Thursday, 28 August 2014

When Wrestling Was Pop Culture, A Look Back At The WWF LIVE in Newcastle, April 1999 By Chris Renfrew @ChrisRenfrew1


When I agreed to write an article for the site many topics crossed my mind on what I could talk about, but for maybe the first time ever, I was lost for words, I had writers block bad. Then it hit me, why not do a review? But not a review of a recent event or of one I have watched on DVD or online, no this is a review of the second ever wrestling show I ever attended. I would have reviewed the first show attended, but that was in 1993 and I was 7, so my memories there pretty much consist of AHHHHH WRESTLING!!!!

The second show I ever attended took place April 3rd 1999 in the Newcastle Telewest Arena in front of 10,000 sold out fans. For whatever reason the WWF decided not do any shows in Scotland, so Newcastle was the next best thing.

In April 1999, the attitude era was in full swing, Wrestling WAS pop culture. Looking back, I couldn't have asked for a better time frame to experience the Attitude Era first hand. I was dressed like wrestling had thrown up on me wearing my Degenerate 69 Hockey shirt, a Kane mask and a Stone Cold Steve Austin foam finger this was going to be the best night ever, ever!!! The night starts with the ever so familiar "No Chance! That's what you've got!". My young self was fully expecting Vince McMahon to make his way to the ring, but no such luck it was the stooges Brisco and Patterson with the Brooklyn Brawler in tow. The building was deafening with boo's and ASSHOLE chants, Newcastle had no love for the stooges. Brooklyn Brawler wanted to become a part of the Corporation but he had to prove himself in a match, his opponent "WHAT DOES EVERYBODY WANT?" Al Snow made his way to the ring with Head in tow to a massive ovation, Al Snow and Head arguably at their hottest point during this time frame. The match didn't last long with Brawler quickly doing the job when Al Snow blasted him with Head....wait, that reads wrong, guess that was the whole point though, the attitude era loved puns! Brawler had failed and would not become a part of the Corporation, the night was under-way and I was pumped, this was as good as I expected it to be.

Next up was some tag team action between the team of Owen Hart and Jeff Jarrett with Debra vs Edge and Gangrel with Christian. Looking back, I am very lucky to have been able to have seen Owen Hart perform live, it would be only one month later he would tragically lose his life. I remeber this being a fast paced contest with the crowd firmly in the Broods corner. I popped big when Christian kidnapped Debra when she tried to interfere and carried her to the back, mainly because it meant I had a full view of Debras ass, hey I was 14 and hormones were running rampant, God I fancied Debra! This distraction allowed Owen Hart to roll Edge up for the three.

Through the power of the internet I was able to get the full run down of the card and in the results listed is Ivory defeating Jackie. No disrespect to either performers but I genuinely have no recollection of this match taking place. The Hardcore Title was on the line next when Hardcore Holly defended the title against Val Venis. Now this got me jacked! I loved the Hardcore Title matches, and though many look back on them with mixed emotions, I always loved the weapons filled stunt fests the hardcore division provided. One moment I vividly remember is Hardcore Holly set the table up in the corner with the intention of whipping Venis through it. As Holly whipped him, Venis reversed sending Hardcore Holly into the table, he hit it with an almighty crash...but the thing didn't break! It just cracked in the middle, it was clear Holly felt the full brunt of it. This wasn't the same tables used on TV, this was whatever table they could find to use, and this thing was solid! They did not hold back because it was a house show, both men gave it their all in a hard hitting afair with Holly getting the win.

As energectic as the crowd had been up to this point, the next contest really brought the place to life when the team of the Blue Meanie and Goldust faced the New Age Outlaws. I was a massive Outlaws fan, I still consider them the most charismatic team ever assembled, no other team personified the Attitude Era the way the New Age Outlaws did. I remember the building in unison chanting "YOU FUCK DUSTIN!" in the direction of the Blue Meanie...this really was a different time. Meanie sold it brilliantly making thrusting motions then shaking his head in disagreement. The Outlaws won one of the most fun matches I have ever witnessed live.

With the place buzzing it was time for more DX as X-Pac faced D-Lo Brown. These two always had magical chemistry and this match was brilliant. X-Pac was hugely over as face, this is before the "X-Pac sucks!" chants started and the term "X-pac heat" existed. X-pac was a DX guy, and DX was the shit! X-pac came out the winner much to the delight of everyone in attendance. Ken Shamrock is a very intimidating figure. As he made his way to the ring, I was almost scared to boo him, being aisle side, I was extremely close to the action and Shamrock is one scary mofo, but not as scary as his opponent. The lights faded to black and the crowd simmered with anticipation, the familiar Organs filled the arena then BOOM! ITS KANE!!! You cannot appreciate the size of this man untill you have seen him in person, he is beyond huge! This was Kane at his peak, the Big Red Machine at his most intimidating. I don't remember too much about the match but I do remember coming off my seat when Kane flew through the air with his flying clothesline. I also remember someone in the crowd calling Shamrock "A Fucking Faggot!" such PC times were 1999. Triple H was once my hero, the leader of DX was my second favourite only compared to Austin, but not anymore, he had just turned his back on DX and joined the Corporation...MOTHERFUCKER!

I was throwing legit anger in his direction as him and Chyna made their way to the ring, how dare they turn on DX! Then, again the house lights went black....DONG! Oh your fucked now Triple H DONG! You know what that means! DONG...IT'S THE UNDERTAKER! Just writing about this and thinking back to this moment has literally given me goosebumps. This was something special, the atmosphere was beyond someting I can describe as the seven foot Undertaker made his way to the ring accompaniied by Paul Bearer. The Outlaws got a pop, but this topped that, the whole building rose for the Phenom. Again the match is blurry bar the finish when the Undertaker hit the Tombstone for the three.

You know I said you cannot appreciate the size of some of these men until you see them in person. The Big Show is that exact case. You cannot comprehend how big he actually he is until you are standing next to him. The Big Show would face the former Corporate Champion The Rock. It didn't take long for the match to break down and The Big Show won via DQ when Ken Shamrock hit The Big Show with a chair as he was about to deliver the chokeslam. It was time for the main event "ladies and gentleman the following contest is scheduled for one fall, and it is for the World Wrestling Federation championship". Just hearing those words sent chills down my spine. First was the challenger being accompanied by the Stooges, the Big Boss Man. I tended to hate all the heels as I should back then, but I always loved the Big Boss Man no matter what, he was just such a bad ass, the ultimate heel. I was pretty much alone cheering for him as he made his entrance. Then the wait, the silence as the anticipation grew, the man that was the leader of this era....SMASH! the sound of breaking glass. I can compare this ovation only to being at a football game and your team score. This was not a wrestling pop, this was something else, this was Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin hit all the key moves, the Lou Thesz press, the elbows, stomping a mud hole. It was all their, and I loved every single minute of it. Austin got the win with the Stunner, then delivered a few more for good measure to the Stooges. He then celebrated as only Stone Cold could, with some cold Stevewesiers with his buddy Earl Hebner.

Looking back on this has gave me a lot of very fond memories and feelings I had almost forgotten about, that is why I have written this as I viewed it that day rather than reflect on phycology or match quality, frankly, that shit didn't matter to me then. All that mattered was having fun and enjoying the wrestling, enjoying the experience of seeing the top Stars of that era do their thing. I wish the younger generation would remember to view wrestling like this sometimes, to stop picking it apart and over analysing every single action, remember it's for your entertainment, so remember to enjoy it. I got to see some the greatest wrestlers of all time in just one evening when many of them were at their peak. At 14 years old during the Attitude Era, I really was part of a lucky generation who could to witness how hot the attitude era really was and what it was like when wrestling was pop culture.

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.