Saturday 28 December 2013

And That’s My Opinion - Random wrestling thoughts on 2013 By Dave Green (@dagreeno)

At this time of year, the end of year polls start to take effect, as journalists and fans put forward their thoughts on the best shows, matches and performers in the wrestling world. So while everyone else trots out their awards for best PPV (Everyone seems to be going with Summerslam) and match of the year (Punk vs Lesnar seems to be getting the majority), I'll be putting forward my opinion on other areas of output from the pro's and indies.

Worst PPV: WWE Battleground.

Despite having probably the best tag match WWE put out this year, this was hands down the worst of the year. And that was in spite of some good effort from those on the card. Alberto Del Rio and RVD had a thoroughly engaging hardcore match. Antonio Cesaro giving Khali the giant swing was something to behold. And the aforementioned tag between the Rhodes brothers and the Shield with the Rhodes' career on the line was exactly how tag team wrestling should be performed and exhibited. But the PPV suffered from the WWE's continuing trend of throwing on last minute "bonus" matches with no build and the main event going to a no contest. People paid money for this! According to reports on the previous PPV Night of Champions, people got refunds after the result of Daniel Bryan winning the WWE title was overturned the next night on Raw. Giving paying customers non-finishes in the main events is intolerable and I hope WWE learn from this mistake sooner rather than later.

Thank God That's Over: Aces and Eights.

This storyline began in mid-2012 and was already wearing out its welcome when the year began. One by one, the identities of the club members were being revealed to either groans or indifference. When Bully Ray was finally revealed as the leader, the lasting impression was one of disappointment. Essentially the group was the Dudley Boys and lower midcarders. As if that wasn't bad enough, when contracts were being dissolved the club's numbers depleted. Devon was released, as was D-Lo Brown. Doc's contract expired and Ken Anderson's new contract wasn't sorted out until after his showdown with Bully for the title, meaning he was kicked the kerb. Before you knew it, Aces & Eights grand army came down to Bully Ray, Mike Knox and Garrett Bischoff. Wow, what an imposing group! By the time Anderson sent the group packing, their relevance became null and void. Good riddance.

Most blatant move steal:

They say there are no original moves left in wrestling, but there is also a code whereby you do not steal an active wrestler's finisher. Well tell that to Aces & 8's. During the aforementioned showdown between Bully Ray and Ken Anderson in a title match, Knox, Bischoff and Wes Brisco teamed up to deliver a triple powerbomb to Anderson. Hmmm, now where've I seen that before? #believeintheshield

Best TV Show: NXT

Yep the developmental roster of WWE is responsible for churning out the best weekly output of the year. In the year where 3 hour long Raws became the norm, NXT had to fill one hour a week and, in doing so, made each segment relevant to the show. No, not everything worked, but the majority did. It gave a home to those on the main roster that don't have a chance to hone their craft, such as Tyson Kidd, Antonio Cesaro and Natalya. The cult-like following of the Full Sail University crowd gives a feeling that the crowd really care about the wrestlers and what they're watching and has helped the development of many characters. Their love for the comedic talents of Enzo Amore and Colin Cassidy have meant they been featured more than they were originally likely to have been. Their abject disdain for Bo Dallas actually helped create his immensely cheesy and annoying new character traits. It's also the first stop our indy heroes make on their way to the main roster, and the knowledgeable fans know it. Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero), Adrian Neville (PAC) and Sami Zayn (El Generico) have all made big impacts (despite Hero being released) and it looks like Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards will be making an impact soon as well. The women are actually treated like an equal part of the show, with ladies such as Paige, Emma and Bayley being just as big fan favourites as any of the men. But apart from all that, the main reason it has been so entertaining is because it has focused on what happens in the ring, something the rest of WWE and TNA seem to forget. Look at some of the amazing matches that have taken place over the year - William Regal vs Kassius Ohno; Neville vs Cesaro; Paige vs Emma in the Women's title final. And of course, THAT 2/3 fall match between Zayn and Cesaro. Matches of that length with so much focus on the build up just don't happen on the main WWE shows. It almost like a parallel universe. Please don't change, NXT, this is just how you should be.

British promotion of the year: PROGRESS

Now I admit right away that I am not an expert in the world of indy wrestling, and certainly of the UK circuit. My knowledge of wrestling is from what I have seen from the big companies on the TV and what I've seen of the smaller ones either online or from when the Wrestling Channel was still around. A friend of mine with whom I had been in a play contacted me in Autumn 2012 asking if I wanted to join him for a wrestling show in London. That show was Chapter 3. I've been a fan of Progress ever since. Though I haven't seen all the shows, I've been kept up to date through their excellent use of social media. Alongside the excellent wrestling action itself are the storylines, a lot of which were interwoven. The main angle from Progress this year was the heel turn of Jimmy Havoc. What started out as a typical losing streak took a turn with an open contract, a sudden union with the London Riots and an assault on Progress management's Jim Smallman. Sick of being treated like a mascot, Havoc turned his back on Progress. It's always said that a true villain needs to believe in the reasons why they feel the way they do. Havoc's explanation for his actions was so well delivered that you understood his reasoning, even though his actions were not the right thing to do. On top of that was the Natural Progression series, a tournament which built to an awesome final between Mark Andrews and Paul Robinson. Andrews won and then immediately challenged for, and won, the Progress Championship. But then along came Havoc with his open contract and he ended the year with the title. Where Progress goes in 2014 is anyone's guess, but the fact that they can take their rabid fan base on an emotional roller coaster time and time again just shows how quickly they are becoming master storytellers and the ones to watch in the UK scene.

Live pop of the year:

The only other company I saw live this year was Revolution Pro. With a few days to go, I had a look at their site and saw there were still tickets available for their Uprising event. I couldn't believe it wasn't sold out. The names on the card included Michael Elgin, Davey Richards, Colt Cabana, Prince Devitt, Ricochet, Hiroshi Tanahashi in his UK debut. Oh, and some guy called Bret Hart. Say what you want about the UK scene seemingly being dependent on imports, but this was one hell of a card. While the crowd was immensely into every match, particularly the first half ending Devitt/Ricochet clash, the biggest pop came after that bout from a video screen announcement about a future guest appearance. After an interference-filled video of past guests, a ten second pause was filled with a huge WHOOOOOO! The crowd went nuts as Ric Flair was announced for the March 15th show. I can't imagine what the pop will be when he's actually there.

International promotion of the year: New Japan Pro Wrestling.

As you'll see from some of my previous columns, I have developed a great love for NJPW. One of the reasons I went to Rev Pro this year was simply to see Hiroshi Tanahashi, NJPW's ace, in action. The sheer quality of their iPPV's this year was for the most part incredible. From Prince Devitt turning heel and forming the Bullet Club, to Tanahashi's clashes with Kazuchika Okada, to the incredible G1 Climax, NJPW provided hard hitting action and drama like no other on an international scale.

Non-wrestling segment of the year: NXT - Summer Rae vs Emma dance off.

Now while WWE's attempts at comedy are usually cringe worthy, in the right hands it can be very entertaining. This contest between two of NXT's most consistently entertaining characters is a major guilty pleasure of mine. Summer Rae plays the high school prima donna bitch character so well, she makes an excellent foil to the loveable klutz that is Emma. They had the crowd in the palm of their hands, with Rae being booed for all her very good proper dance moves, whilst cheers aplenty happened for Emma busting out the robot and shopping trolley. Then of course was Emma's token move, which has everyone in the crowd thrusting their arms out back and forth in unison. Of course, the segment ends with the heel getting in a cheap shot after losing, but what it lacked in unpredictability, it made up for in utter joy and entertainment. Or should that be Emma-tainment?

Champion of the year: Adam Cole.

2013 was a year where WWE saw the longest reigning champion of the modern era job to The Rock and their two big championships unified (with THREE WEEKS OF BUILD?!?!?). It was a year TNA saw the first ever British world champion crowned while the actual champion defended it around the world. On the independent circuit, no champion was more strongly positioned than Adam Cole. He started the year as PWG Champion and remains that way a year later. Not only that, but he was also booked as ROH world champion. Ring of Honor started the year with Kevin Steen on top with the SCUM faction behind him, before dropping the belt to Jay Briscoe. An injury meant the belt had to be vacated and Cole took advantage, turning heel along the way. Superb performances all year long wherever I've seen him only confirms to me he's been the best champion this year.

Match format of the year: multi-man tags.

Throughout all wrestling this year, tag team wrestling has had resurgence. In WWE, the success of The Shield and the Wyatt Family has resulted in some excellent multi-man match ups. Part of the success of Daniel Bryan in the latter half of the year can be attributed to his performances in many of these match types, as his hot tag sequence got over incredibly well. The various tags in PWG, ROH and Dragon Gate were often show stealers and WWE finally started giving these matches the time needed to develop, culminating in an epic 12-man tag on a recent Raw. Keep it up please!

Free moments:

So much of the best mainstream wrestling moments happened on TV rather than PPV. The aforementioned 12-man tag; Zayn vs Cesaro; Punk vs Cena in the match that should have been Wrestlemania's main event; Dolph Ziggler cashing in to a massive reaction. This is just more reason to not order PPV's If you're not going to get little to no great moments like the above and instead get no-contests and Big Show pushes, what's the point of parting with your money?

Oddly funny moment:

CM Punk is in the ring at Wrestlemania. The Undertaker's gong goes off. Punk audibly screams "YEEEEAAAAHHH!" I found this terribly funny for some reason, as Punk reacted like he was a fan in the arena.

Heel I've loved to hate: Mark Haskins

I hadn't been that familiar with Haskins before this year. I knew of him from his few and far between appearances in TNA and heard he was making his mark (no pun intended) on the Indy scene. My god were they ever right. From seeing him at Progress and Rev Pro, I've been very impressed. He's the ultimate heel - talks a big game and backs it up. I was actually happy when he turned up unannounced at progress Chapter 10 as that was bonus enough. Adam Cole turning up to face him was the cherry on top of the cake. Oddly enough though, I've seen a much softer side of him. As the crowd was leaving the Rev Pro show in October, I saw Haskins with his baby in his arms. It was odd to see this hated heel be such a doting father. I gave him a nod of respect, but was well aware I’d still be booing him when I next saw him.

YouTube show of the year: OSW Review.

Just brilliant. Seek out their YouTube and Vimeo channels. Three Irish guys reviewing the Hulkamania era and, more recently, the Arquette era of WCW, with great clips - some relevant, some random, all entertaining.

Podcast of the year:

Obviously The Indy Corner is in the upper echelon of podcasts, goes without saying! (Is that enough crawling, Stu?) But I can't pinpoint my absolute favourite of the wrestling podcasts so I'll just name a few. The Attitude Era podcast is a great listen. Closely modelled on the aforementioned OSW review, the three that present the show are immensely funny with great observations on the Russo-booked calamities of late 90's WWF. Live Audio Wrestling from Canada have several podcasts, including many interviews with top names. The podcast of their live radio show is worth a listen, particularly a recent one where they go to a caller who has literally fallen asleep on them. And finally, the XFM Breakfast Show podcast featuring Jon Holmes. Nothing to do with wrestling, it's just a bloody funny listen that I want to recommend to you.

Well that’s about it for my ramblings. Thanks for bearing with me. Hope you’ve had a great festive season and have a smashing new year. And just remember, all the above is not fact, it’s just my opinion.

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