls. Better yet, it might be a good idea for the ‘E to slow down a tad on the whole ‘let the fans dictate the show’ frame of mind.

What other factors have tombstoned the heel/babyface era then? Arguably, the most impactful element of the lot has been, and still is, excellent character creation. Man, it’s tough not to applaud and revel in the brilliance of an outstanding character. I mentioned the Wyatt Family earlier because they are the epitome of compelling personas. Bray’s enticing promo skills demand more than simply respect, rather, heaps of adulation too. Completed by the creepy-yet-ruthless pairing of Luke Harper and Eric Rowan, the Wyatt Family are a cult act that have the potential to transcend wrestling. Nowadays, we are spoiled by the plethora of quality television shows and films boasting characters with profound meaning and engaging demeanours. Wrestling – certainly, WWE - is taking heed of this character-centric mind-set.

On the other hand, now that the audience collectively emits exceedingly high expectations, superstars who aren’t the flavour of the month are not met with any sort of reaction. A generic babyface? Silence. A boring heel? Silence. In essence, the aforementioned ‘grey-area’ in wrestling is actually just a reflection of changing audience anticipation: not for goodies and baddies but for characters who we can sink our teeth into. And it ain’t just the wrestling audience either – the contemporary attitude towards villains on the big screen has altered. Everybody loves Loki from Marvel’s The Avengers because he is a tremendous, layered character, and also because he is played by Tom Hiddleston. Which brings me onto my final point regarding some potential reasoning behind the downfall of wrestling heels/babyfaces…

Much like Hiddleston, who has developed a significant fan following since he began portraying Loki, there are many wrestlers who will always be cheered by a loyal fan base regardless of their heel/babyface status. I would argue that, presently, the most prominent example of this is Cesaro. Though he is presented as a heel on television, and has been since his WWE debut in 2012, there are tropes of fans who have always cheered him and continue to do so – fans who have followed Cesaro’s career since his days as Claudio Castagnoli in Ring of Honor. Proverbial “indie guys” tend to amass instant support upon reaching the WWE because said support is already harnessed to their personas; the same could be said for CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose and even those who are no longer with the company, such as Chris Hero (or Kassius Ohno, in NXT) a guy who undoubtedly would’ve carried his ROH-generated backing into RAW.

While you mull over and inevitably pick apart those reasons (us wrestling fans love having an opinion) I’m going to swiftly and succinctly consider the impacts of the heel/babyface loss.

From WWE’s standpoint, there hasn’t really been any detrimental impact, at least not yet. Commercially, the company is doing as well as ever – they just released the WWE Network figures in tow with their Wrestlemania 30 buy rate, which hit over one million buys domestically. In terms of our enjoyment, there hasn’t been much of a negative impact either. I can only speak for myself and I personally believe this year’s Wrestlemania was one of the best since 2001. Admittedly, much of the enjoyment was generated from the buzz surrounding Daniel Bryan, a babyface who we all love, but it is worth considering that the murky good guy/bad guy landscape actually aided Bryan’s rise and Wrestlemania’s success; being part of a wholly united wave of support for D-Bry felt just that bit better because it was such a rare of exhibition of consolidation in wrestling fandom.

Performance-wise, there might be an issue. For the guys and gals looking to rise to the top and stay there for the rest of their respective careers, perhaps neither our impassioned applause nor our relentless boos are helpful. For a while the support, or otherwise, certainly can be a significant assistance and, in that sense, a wrestler getting ‘over’ is fine. However staying ‘over’ is the hard part. Unless you break the glass ceiling and attain an aura of continuous relevance, much like John Cena has, once a cheered heel loses his/her cheers, it might be hard for them to regain adulation as a babyface. It could be argued that Dolph Ziggler currently finds himself stranded in that exact predicament – as a heel, Ziggler was cheered throughout late-2012 and early-2013, yet his subsequent babyface run left a lot to be desired and now he finds himself sitting alongside Josh Matthews and Alex Riley on RAW pre-show panels. For Ziggler, the repercussions of being applauded as a heel but not to the same degree as a babyface mightn’t be terminal, but for others such as Zack Ryder, they probably are.

To conclude, let’s peer ahead into Santino’s glass ball (anyone?). Times change and wrestling does too and, for now, it appears that setting out clear heels and babyfaces isn’t a huge necessity for success. Although it would be convenient for fans to interact with unambiguous characters creating a situation where we know who to back and who boo, this is a notion that just isn’t plausible in 2014. And you know what? Perhaps it’s not essential either.

If you’re interested, follow me on Twitter (@elloJasonIsaacs) for more wrestling-related tweets and discussions.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Talking Points With Shaun Nichols

Sometimes things happen in wrestling that you want to comment on but don't want to write a full blog and dissect the story fully. The following are examples of that.

Undertaker's Streak Finally Ends

This of course was a major story at least for 48 hours when something more important came along but it inspired quite the response from some fans. In my WrestleMania predictions, I like everyone else expected Brock to fail and was surprised to see him end the streak.

Personally I don't think he was the best person to do it, I would have preferred it to have been a full-time member of the roster and ideally someone who is on the raise and would have greatly benefitted from claiming a legendary win.

But who knows if the Undertaker has anymore years left in him, if he had won then the overwhelming feeling would have been that it was a disappointing match. Instead at least we got one of the great wrestling promos from Paul Heyman the following night on Raw.

It wasn't helped by the fact that some fans thought the finish was botched as the referee apparently didn't know Brock was winning, the bell didn't ring straight away and there was also a delay in playing Brock's music which added to the confusion.

Still it's hard to imagine that the Undertaker would have been forced to lose, infact it's highly likely that he actually chose to lose to Lesnar with the thought process being that if he had to lose to someone it might as well be someone who he saw as a real fighter.

To see other fans taking a rather more passionate or disturbing reaction, I'd recommend that you check out these two videos.

Eric Young Wins TNA World Title

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Eric Young's title victory indicates that TNA probably sees Daniel Bryan's WWE World Title win as the greatest moment in wrestling history.

To me it's hard to see why Eric was put in this position unless it was because he looks the closest to Daniel Bryan and was well positioned as the company leading underdog.

What TNA don't understand is that Daniel Bryan has been a main eventer and pushed solidly as one for pretty much 8 months straight. He was far and away the most popular wrestler in the WWE adored by the fanbase and battling for the WWE Title and the top company heels.

Finally at the biggest wrestling show of the year, he had his crowning moment. Firstly beating Triple H clean thus proving beyond doubt that he was an A+ player and then winning the main event to become the WWE World Champion. A fitting end to a somewhat frustrating story, but in the end the hero got what he fought for and deserved. The bad guys thwarted.

Eric Young's story is somewhat different, for months at a time he was nowhere to be seen on television. When he does make an appearance it was usually as a comedy figure and the last title he held was as one half the Knockouts Tag Team champions with ODB.

He was used as the inspiration to move the Joseph Park character back to Abyss, but with Abyss turning heel at Lockdown to help Magnus beat Samoa Joe it seemed EY would again disappear from view. When he didn't it appeared that he was there to lose the fall.

Just like Daniel Bryan he was booked into a match that he had to win to earn the right to challenge for the TNA title. Once there he also was victorious but the fans hadn't been on a several month journey with him, they were not emotionally invested in his quest. Truth be told they probably didn't know he was with the company six months ago or even care.

TNA seem in a really bad place, nothing seems to make sense and although it's not quite as bad as the final few months of WCW. The idea that you can realistically compare Eric Young's TNA title win to David Arquette's WCW World title win is not completely foolish. They were both clear signs of the company's desperation.

AJ Styles to Challenge for IWGP Title

AJ Styles made his New Japan debut (as a member of the NJPW roster) at the Invasion Attack show, where he attacked the current champion, Kazuchika Okada. There was very little reaction from the 8500 fans in attendance.

Styles has since been officially added to the Bullet Club, seemingly as a ready made replacement for Prince Devitt who turned babyface but is almost guaranteed to be leaving NJPW. Styles is not the new leader, that position has gone to Karl Anderson.

Styles has basically said that he sees Okada as a 'young boy' and that he was nothing in TNA and he doesn't think much of him now either. It's not the worst idea, but do NJPW fans care what Okada did or didn't do in TNA. In any case the fact he was never used looks badly on TNA rather than Okada.

There seems to be considerably belief that Styles will win when he challenges for the IWGP title, as they want him to be a big star in Japan. Personally I don't see it that way, I'm not convinced that the fans see AJ Styles as somewhere who can be the IWGP Champion at least not yet.

There is also the very slow tease of a match between CHAOS members Okada and newly crowned I-C champion Shinsuke Nakamura stemming from Nakamura's decision to challenge Hiroshi Tanahashi for the I-C title rather than his stable mate for the IWGP title. That without doubt is the biggest match NJPW has on the cards and it would be even bigger if it was Title vs. Title.

I think that match would be hurt if Okada loses the title to Styles even if he was to regain it quickly, although his current reign is now over a year long there doesn't seem to be any backlash against him and there are still big matches to have. A title loss to AJ Styles does not make sense at least not to me.