Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Every sports fan knows the feeling. The big game is coming and there's undeniable excitement in the year. March Madness means college basketball fans are ready to watch their favorite teams square off to find out who is best, the Fall Classic means baseball fans get to see two of the very best battle it out in the World Series (unless they're Brewers or Pirates fans), and right now, football fans from all over the world are preparing to see whether the Cinderella Cardinals or the Steelers will be the dominant team in this year's Superbowl.

For WWE fans, this is unquestionably the best time to be a wrestling fan. As good ol' J.R. would say, "Business is about to pick up". The three months leading up to Wrestlemania have traditionally been the most exciting in sports entertainment. As soon as the Royal Rumble nears, fans know that big things are going to happen. Ever since the WWE (wisely) decided to bestow the winner of the Rumble with a Wrestlemania main event slot, the build-up to the WWE's #1 show of the year has grown by leaps and bounds.

With the time between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania often being close to two months, the WWE has the advantage and disadvantage of a long time to build a show. Although it might seem like two months of buildup is a no-lose situation, that's not always the case. Back in September of 1987, Ronnie Garvin (who just appeared on Club WWI) won the NWA World Championship from "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. For an inexplicable reason, promoter Jim Crockett ruled that Garvin would not defend the belt until Starcade in November (not only did Garvin not defend the belt against Flair but he didn't defend the belt at all!). The two month buildup proved to be disastrous with the fans turning on babyface Garvin and rooting for Flair. There was little buildup for the rematch and by the time Starcade rolled around, the fans just wanted to see Garvin disappear.

That hasn't been the case for WWE fans. The time between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania has taken on a significance of its own. The Road to Wrestlemania traditionally features many twists and turns, usually for the winner of the Royal Rumble. Whether it's Randy Orton goading Rey Mysterio into putting his Wrestlemania main event on the line, fans wondering how the WWE would handle Bret Hart and Lex Luger winning the Rumble in a tie, or John Cena cashing in his main event match early, fans have hung on the edge of their seats as soon as the Rumble faded to black.

For some fans, the WWE's No Way Out PPV has seemed like a lame duck show. Traditionally airing in February, No Way Out's claim to fame has simply been that it's the final PPV before Wrestlemania. While the WWE has sometimes tried to spice things up by having the winner of the Rumble defending his main event slot, there's only so many times you can do that before it becomes as redundant as Sting winning the TNA Championship every year at Bound for Glory.

Last year however, the WWE came up with the terrific idea of featuring not one but two Elimination Chamber Matches. Each match featured six competitors from RAW and SmackDown! respectively competing for their brand's Wrestlemania Main Event slot. To some, the idea of two Elimination Chamber Matches on one show seemed like overkill but the WWE delivered two great matches. Rumor has it that this year's No Way Out show will feature two Elimination Chamber Matches with SmackDown! and RAW Superstars competing for their brand's world championship. If the matches deliver like last year, you can bet that the WWE will have a new tradition for the show between the Rumble and Wrestlemania.

While every Wrestlemania has not been a grand slam, most fans seem to agree that there's something special about the show. The WWE could put Charlie Fuqnuts against Johnny Comelately on the main event and people would probably tune in just because the marquee reads Wrestlemania. Fortunately, the WWE puts considerable more planning into the show so nearly every Wrestlemania has had something special about it. Whether it's a stellar main event or a show-stealing undercard match, it's hard to think of a Wrestlemania without a Wrestlemania Moment.

By the time you read this, the Royal Rumble will have come and gone but for me, the show is still hours away and the winner unknown. Regardless of who wins, this is an excellent time to be a WWE fans. The JBL/HBK storyline is running on all gears, the Randy Orton attack on Vince McMahon is getting fans talking, and more surprises are undoubtedly in store for fans over the next two months. If this year is like previous years, the Road to Wrestlemania This truly is the most wonderful time of the year for wrestling fans. should be a ride that's enjoyable both in the trip and at the destination.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Why Wrestling Isn't One for All;All for One

I recently finished the first two books of Dumas' D'Artagnan trilogy and began thinking, why doesn't wrestling have its version of The Three Musketeers? After all, throughout much of its rich history, professional wrestling has seen many heel factions. Whether it was the Studd Stable, the Four Horsemen, the Bobby Heenan Family, or more recent incarnations like the Age of the Fall or The Legacy, babyface wrestlers have had to deal with alliances of bad guys. Wouldn't it make sense for the babyfaces to get together?

From my earliest days watching wrestling, I can remember countless situations where the babyface would go down because he couldn't win the numbers game. No matter how good you were, the odds eventually caught up with you. Sooner or later, a heel's partner(s) in crime would clobber you from behind while you were battling his confederate.

Smart promotions like Jim Crockett Promotions acknowledged the situation. Veteran babyface Johnny Weaver (who sometimes provided color commentary for the JCP shows) would always come out after a dastardly 3 on 1 attack and try to rally the babyfaces into forming a group of their own. Week after week, Weaver would try to rally the babyfaces and week after week, the babyfaces would continue to go down to superior numbers.

Looking back, there have been some babyface groups, specifically formed to counteract the numbers advantage of heel factions. JCP had a short-lived group known as Piper's Palace led by Roddy Piper against Sir Oliver Humperdink's heel faction "The House of Humperdink" ( The Apter magazines even got in on the fun by offering fans membership cards they could request to show their support for "Piper's Palace").

The dastardly deeds of the Four Horsemen led to the group The Dudes with Attitude. After countless beatings at the hands of the Horsemen, Sting finally wised up and got a bunch of his friends to help keep Ric Flair's cronies off his back while he challenged Flair for the belt. This actually worked as Sting would go on to win the NWA World Championship from Flair at the 1990 Great American Bash (thanks to the Dudes keeping the Horsemen at bay).

Still, there's a good reason why babyfaces don't normally form factions. There's just something wrong about the idea of babyfaces needing to team up to beat the odds. Looking at the babyface factions, they're usually cheesy whether it's names like The Dudes with Attitude or perhaps the worst one of all-the Union (that short-lived group that was supposed to thwart Vince McMahon's Corporation).

Wrestling at its core is about individual achievement. Certainly, tag team wrestling is a part of the game but even then, wrestling's ultimate prize has always been singles gold. No matter what promotion you've watched, you've undoubtedly heard the maxim that there are no friends when it comes to winning a championship. Fans are reminded every year during The Royal Rumble that it's every man for himself.

No doubt wrestling heroes have a lot in common with the ideal of the cowboy i.e. rugged individualism. A wrestler is on his own and that's the way he likes to handle things. Like the cowboy heroes of old, wrestlers are self-sufficient individuals who can handle things on their own. They don't call the sheriff for help and if they have to handle a gang, they'll find a way to do so.

Certainly there are exceptions. A wrestler may occasionally call in for help but for the most part, he doesn't want it (even if he may need it). This makes for better drama of course as fans can lament a babyface getting beat down, thinking how things would be different if the babyface weren't facing 3 on 1 odds. In the world of wrestling there's a good reason why babyfaces don't live by the code "All for one, one for all".

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The hullabaloo over "The Wrestler"

Just as I predicted last fall, the new indie film The Wrestler has got a lot of people talking about the business and as one might expect, it's polarizing the industry.

Unfortunately for me, I haven't been able to see the film yet so I can't comment on it directly (and won't-there's few things worse to me than people who comment on something they haven't seen). I am looking forward to it and have been since I heard about it. Regrettably, I haven't been able to find it locally and I've been sidelined with the flu the last week.

According to reports over at, Vince McMahon saw the movie and hated it. First off, his opinion may have more to do with his questionable taste (anyone who produced No Holds Barred is immediately suspect in my book when it comes to taste) more than anything else. Even if you discount Vince's taste in entertainment, you can't say his opinion is unexpected. This is after all, the guy who wanted to take wrestling out of "smoke filled halls". It's easy to see how McMahon could be offended at comparing the indie circuits and old school promotions to his WWE (not that I'm arguing that the company should be held up as some sort of paragon). To be totally frank, anyone who expected a big thumbs up from Vince McMahon needs to pull their head out of their ass.

Speaking of pulling your head out of your ass, the funniest story related to The Wrestler was a Sports Illustrated reporter comparing Mick Foley to The Wrestler's protagonist Randy "The Ram" Robinson. While Mick Foley looks like Boxcar Willie, it's clear that he's far from a washed up has-been looking for a chance to break back into the spotlight. The SI review began with this: "At a recent New York city screening of 'The Wrestler', one decidedly homeless-looking fellow stood out in the smartly dressed crowd." Given Mick Foley looks like Boxcar Willie, it's not too hard to tell who the reviewer was talking about (Foley was at the film's premiere to review it for The Slate). Proving that appearances can be deceiving, the SI hack made outrageous assumptions about Foley, implying that he's a washed up has-been looking for a chance to break back into the spotlight. Foley soon schooled the reporter in an online response.

What's really funny to me is how many feuds are developing out of the movie. I haven't seen this much hate since the East Coast/West Coast rap feuds of the 90's. Take for instance a seemingly harmless comment on the film from Matt Hardy (Hardy reportedly blogged about the film but I couldn't find the direct quote anythere. Trying to find anything on Hardy's web site or blog is like trying to find the Ark of the Covenant. I haven't seen a web page this inaccessible since I cancelled my Torch subscription years ago):

"All I can say is WOW, it's an amazing piece of cinema that you will feel," Hardy wrote. "Whether it's good or bad, you will feel it. I can think of several '80s performers that fit a similar mold. One thing I can say though, regardless of what anyone says, the business has evolved.

"The guys and gals are so much more intelligent and responsible in this day and age then they were in the '80s/early '90s. And that's a good thing. A very good thing."

Eric Bischoff didn't take kindly to Hardy's comments and had this to say:

Matt, you are a friggin goof. Lets set aside the fact that your brother is walking a “three strikes and you’re out” tight rope as a result of his drug abuse, and if internet “news” was accurate, suffered the loss of his home and property due to a fire because he was too irresponsible to insure it. Your recent recap of your “lifestyle” frames you as a candidate to the Jake Roberts Hall of Fame. Your suggestion that you and your generation are “smarter and more responsible” than previous generations of wrestlers makes me sick. You are a mid-card talent that should be grateful to even get a check every other week. Enjoy it while it lasts. And rather than looking down your nose at previous generations of professional wrestlers, donate a portion of your check to one of them and ask them to point out all the parallels between your current career path/lifestyle and theirs.

It would be the smartest and most responsible thing you could do.

WOW! While I can't say I agree with Bischoff's comments here (first off, his comments that Matt is a mid-carder and that he needs to look after Jeff first are classic ad hominem attacks.), I could see why he's so hot to defend his generation of wrestlers (hopefully today's generation won't have as many horror stories as his did but it's too early to tell). .

No matter what though, I almost always find Bischoff's comments to be interesting. Whether you agree with him or not, he is entertaining and he's one of those guys who while he couldn't pass a bullshit detector, he's easy to listen to. If you don't read Bischoff's blog, I highly recommend that you do. His recent take on the question of whether or not the government should regulate wrestling hit a bullseye.

Now back to The Wrestler. The film itself is going to spark the whole "culture of death" debate back up. Expect the usual suspects in the IWC and the sheets to try and enlighten the unwashed masses on how much the business needs to improve as they continue making a buck covering it. Like just about any industry, wrestling can be improved.

Wrestlers share a lot with other businesses that deal with celebrity and where Father Time can be a bastard. Anyone who thinks wrestling is the only career where you can be a star one day and a guy managing a Target the next need look no further than the slew of celebrity wash-out shows. VH1's new has-been series Confessions of a Teen Idol is but one showcase for people who couldn't make the transition from fame to obscurity and/or couldn't cope with success.

Are there guys like Randy "The Ram" Robinson in wrestling? Hell yeah! You'd have to be blind, deaf, and dumb not to acknowledge them . However it's not specific to the 80's generation and more importantly, it's not specific to wrestling. When I first started watching wrestling, there were guys working in the ring who were bonafide superstars once upon a long distant time More than a few ended up working what some would call menial jobs, drinking themselves to death, or both.

The sad reality is that there is no guarantee of success in life. You can be on top of the world one day and on the skids the next. The cool thing is that we live in an age where second acts (and even third) can happen with a little luck and a lot of hard work. We all know people who worked in factories or other businesses that saw the bottom fell out. Some learned a new trade and found new success while others sat on their ass and complained about the glory days. What's different about wrestlers? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

So please, for everyone's sake, if you're ready to enlighten us about the "culture of death", please shut the fuck up. Stop patting yourselves on the back for pointing out "the culture of death" and what a mess the wrestling industry is. You haven't done anything to clean up the business and it's clear you're happier talking about it (and profiting from your websites and sheets) than making a difference. Find something else to bitch and moan about. If you want to make a positive change in the business you can start by finding a new career.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bill Watts to be inducted into WWE Hall of Fame

The good folks over at PWInsider are reporting that legendary wrestler/promoter Bill Watts will be inducted into the 2009 class of the WWE Hall of Fame. Watts had a storied career as a wrestler but his real claim to fame has to be his time as the owner and promoter of Mid South Wrestling. The Cowboy booked many memorable angles during his stint (and participated in a few as well) running Mid South (several of which are mentioned in Wrestling's Greatest Moments). Congratulations to "Cowboy" Bill Watts on this great accomplishment!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Saturdays of Glory (Part One)

Once upon a time, Saturdays were the best day of the week for me and my brother. Not only was there no school but wrestling was on! After Saturday morning cartoons, it was time for the best part of the day-Jim Crockett Promotion's (JCP) Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling . With stars like Ricky Steamboat, Jay Youngblood, Blackjack Mulligan, Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka (to name but a few), we had a solid hour of nonstop entertainment.

Things got even better when we discovered that local Canadian station CHCH was broadcasting wrestling. With the help of good weather and a good antenna, we were able to see Maple Leaf Wrestling. The show featured talent from JCP as well as local Canadian stars like Dewey Robertson and Angelo "King Kong" Mosca. With retired Canadian legend Billy "Red" Lyons doing the announcing, we doubled our wrestling fix and saw even more new stars (MLW would sometimes bring in wrestlers from the AWA and WWF which meant they'd show video of them in their respective territories before showcasing them in live matches).

All good things come to an end though and Vince McMahon was buying up TV time like Pacman was gobbling up power pellets in arcades around the country. One day I tuned in to watch Ric Flair and I got Bob Backlund. ARGGGH!!! While the WWF had its fair share of talented wrestlers, the promotion couldn't hold a candle to my beloved Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling. Jim Crockett lined up some of the most colorful wrestlers around while the WWF at the time had guys like Bob Backlund, The Wild Samoans, and Tony Garea. Granted, all of these guys were solid performers but they weren't Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, or Roddy Piper. Worse yet, the WWF booked squash match after squash match with a rare angle thrown in from time to time.

Once in a while, a JCP star would show up in WWF, catching my interest. However it just wasn't the same. Seeing a former JCP favorite "Cowboy" Bob Orton feud with Bob Backlund did nothing for me, especially with the WWF style of booking (The WWF booked their weekly shows with squash match after squash match with a rare angle thrown in from time to time. Worse yet, feuds took forever to develop).

Fortunately for us, there was still Maple Leaf Wrestling to tune in to. After the WWF show , we eagerly tuned in to the often fuzzy broadcasts of Maple Leaf Wrestling to catch up on the latest action in JCP. That and the Apter mags were my lifeline to my favorite promotion. Through them, I kept up with all the storylines and longed for the day when JCP returned to Buffalo.

Then it happened. Oh cruel fate. What did I do to deserve this, not once but twice? One day I tuned in to Maple Leaf Wrestling to see the WWF stars alongside announcer Billy "Red" Lyons. Now, I was stuck with not one but two hours of crappy WWF TV. Vince McMahon had robbed me of my only pleasure in life.

Little did I know that business was about to pick up and the best was yet to come. Cable TV was going to open my eyes to an entirely new wrestling experience.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Top Ten Greatest Moments of 2008 (Part Two)

Here's part two of my look at the greatest moments of 2008. I hope your 2009 is full of great moments, prosperity, and happiness!

5. Floyd Mayweather breaks the Big Show’s nose: Show’s surprise return at No Way Out led to an even bigger surprise when boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather intervened in a Big Show beatdown on Rey Mysterio, breaking the giant’s nose in the process. The fans quickly rallied to the Big Show’s side though when given the choice of cheering cocky outsider Mayweather or rooting for a WWE Superstar. Despite their Wrestlemania match being a complete mismatch on paper, the buildup to the match and the match itself turned out to be surprisingly good.

4. Chris Jericho puts Shawn Michaels through the Jeri-Tron 6000: A good angle can always be recycled and Chris Jericho’s heel turn on Shawn Michaels couldn’t help but bring back memories of Shawn Michaels putting his partner Marty Jannetty through a window during his heel turn way back when. As exciting as the attack on Michaels was, things just kept getting better with Michaels’ wife getting clobbered by Jericho (“accidentally” according to Jericho), Michaels getting revenge in an unsanctioned match, and Jericho winning an exciting ladder match against Michaels. This feud reminded fans what a good feud is all about-escalating encounters that keep the fans on the edge of their seat looking for the face to get the ultimate revenge.

3. Ric Flair’s Farewell Address: Flair’s farewell address was the icing on the cake of a tremendous weekend celebration honoring the greatest performer in the industry’s history. After an unforgettable Hall of Fame ceremony and an emotional final match at Wrestlemania, the WWE assembled a Who’s Who from Flair’s past to honor his retirement from the business. This is how you treat a legend when he finally decides to hang up the boots .

2. Matt and Jeff Hardy win respective World Championships: Matt and Jeff Hardy have always been way over with the fans. Matt and Jeff Hardy have always sold more then their fair share of merchandise. And yet, until recently, they couldn’t get the time of day from WWE Creative. That changed in 2008 when WWE Creative got solidly behind both men and decided that maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to put someone in the main event that has a huge fanbase. Hopefully the WWE will continue to let the fans guide them rather than writers who seem to have lost touch with what sells in professional wrestling.

1. CM Punk cashes in his Money in the Bank Title Match: This moment more than any other, had fans on the edge of their seats, screaming at their TV’s and hoping that CM Punk would continue the impressive list of MITB winners to successfully convert their win into a world championship win. After Batista came out and destroyed Edge during an episode of Monday Night RAW, time seemed to stand still when Punk’s music played and the “Straight Edged Superstar” came out with his MITB briefcase. This great moment epitomized the WWE’s new direction in 2008 as the company finally seemed to recognize talent that is over with the fans and focus on building new stars for the future.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Top Ten Greatest Moments of 2008 (Part One)

10. Undertaker sends Edge to Hell-there are times when I forget what a solid performer the Undertaker is (and let’s face it, for a guy who’s firmly entrenched in the WWE hierarchy, he continues to put on consistent matches and add moves to his repertoire when he could just phone things in). While there's argument that the Edge/Undertaker feud went on a wee bit too long, no one can deny that the finish was nothing short of epic. After defeating Edge in a brutal Hell in a Cell Match, the Undertaker sent Edge “to hell” in an exciting display of theatrics and pyrotechnics that fans are still raving about.

9. Jericho beats Batista in a cage-heels never win in a cage, especially when it’s for a title. Well, not anymore. After the WWE painted themselves into a corner by putting a special referee stipulation into the World Championship match between Jericho and Batista, they had to put the belt on “The Animal”, cutting Chris Jericho's World Championship reign quite short. Jericho fans weren't too thrilled so imagine their surprise when Jericho regained the belt less than eight days later and in of all things, a cage match. Bad booking would have seen run-ins from half the locker room but the WWE came up with a more clever and believable finish. After reaching the top of the cage, the ever crafty Jericho grabbed a piece of metal from the cage rigging and belted “Big Dave” in the mush, stunning the champion just long enough to escape from the cage. A good cage match became a great one thanks to a novel and surprising finish.

8. 2008 Draft-while previous WWE drafts have had their surprises (Cena and Batista switching shows with their world championships perhaps being the biggest), there were always certains-Triple H would stay on RAW, none of the announce teams would get shaken up, and ECW would be home for young stars, not big names. Not anymore. This year saw “The Game” sent to SmackDown! with no trade back, Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler parted ways, and Matt Hardy went to ECW, jumping ratings in the process.

7. Steen & Generico’s quest for the ROH tag titles. While I didn’t watch a lot of Ring of Honor (ROH) this year, my illustrious colleague Zah did and added his ever insightful thoughts to the list with the above pick. Here's what Zah had to say:

"I think the accention and eventual tag title victory by Kevin Steen and El Generico need to be considered the top moment in ROH this past year. The year-long build and hard- fought matches and fan support had all meant that when the titles were finally won, they meant something. "Steenerico" have continued to display to ROH fans since why they are deserving of the titles."

Thanks Zah, and hopefully I'll keep my New Year's resolution to watch more Ring of Honor.

6. John Cena returns at Royal Rumble: 2008 was a year of surprises for WWE fans (most of them pleasant) and things got off to a wild start at the Royal Rumble when John Cena returned from what was supposed to be a six month injury. While some fans weren’t happy to see Cena back so soon, just about everybody thought it was a great surprise. Not only did it invigorate the crowd but it made for a very exciting Royal Rumble and even more surprising was Cena’s decision to challenge the WWE champion at No Way Out instead of Wrestlemania XXIV. Love him or hate him, John Cena knows how to get a strong reaction from the crowd.