(Above: IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi)
Man, it’s been too long since I appeared on Wrestling’s Last Hope. Sorry about that. I’ve wanted to do something for a long time but these days time is of the essence. There just aren’t enough hours in the week for me to work five days, have a life, watch all the wrestling I need to for the MFX Podcast and write the kind of rambling, half baked articles you’ve come to know and tolerate.
I blame it on RAW being three hours long. Well, that and Obama. What? Everyone’s blaming him for things he has nothing to do with, why can’t I? Clint Eastwood blamed him for starting the war in Afghanistan and that kicked off about 7 years before he even became President! OK, so he technically blamed an empty chair but you get my point. Just to be clear - I mainly blame RAW.
I realised the other day that I spend a quarter of my waking hours every Tuesday undergoing social media grooming by WWE, tolerating the childish crap they push and I wish they would give us the commentary team on Raw we all deserve, namely Jim Ross and William Regal. One day people, one day.
Sorry about the negative start to what is supposed to be an uplifting article. It’s almost impossible to shrug off this blanket of cynicism when I write or talk about WWE. I think it’s because I’ve been let down so often in the last five to ten years. My cynicism is like an invisible force field that stops WWE from breaking my poor little heart every time they botch a push, ignore logic or bore me half to death with their programming.
But no more! I’ve decided to look on the bright side. It’s time to find some reasons to be cheerful as a fan of professional wrestling. That’s going to mean leaving my blanket of cynicism behind and searching out something that makes me smile. I want to share some of these positive things with you. Mainly in the hope that you’ll think I’m interesting and cool but also because I know a lot of people are like me – jaded and cynical and desperate for something in wrestling to come along and blow the dark clouds away.
So, reason to be cheerful number one – the ever improving product of TNA. Now before anyone clicks the ‘close’ button because I’m talking positively about TNA just give me a second to explain. Come on, move that mouse away from the ‘X’ and give me a chance. I know TNA used to suck. It sucked hard. But trust me, since the removal Vince Russo things have been looking up.
I’m not a fan of Vince Russo. I never have been. I always believe that he was living off a couple of half decent ideas that Vinny Mac streamlined, focused and made better. The man is not a creative genius. He didn’t redefine the industry. He was simply standing in the right place when McMahon got desperate for new ideas. I don’t credit Russo with the Attitude era. That’ll be like crediting the dude who sold ice creams at the Olympic park with organising the whole thing.
I can’t deny Russo brought a desperately needed freshness to WWE 15 years ago. But that was 15 years ago and with Vince McMahon’s bullshit filter working at maximum power. EVERYTHING Russo has done since he was let off the McMahon leash has failed. EVERYTHING.
He killed WCW with his horrendous booking and lack of understanding of what actually draws money in wrestling. His ego got so out of control he actually thought people wanted to see him on TV instead of, oh I don’t know, some professional wrestlers doing professional wrestling.
He damned near killed TNA, or at least failed to improve anything about the TV product. This was despite the fact was given one of the most talented and eventually star filled rosters of the last few years. Anyone who can’t improve ratings with Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, Hogan, Sting and countless others shouldn’t be involved in wrestling. The only reason TNA didn’t die is thanks to Dixie’s old man having more money and patience than sense. These are facts which I can prove using a computer and a power point presentation. We don’t have time for that today. So you’ll just have to trust me.
Anyway, since Russo finally got the boot from TNA earlier this year no one can deny their product has improved immeasurably. I’m not saying it’s perfect because it’s not. Brooke Hogan and Garrett Bischoff being on TV are the prime examples of what is still so wrong with TNA. Oh and Gunner. Yes Gut Check is annoying and Open Fight Night can be confusing. A lot of reality show begging for matches goes on. It’s still vastly better than it was under Russo. Impact has become the best wrestling show on TV in the past six months. With Russo gone the show is focused, well structured and feuds are making sense. They’ve slowed everything down. Yes, the exact opposite of a Russo booked show.
New singles talent have been pushed to the top of the card or in some cases rebuilt to their former glory (Austin Aries, James Storm, Bobby Roode, Samoa Joe). While established ex-WWE talent have been used to help build up said new talent (Bully Ray, Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy). The guys who appear to be simply phoning it in every week, or who have become stale as characters have been put on the backburner (Mr Anderson, RVD, Abyss).
Even Eric fucking Bischoff isn’t on TV anymore – although his biker loving finger prints are all over the current Aces and Eights storyline. Which to his and TNA’s credit has been interesting although maybe now dragging on a little long. Even more welcome is the fact Hulk Hogan is being used to get guys over as opposed to the usual MO of making him the focus of the shows. How long that will last is anyone’s guess but while it does, I’m happy to put up with Hogan in this role.
Impact is worth watching because the quality, variation and dynamic nature of their in-ring product is superior to WWE’s. Even when they do something poorly (Clare Lynch angle, Eric Young/ODB) it’s still done with enough tongue in cheek to make it entertaining.
The main storylines have progressed logically and the Bound for Glory series has made wins and losses so important that it almost feels like we’re back in the days when wrestling companies focused on wrestling as opposed to which zany GM was in charge. You might remember those days, the ones where titles and the wins and losses of the guys fighting for those titles were the most important thing on the show.
Logic, great wrestling, some fun elements, bit of reality TV thrown in if that’s your thing. Impact has been reborn since Russo was exorcised and as someone who said I was done with TNA, I’m bloody glad I gave it another shot. Plus Impact can be viewed without giving up a quarter of your waking day or being brain washed into opening a Tout account.
Now this is not just a chance for me to put the boot into WWE because they too have given us a few reasons to be cheerful in recent months. Daniel Bryan being one. CM Punk another. Sheamus - the world’s happiest arse kicker and proponent of 27 finishing moves, has seen his star rise in recent months.
Dolph Ziggler has been teetering on the edge of the superstar push for a little too long now, but he’s still a great reason to tune into RAW or Smackdown each week. Miz is starting to be rebuilt (similar to Joe in TNA only much, much more metrosexually) after being buried for so long. John Cena has been used in smaller doses, which is of benefit to everyone. While I still think he’s an unrelenting dork and not the kind of focal point of WWE that a 31 year old smark can relate to, I can live with the fact he’s ‘The Man’ in WWE.
Where WWE has excelled is with NXT and the newly revamped developmental division. It’s early days but another reason to be cheerful. WWE should have a touring developmental system, go to different areas of the country and give young talent a chance to perform in front of different crowds and in different environments each week. But like JR and Regal doing RAW commentary, that’s only a pipe dream right now.
What isn’t a dream and is in fact a kick ass reality is that the WWE NXT roster is stacked with talent. You’ve got the crème of the recent indy crop (Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Kassius Ohno) along with all the 2nd and 3rd generation wrestlers we know and love (Ritchie Steamboat, Mike McGillicutty, The Usos) and also some interesting new guys who haven’t come through ROH or out of the nads of a former wrestler (The Ascension, Jinder Mahal). Plus some great Diva’s who don’t all conform to the WWE look.
It’s just a damn shame that WWE feels the need to fill that extra hour of RAW with campy filler and a torrent of social media plugs. At least three of the guy I’ve named could have been built up and debuted on RAW since the show went to three hours…and that’s before I’ve even mentioned Bray Wyatt.
Whether or not Wyatt would survive in WWE with his current gimmick is a debate for another day. What isn’t in question is the fact that this young man has created an interesting, dynamic and original character with an in-ring style that compliments his character perfectly. You must watch this guy cut a promo and work a match. I can’t praise him highly enough. Given he survived the Husky Harris gimmick I’m pretty sure, with the right political connections in WWE, we could see him on RAW or Smackdown before too long in the same style we see (or saw before his injury) on NXT.
Away from the big two and the indy scene in the states isn’t exactly on fire. Attendances are down across the board. While IPPV buyrates are respectable, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of buzz around. It’s not doom and gloom time though because we still have PWG and as their recent Battle of Los Angeles tournament showed, they really do own every other indy promotion when it comes to in-ring action and building new stars. Why don’t they run IPPV, seriously?
The rise of Adam Cole from fresh faced, pretty boy baby face to cocky, arrogant, BOLA winning heel, was brilliant. And they did it over two nights. And nobody saw it coming. Well, I know Stu here thought Cole would win but Stu doesn’t count because he’s like a damn indy fortune teller and is always ahead of the curve.
The Cole vs. Steen feud for the PWG World Title should keep that company rocking until the end of the year. I can’t give enough credit or praise to PWG for what they’ve done over the past couple of years. With an indy scene that needs help, PWG has been quietly going about their business and never failing to entertain. An indy reason to be cheerful.
How about some international flavour to this cheerful menu? New Japan Pro Wrestling, a shadow of its former glory, has spent the last five or so years building up new talent and taking the company in a new and hopefully profitable direction under bookers Jedo and Gado and the company’s new owners. NJPW have a true ace in their ranks. IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi - the best all round worker in the world today. The definition of a main event world champion. Tanahashi is tremendous. The most important Japanese wrestler working today.
One of the best wrestlers in the world, Prince Devitt heads up a tremendous Junior division. Guys like Shinsuke Nakamura, Hirooki Goto, Minoru Suzuki, MVP, Jushin Liger and other well established talents give their roster a really solid foundation. Stars from Mexico and a lot of good imports from other promotions have meant that NJPW cards are always entertaining. The main reason to be cheerful when it comes to NJPW ? Their top two young stars and future aces Kazuchika Okada and Tetsuya Naito.
Naito has gone from being the interesting half of a really good tag team, to the stand out young star in NJPW over the last few years. The comparisons to a young Keiji Mutoh are not far off the mark. The match the two had on a big Tokyo Dome show was a great. He has a star presence and an in-ring style that sets him apart from the pack. He has been involved in thrilling matches this year but an unfortunate serious knee injury in this year’s G-1 tournament has derailed him and he could miss the big NJPW show at the Dome in January.
Naito has benefited from a slow, logical and well built push from NJPW. No stop/start Jack Swagger/Kofi Kingston/Cody Rhodes/Wade Barrett etc nonsense like we see in WWE. NJPW picked him as their new star and have pushed him accordingly. They had faith in his talents and built him up slowly. That’s allowed him to develop as a worker and also connect in a natural way with the fans of the promotion. If he can avoid too many injuries this man will be the ace of NJPW for the next decade.
Right beside him for the next decade, and no doubt opposing him in mind blowing matches, will be Okada. Plucked from obscurity after a pointless spell in TNA (he was Joe’s Asian buddy for about half a show) Okada was chosen as the guy who would have the rocket put on his back and be pushed to the moon. He was renamed ‘The Rainmaker’ and given a cocky, arrogant, super rich sports star persona, complete with irritating blonde dye job and a shower of cash (with his face on the notes) that falls from the sky as he walks to the ring.
The gimmick wasn’t what made him though. What made him was coming back and with only one match back in NJPW he ended Tanahashi’s historic 404 day run as IWGP Heavyweight Champion. It was such an incredible show of faith in a young wrestler and such a bold move by NJPW there is literally nothing in WWE that I can compare it to. Maybe Seth Rollins pinning John Cena clean at Summerslam for the WWE Title would be the equivalent. Maybe.
Once the shock factor wore off Okada (thanks to matches with Naito, Goto and others) was able to establish himself as a true main event level talent and the fans of NJPW didn’t take long to accept this young guy as the real deal. His six month IWGP Title run was cut short recently by Tanahashi in the rematch - one of the best matches of the year. Thanks to a win in the G-1 tournament this year Okada will get another shot at Tanahashi and the IWGP Title.
So there you go folks, a few reasons to be cheerful when it comes to professional wrestling. Yes it’s easy to rip on WWE and TNA and God knows I do enough of that on the MFX Podcast every week. But I don’t hate wrestling. I just get so damn frustrated and forget that if you go out and look for it there’s plenty of good things out there. Plus with things like the upcoming Paul Heyman/CM Punk double act and also the impending TNA British Boot camp (good luck RockStar Spud) coming to our screens I think everyone should at least be able to find one reason to be cheerful with wrestling.
Thanks for reading guys. It’s always fun to come back to WLH and share my brain farts with you all. Please keep supporting the site. If you’d like to read similar brain farts in 140 characters or less you can follow me on Twitter @MFXDuckman. You can also receive a Duckman audio brain fart every week on the Marks for Xcellence Wrestling podcast. Check out www.mfxpodcast.com for more details. Stay smiling and remember there’s always a reason to be cheerful in wrestling!
Until next time…