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WCW Isn’t The Heel Anymore: WWE Turns Its Sworn Enemy Face

February 26, 2015 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

The punchline is, “D-Generation X fired the first, and most important, shot in the Monday Night Wars.”

As with all things in Triple H’s legacy spit-shining, it’s an absurd statement, and most certainly on the more gut-busting end of the meter. The claim that an Army fatigue-clad DX turned the tide in the Monday Night Wars was first offered by WWE in the summer of 2002 on a show called Confidential, a Saturday night parade of fluff hosted by Mean Gene Okerlund. Some theorize that the statement was made in conjunction with Stone Cold Steve Austin’s ugly walkout of WWE that June (compounded by domestic assault charges later that same week), and the company began a slow whitewash of Austin in order to distance themselves from a potential felon.

After all, nobody was more important than Austin himself to turning back the challenge of Eric Bischoff’s star-studded World Championship Wrestling (well, him and the dips–ts at Time Warner, they’re pretty important as well). If Triple H challenges Vince McMahon to a brawl on the April 13, 1998 edition of Raw, do they win the ratings that night? If Triple H confronts Mike Tyson the previous January, does the news media go just as gaga? Saying Triple H led the charge against WCW is like saying The Departed won Best Picture because of Marky Mark.

Even with Austin restored in his place on WWE’s all-time Mount Rushmore, Triple H is sticking to the in-character claim that he was General Patton with a “Suck It” shirt. Granted, it could be easily dismissed as the claims of a deluded villain, thinking he was somehow responsible for a monumental shift of the upper hand in wrestling lore, but nobody calls him out on Front Street for it. Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and former WCW Champion Booker T say nothing to dispute the claim. Rambling parrot JBL (a pull-string doll could do what he does) will confirm the story, even at one point Monday saying he helped bring WCW down (which is like saying The Departed won Best Picture because of Martin Sheen’s desk blotter).

It is what it is: Triple H has to be the heel, but he can’t be a weak heel. Whether face or heel, his greatness will always be confirmed, never questioned. It’s why Ric Flair was his running buddy on screen for so long, to remind everyone (WHOO!) by God (WHOO!) that Triple H (WHOO!) is the King (WHOO!) of Kings! WWE is to be a living legacy to its inheritor, and history is written blah blah blah.

WCW’s legacy, on the other hand, is a paradox in WWE storytelling. On the one hand, episodes of the former YouTube show “Are You Serious?” would air clips of WCW’s foul-ups (of which there were more than plenty) with an affixed hash-tag, “#WCWRuinsEverything”. Nevermind the irony of WWE, the land of blown opportunity, casting aspersions on another wrestling company’s errors, but the tag is a good look into the mind of WWE thought: maybe if we remind everyone how stupid WCW was sometimes, everyone will forget our own creative incompetence. That “Are You Serious?” aired around 2012-13, over a decade after WCW died, makes the grave-pissing reek of desperation and insecurity.

Insecurity brings us back to Triple H, he of the phallic sledgehammer that symbolizes his might and will. So Triple H rambles about helping put WCW out of business, and makes the story about Turnerland lifer Sting waiting 14 years to exact his ultimate revenge. This is the weird part of Triple H that has to look oddly heroic, even as the obvious villain in the tale. During the Monday Night Wars, fans gradually, then swiftly, shifted to WWE until the ratings were as lop-sided as Rick Allen on a trapeze bar. Only the diehards really stood by WCW as it crumbled without pause.

WWE always taught its fans that WCW was the bad guy in all of it, filling their cards with old fossils (who does this sound like?) while underselling venues (I ask you again) and not pushing the younger talents (maybe WCW didn’t have enough brass rings). Smear tactics in the name of war aside, it’s kinda silly that Triple H is portrayed as both a ruthless asshole that rules as a dictator over his roster (which is fine) while also playing conquering guerrilla that single-handedly altered the course of wrestling history (zuh?).

It’s especially bizarre thanks to the very WWE Network that Triple H and others (understandably) whore incessantly. Thanks to the service, I can watch every WCW pay-per-view ever, plus the first 16 months of Nitro, a period in which the company was as revolutionary as anything we’ve ever seen in wrestling.

1995 episodes of Nitro give us eight-minute junior-heavyweight showcases, rapid-fire stories, and a “who’s gonna show up?” chaotic vibe that blew away the slogging Raw of the time. And I find that most 1995 Raws wipe the floor with the modern product’s awful pacing and self-congratulating, so you can imagine how I feel 1995 Nitro compares to WWE today.

It’s weird, but the very person who will be running WWE when Vince finally goes has actually made me miss WCW, in large part because of his constant mentioning of it. Triple H was once the logo for his own self-importance, but now he’s an avatar for a WWE that makes me miss spectacular alternatives. And forget Nitro; the Network has War Games out the ass. Sure, the 1998 version was crap through a strainer (#WCWRuinsEverything, LOL!), but the 1991 and 1992 editions are a nice alternative to Daniel Bryan and Paul Heyman trying to convince me that Roman Reigns is Jesus in SWAT attire.

There’s a thick, viscous irony in a red-hot WWE once leading the charge against a rotten WCW, followed by an eventually-sterile WWE exhuming WCW through an inadvertent call for sympathy, and a treasure trove of video history that brings back memories.

WCW isn’t the heel anymore. Given what WWE presents to its fans, the departed promotion is now the default babyface.

WWE: The Destruction of the Shield

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NXT Woman Up: Let Sara Del Rey Have A Run

February 13, 2015 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

If you’re like me, your jaw was on the floor back in May, watching the tournament final between Charlotte and Natalya to determine the new NXT Women’s Champion. Your jaw went slack because you had no earthly idea that a women’s match under the WWE banner could be this good.

Hold onto your Trish Stratus/Lita battles; they were indeed good, but it’s my opinion that their matches fall considerably short to what Charlotte and Natalya did on May 29. I had no idea Charlotte could have such a performance in her. Unfairly, I had written her off as just another legacy act, like Wes Brisco or Dakota Darsow or whoever, hired by a company whose only ideas for pushing said act involves gushing about their father’s legendary credentials (this is known as The Tamina Snuka Principle).

With Charlotte and Natalya putting forth such a heated battle, as though winning the NXT Women’s gold meant more to them than anything on the planet, it’s impossible not to watch that match and be more than impressed.

It’s reign as the best women’s match in WWE history was dealt a crushing blow on Wednesday night, when Charlotte dropped the strap in a fatal-four-way to former partner Sasha Banks, the match also including the precocious Bayley and unretired Irish starlet Becky Lynch.

In the eyes of the most ardent know-it-all fan, the women’s four way occupied the same space as an enthralling can-you-top-this battle between the former Prince Devitt and PAC, and a delightfully-brutal main event that wrote a new chapter in the Kevin Steen/El Generico rivalry. That women’s four way rivaled, and in some cases exceeded, both of those matches in gut-instinct star ratings doled out by enthralled fans (I went ****1/4 for Finn Balor/Adrian Neville, **** for the four-way, and ****1/2 for Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn, but it’s damn close).

Charlotte’s in-ring acumen had a tough act to follow in Paige, whose masterful performances at such a young age buoyed a 300-day Women’s Title reign, a portfolio of work that led to her receiving a thunderous pop from the day-after-WrestleMania crowd when she’d arrived to occupy the ring with AJ Lee. By all accounts, Charlotte will be headed to the main roster soon, where she’ll likely trade harder on her father’s name, per the usual anemic creative oozing from between Vince McMahon’s ears.

New champion Banks looked to be a relatively one-note act palling around with Charlotte and Summer Rae at different points as “The BFFs” before ramping up into a conceited-bitch act, calling herself, “The Boss”. Any notions that Banks was more fluff than fire went out the window at NXT: R Evolution in December, following a thoroughly good performance with Charlotte for the title. The match was somewhat lost among Sami Zayn’s NXT Title win, Kevin Owens’ debut (and eventual beatdown of Zayn), and Finn Balor’s body-paint special, but those that watched Banks quite literally saw an evolution of her ring work. Her getting to pin Charlotte on Wednesday has more than enough merit – she can carry the division as a snotty heel for quite some time, with the lovable Bayley, current ally Lynch, and the spunky Carmella as prospective rivals.

I’d like to throw a name into the hat for another possible opponent.

If Charlotte’s getting the call-up, one woman who could certainly fill the void (you’ve already read the header of the article, so you can connect the dots) would be Sara Del Rey.

Yes, the same Sara Del Rey who currently puts these NXT women through master class after master class to sand the edges off their frames prior to their in-ring spectacles. For over two years, the real-life Sara Amato has fine-tuned all of the women you see performing at Full Sail University, doing more for women’s wrestling and the advancement of the gender in the sport at large off-camera than some of the trade-show models on Raw do on-camera.

I throw Del Rey’s name into the hat and I’m not alone; ask any fan that’s watched her perform in Ring of Honor or Shimmer or wherever. In the pantheon of Best Women’s Wrestlers of the Last Ten Years, it’s a crowded class. Names like Awesome Kong, Cheerleader Melissa, Gail Kim, Paige, and others will invariably make the list, but Del Rey occupies the same space. Anyone trained by Daniel Bryan and worth teaming with Chris Hero and Claudio “Cesaro” Castagnoli boasts one hell of a wrestling pedigree.

Yet, all she does for WWE is train others, and that’s a bit bittersweet for her fans. Del Rey doesn’t have the lithe model’s body or the high cheekbones that Kevin Dunn covets, but that’s not relevant in NXT. Last I checked, the new men’s champion is a bit blubbery with a cauliflower nose and little muscle definition. Doesn’t stop him from being bought as a human wrecking machine, does it?

NXT has become a top-flight independent with WWE production values (I’ve nicknamed it, “Ring of Hunter”). If the hefty Kevin Steen, undersized Kenta, and others can make it based solely on their outsize skills as performers, so can Sara Del Rey (who, I’ll add, is nowhere near a trainwreck in the looks department).

Del Rey vs. any of the women currently in NXT, plus the in-limbo Charlotte, or even a visiting Natalya or Paige, definitely get my attention. I’d just as soon watch Del Rey vs. Paige as I would the next chapter of Owens vs. Zayn, or another Balor/Neville epic.

NXT has done so much to revitalize the decaying embers of wrestling fandom, providing a spark of fun and energy days after Raw unimaginatively slogs to the three-hour finish line, that I believe it’s a strong possibility we’ll see Del Rey on camera sooner rather than later. It’s a career victory lap of sorts for a wrestler worthy of the spotlight.

If Raw is the death march into oblivion, NXT can boast the Death Rey as just another coup for wrestling’s greatest weekly show.

WWE: The Destruction of the Shield

The Randy Savage Story DVD

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Kevin Owens Is Money

February 12, 2015 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

Someone noted on Twitter Wednesday night that Kevin Owens is a good composite of the qualities that Mick Foley and CM Punk brought to the table. Like Foley and Punk, he doesn’t have the appearance of a wrestling megastar, that over-inflated musculature, that adorns your kid’s lunchbox. The mere appearance of Owens betrays the flawed idea that a wrestler should turn heads at the airport. To a non-fan, Owens might look like that one fraternity brother that could drink around 80 beers before staggering into the girl’s dorm and puking in a clothes hamper. And we all know that guy, don’t we?

But who cares? Who cares what a wrestler looks like when he’s so utterly convincing at everything he does? Foley’s blood-chilling monologues and blood-spilling ring work put him many cuts above the average wrestler. Punk’s matter-of-fact, well-spoken disdain for the world made him a must-see misanthrope, and his grueling work in the ring reinforced how unique he truly was as a wrestler.

There was a time when WWE would have likely passed on signing Owens, based on his billowing physique more than anything else (just as WWE may have with Foley had Jim Ross not gone to bat for him). Back in the era of John Laurinaitis making hires, it seemed as though every call-up was tall enough play small forward in the NBA. Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Drew McIntyre, Wade Barrett, Mason Ryan, and forgotten stiffs like Eli Cottonwood and Jackson Andrews decimated the height chart, but a few (particularly the last three) didn’t measure up with any conviction.

When Triple H began populating his NXT with tried-and-true independent and international talent, the former Kevin Steen was a natural hire. His punishing work in Ring of Honor and elsewhere aside, Owens is more than just a Vader-like brawler with convincing strikes and an offense that keeps chiropractors’ schedules full. He’s also a gifted actor, able to captivate with displays of menace, frustration, shock, straightforwardness, diabolical intent, and even slight vulnerability with subtle twists of the dial. When you get past the Package Piledrivers that look about as safe as a Slip-n-Slide over a bed of nails, Owens puts most wrestlers to shame in the subtlety department.

There’s a striking irony in that, that a wrestler who routinely finds his name in the running for fan-chosen Best Brawler awards annually could master the little nuances that make a good wrestler a great one. If you’ve followed him in his NXT run, you’ve probably enjoyed the story between he and Sami Zayn, former friend/enemy El Generico in ROH (and if you followed *that* story, you REALLY enjoyed it).

In a story far too complex to be housed on Monday Night Raw, Owens assaulted Zayn after celebrating his NXT Championship win with him in December, despite the fact that Owens had only debuted less than two hours earlier. Owens was portrayed not as a one-note monster, but as someone that still respected long-time travel partner Zayn, indicating the attack was little more than a professional statement: Owens has a family to feed, and wants the money to go along with being champion. Rather than outright heel it up, Owens walked a tightrope between “I do what I have to do” lunch-bucket hero and dangerously violent fiend, adhering to a personal code of ethics that clash with the happiness of others not in his shoes.

In promos leading up to the February 11 showdown, Owens reinforced his points without resorting to put-on yelling or phony, mischievous laughter. There were no corny utterances of a tacked-on catchphrase. Owens maintained his “it’s just business” goading, casting a slight aura of whimsical negligence; he didn’t take glee in powerbombing Zayn against the apron, but he didn’t feel terrible either. Zayn, himself no slouch in the acting department, answered Owens’ indifference with an intentionally-forced display of verbal heart, a mild-mannered champion promising to kick Owens’ ass. After taking the powerbomb into the side of the ring, Zayn had to convince himself that he could turn back the calmly-callous goon.

The match itself was tasked with keeping a great-match streak alive, following a Finn Balor-Adrian Neville epic and a four-way Women’s Title bout that puts anything the Bella Twins do to shame. The match took on the qualities of a Sting-Vader match from 20 years ago, Steen pummeling Zayn into the ground recklessly, at times effortlessly. The head-game was a nice touch, since Owens is just as dangerous psychologically, and his reminder to Zayn of who the natural aggressor was served to lay the foundation for a deliberately-slow build to the match.

As the match reached a fever pitch, the twist came to the story: Zayn whacked his head on the entrance ramp after a quebrada, and Owens went into overdrive. A pop-up powerbomb couldn’t finish, despite Zayn showing signs of a head injury. Two more against the referee’s wishes couldn’t finish either, but Zayn wasn’t exactly kicking out with authority. Owens then does what comes naturally to someone of his moral stock, dragging his old friend off the mat and landing two more skull-rattling powerbombs before the match is stopped. Even fans chanting “FIGHT OWENS FIGHT” in the early going were silenced at the uncomfortable direction the match had taken.

Owens’ unvarnished jubilation in victory culminated two months of how to build an effective wrestler, with enough nuance to satisfy the smarter audience, and more than enough caustic boom to please the Michael Bay end of the fan spectrum.

There will be those who ask, “Why can’t WWE do this with Roman Reigns? Why can’t they give him a character like this, and a story like this, to work with?” I would counter by noting how much Owens brings to the table, after a decade and a half of honing his skills. There aren’t many wrestlers, pushed or not, that can blend these traits into one hefty package, but Owens does, making it look all too easy in the process.

The new Foley? The new Punk? Kevin Owens is more than worthy of his own pedestal, with well-earned days of glory ahead.

WWE: The Destruction of the Shield

The Randy Savage Story DVD

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Roman Reigns As A Human Actually Works

January 27, 2015 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

A year ago following Royal Rumble Abortion Mark One, Batista was receiving the Joan of Arc treatment in his clumsily-designed victory. Between that, Daniel Bryan’s utter absence from the Rumble match itself, and CM Punk’s startling walk-out from WWE, it seemed as though a star was born out of the wreckage of a gimmick match gone bust.

Indeed, Roman Reigns couldn’t have been booked a whole lot better in last year’s Rumble. He eliminated 12 men, which stood as the new record. He scowled, punched, speared, and roared with the intensity that Goldberg had used to forge his own name in 1997-98. Angry fans after Sunday night may find it sacrilegious to even compare Reigns with “The Man”, but it’s not too much of a stretch.

Up until Reigns regretfully served up ipecac-laced coffee to the McMahons this summer, he’d cultivated a Goldbergian image of muted monster, one that can break ribs with a charging tackle, or collapse you with a leaping punch, his mane of hair whipping like Predator dreadlocks.

Much like Goldberg, Reigns’ appeal was twofold. There’s that force of nature element already mentioned, and then there’s the aura of mystery surrounding them. Goldberg barely spoke. The only sentences he seemed to speak once upon a time were merely sentences in the academic sense; they were more or less grunts that took on an extra syllable.

Same with Reigns. While Dean Ambrose delivered his manic soliloquies, followed by Seth Rollins delivering hard-boiled dialogue with a raspy drawl, Reigns would merely punctuate the sentence with a chilling thud, his expression barely changing as he would say all while saying very little.

The dynamic worked, because all we knew about Reigns, character-wise, was that he was a scary guy that indiscriminately hurt people in some grasp at the vague idea of justice. When Goldberg was notching off that undefeated streak, it was all ‘arrive, kill, leave’. Same with Reigns. And that’s how we like our monsters: inhuman. There seems to be little chance that a wrestler can tightrope the pencil-thin line between wrecking machine, and articulate everyman. Mark Ruffalo’s price-tag for playing The Hulk in WWE would be astronomical.

If you’re going to humanize the monster, you run the risk of killing off the mystique. To this day, exasperated fans will bring up Goldberg’s early foray into WWE where a twitchy Goldust placed his silky wig upon the monster’s head, and Goldberg simply smiled, rather than doing what the old Goldberg would do, which is rip Goldust’s head off, and place it on a stake like Colonel Kurtz.

We all knew something was up when Reigns, post-hernia surgery, took part in satellite videos to assure everyone of his imminent return. When it became apparent that Reigns’ line-reading was less lively than your phone company’s automated menu, the aura cracked and snapped. Reigns was no longer the icy killer; now he was Frankenstein’s mumbling monster trying to flirt with the manufactured Bride.

Since no other wrestler received so much airtime while injured (save for Triple H’s “Beautiful Day” videos thirteen years back), the horror became apparent: THIS GUY is on the fast track to going to WrestleMania, and these are the promos we’re going to be hearing along the way.

If Reigns had his larynx crushed in a tragic dune buggy accident instead of suffering an incarcerated hernia, he doesn’t get booed so caustically at Sunday’s Rumble. If you can’t talk, you don’t have to take Vince McMahon’s hack-work scripts and then try to succeed with them. Granted, Vince could just as easily have had Reigns communicate through piano playing like Holly Hunter, since a film released in 1993 is on-par with McMahon’s pop culture awareness (see ‘Is, Whoomp There It’ from the Rumble).

The awful satellite chats gave way to in-arena script-recital, featuring such anti-classics as “Sufferin’ succotash” and a Jack and the Beanstalk monologue that was roughly the length of a Tarantino director’s cut. That’s probably the biggest reason Reigns was booed out of Philadelphia. If Daniel Bryan doesn’t win, that sucks, but had Damien Mizdow, Dean Ambrose, or Dolph Ziggler won, the sting would have been lessened considerably. All three are also underdogs championed by the dedicated viewer, so no booing would have been necessary.

Reigns, meanwhile, through his promos has crystallized into the obvious chosen one of a regime that constantly clashes with fan sensibility, and lost that killer’s edge that made him the last hope against Batista one year ago. It’s akin to being neutered. Bryan, Ambrose, and Ziggler all have an edge about them to some degree: Bryan’s remarkably human, Ambrose is masterfully spastic, and Ziggler’s sure to leave veiled comments about what a soulless hellhole WWE is on his Twitter, so you can’t really accuse any of being corporate lapdogs. Reigns bellowing “BA-LEE DAT” with all of the rigidness of a rusty crowbar while cribbing Merrie Melodies for promo fodder is the antithesis of that.

Then something happened Monday. With Raw officially snowed out, WWE made use of their studios for in-house interviews, including one with Reigns that was shockingly authentic. Reigns spoke about his family ties, and touched on the negative crowd reaction. That last point was way too close to the smiley Cena-esque concept of, “They can cheer or boo, they paid their ticket and I respect them all” patter, but it sure as hell beats him saying something like, “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack won the Rumble, using his mighty fist.”

The monster’s been humanized, and yet it seems like the road to revitalizing the monster could be legitimate humanization. We lionize the human Bryan, and that makes his kicks and dives more believable: because we *want* to believe in him. Promos like this one, where Reigns comes off humble, realistic, and personable would do more good than trying to recreate Cena’s pandering-for-kids crap, which nobody does well, maybe even least of all Cena.

This won’t end the Reigns hate overnight, but it’s a move in the right direction. Which begs the question: if WWE knows how to make their wrestlers look good on TV, why does it take a snow day for them to actually put these steps into motion?

WWE: The Destruction of the Shield

The Randy Savage Story DVD

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No Riot Necessary: Just Unsubscribe from the WWE Network

January 26, 2015 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

On the whole, the 2015 Royal Rumble was better than last year’s immediately-infamous show, not that last night’s event isn’t already being burned alive like Samuel L Jackson at Calvin Candie’s estate in Django Unchained. After Daniel Bryan was eliminated, Samuel L could have tried to rally all of Philadelphia to help him get the motherf–king snakes off the motherf–king plane with him, and they would have booed him out of the building as well. Or somebody would’ve yelled that Capital One sucks, whatever.

This space isn’t meant to disparage the name of Roman Reigns, mostly because he doesn’t deserve the venom. Hell, technically, Batista didn’t really deserve it last year; he was just playing the role he was paid to play. When WWE reversed course and put Bryan into the spotlight, Batista not only cleanly submit to him at WrestleMania, but cleanly lost to the Shield members at the ensuing PPVs. What more can you ask from a guy? He did his part to push the next generation forward when he was, quite presumably, set to win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. He even admitted afterward, during the promotional blitz for Guardians of the Galaxy, that Bryan not winning the Rumble was the wrong call.

That’s why I won’t be dumping on Reigns, in spite of the awful job he’s done trying to make the scripted lines he’s given work. Reigns isn’t a miracle worker, that much is evident. He does work hard and, at one time, connected with the fans at a high level. That’s when he was part of the Shield, and could get his stuff in between Dean Ambrose’s energy-setting brawling and Seth Rollins’ daredevil act.

The winners of the matches never deserve the vitriol from fans. They’re just toy soldiers in Vince McMahon’s backyard sandlot, getting gunned down when he decides they should be gunned down. Just so happens that one of the soldiers was fragged by a pyrocentric television last month.

As soon as the Rumble ended, Reigns passed by the grand poobah of all cliche signs: “If ________ wins, we riot.” That became played out when John Cena held up one such sign at the end of SummerSlam 2007. Presumably, a chuckle was had by all during his silent rejoinder of, “Ha, that’s cute”, metaphorically spitting on the feeble sign. Unless you’re perfectly willing to spend a night in jail by inducing a chair-throwing riot the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the ECW days, the sign is merely a whine.

Booing is a little more forceful, but even then, all the booing in the world didn’t send Daniel Bryan to the WrestleMania XXX main event until six weeks after the Pittsburgh Rumble. That was coupled with the bad press of a CM Punk walkout, and an initially chilly reception to WWE Network, particularly trying to figure out how to acquire and operate the damn thing.

Bottom line is, WWE is only moved to give the fans what they want if the very structure of the company is threatened (Cena proves that booing forces no hands). Bad press is more their worst enemy than booing, much in the same way that stockholders are more important to Vince McMahon than the actual fans. It’s a screwed up system, of course, but it’s what we have when the second-best wrestling company is so far behind WWE in terms of accessibility and clout.

If you’re as angry as last year over WWE’s choice in booking, put your money where your mouth is. I mean that literally and save the $10 a month.

As I write this late Sunday night, there are many fans allegedly cutting their WWE Network subscriptions. I say allegedly, since not everyone is posting Vine videos of them actually going through with it, so it could just be hot air. It’s a month to month service though, so it’s not like deciding whether or not to have a limb amputated. Reportedly, the cancellation page actually was overloaded at some point around 11:30 and crashed. That’s some rage.

The next investor’s conference call is on Thursday, February 12. As a rule, they pretty much have to reveal the number of subscribers the Network has. If it’s less than the last time (WWE announced in late October a sum of 731,000, but that reflected the end of the quarter in September, so tonight’s cancellations probably wouldn’t factor in for the next call), that’s pretty bad news headed into WrestleMania.

A WrestleMania, as it stands now, that features Brock Lesnar against Reigns for WWE Championship, barring some deus ex machina that factors Bryan, or even Dean Ambrose or Dolph Ziggler or some other make-good, into the title match.

You don’t need to threaten a fake riot. Instead, if you’re that mad, commit real action and cut off WWE from your money.

The less money WWE has, the less they have to fly Rock in and endorse Reigns, which of course means WWE clearly knew the fans would defecate all over Reigns winning, which in turn essentially means the company clearly knows they do things that they know the fans won’t like, unable to even plead ignorance of fan tastes.

A riot is a social response. So’s clicking ‘unsubscribe’. The latter won’t hurt your social standing any.

WWE: The Destruction of the Shield

The Randy Savage Story DVD

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RAWlternative Delivers Endless Stream of Fresh and Frenetic Action

January 20, 2015 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

The stream began two minutes late. Not a big deal; I’ve attended independent wrestling shows that have begun an *hour* late. There was a running gag at a CZW show back in 2002 (which began 45 minutes late) that the “2:30 bell time” is actually what time the ring bell arrives via courier. Two minutes? Whatever.

That promoter Drew Cordeiro’s special “RAWlternative” stream began a touch later than the 7:30 PM start time is an inadvertent nod to the helter skelter nature of indy showmanship. The scene of independent wrestling bears uniqueness in its commonality, with absurd personalities weaving with globe-trotting strong-style warriors, putting together bouts with a million kickouts interspersed with moves you’ve never seen before. The crowds are all the same: Bullet Club and CM Punk-shirted chums with scruffy beards and Rivers Cuomo glasses.

To put it another way, if you’ve been to one quality independent show, you’ve by extension been to all of them. Chances are, if you’re any sort of wrestling fan, this won’t exclude you from going to many more.

Independent icon Colt Cabana welcomed viewers with a brief statement at the event’s outset, noting his own notoriety in light of his aiding CM Punk in shaming WWE this past November. Cabana spoke of how yesterday’s indy standouts are today’s WWE stars, and thus today’s indy standouts are tomorrow’s WWE headliners. That, or their tomorrow’s acerbic podcast hosts that don’t mind holding WWE’s head into the boiling cauldron for a spell, either or.

Cordeiro, promoter of Rhode Island-based Beyond Wrestling, assembled the squared circle equivalent of a pot luck dinner, sampling a match from thirteen different North American promotions, each taking place in 2014. Each promotion plays to a small but devoted fan following, cramming mini music halls and rec centers wall to wall. None of the promotions therein quite has the renown of Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, or Combat Zone Wrestling (some will argue there are a couple of exceptions), but virtually each contributor has the know-how to put on an entertaining show, if their sample matches are an indication.

Of the thirteen matches, there wasn’t a single bad one. A few had their disjointed moments and the occasional botched spot, but the spirit was evident in each. It’s hard to be bored or picky when you’re enthralled by manic energy.

A little synopsis of each.

KEVIN STEEN VS. MIKE BAILEY (C*4 Wrestling, May 3, Ottawa, ON)

During his final indy run before changing his name to Kevin Owens, the fearsome Steen engaged in a brutal contest with the diminutive Bailey, now a CZW regular with a martial arts-based repertoire. Steen praised fellow Canuck Bailey highly to me when I interviewed “Wrestling’s Worst Nightmare” in April, as Bailey took part in CZW’s annual Best of the Best tournament, and it’s easy to see why. The two pieced together the modern indy equivalent of a Sting/Vader war, with Steen breaking “Speedball” in half with a familiar powerbomb on the apron. Bailey overcame the odds (with a shooting star double knee drop; yes, really) to win the thrilling bout, which the remaining dozen were going to have a hard time topping.

NINJAS WITH ALTITUDE VS. THE FOOD FIGHTERS (Inter Species Wrestling, April 19, Danbury, CT)

That above header is a legitimate header, one not concocted with the help of cold medication. I cannot speak for the bookers or the performers, however. Kidding aside (or am I?), the tag team attraction was the sort of far-fetched curiosity that makes you laugh, and then as Roger Ebert would say, makes you laugh at yourself for laughing. Ever see a masked chef with an irrational fear of ring ropes attempt a top rope dive, and then get the heebie jeebies when he realizes he’s standing on ropes? That’s the kind of high-concept capers you get here.

KEITH WALKER VS. EDDIE KINGSTON (All-American Wrestling, November 29, Berwyn, IL)

Two bulky competitors of some renown (acid-tongued Kingston in Ring of Honor, Walker briefly in WWE developmental in 2007) transitioned the parade from comedy to a hard-hitting element, exchanging strikes while Kingston spewed some decidedly non-PG language in intervals. Kingston sold a lower back injury (complete with DDP-brand rib tape) throughout the bout but pulled off the gritty win. By this point, it was clear that each match, thus each promotion, really was bringing something different to the buffet.

TAKAAKI WATANABE VS. ANDY DALTON (Inspire Pro Wrestling, April 27, Austin TX)

Watanabe stopped in the home of Uproxx scribe Brandon Stroud during his US excursion, working with a man sharing his name with the Bengals’ playoff-cursed ginger quarterback. Dalton looked pretty fluid, and worked very well in a case where there may have been some form of language barrier, while Watanabe put forth some realistic selling and timing not often seen in indy wrestling (a common and harmless criticism). What could have been a style clash was a well-defined good vs. evil bout, with Watanabe prevailing.

KYLE O’REILLY VS. GARY JAY (St. Louis Anarchy, December 5, Alton, MO)

Lowest quality production so far, the Zapruder-ish film work and lack of commentary was ‘made up for’ by a volume issue that rivaled Keith Walker’s shrill female manager. The two-out-of-three falls bout ended up spilling all over the venue, with O’Reilly (one half of New Japan’s Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions with Bobby Fish) and Jay living up to the Anarchy portion of the promotion’s name. Highlight was Jay dropping O’Reilly spine-first onto two chair back-rests set back to back.

RICOCHET VS. JOSH ALEXANDER (Alpha-1 Wrestling, November 2, Hamilton, ON)

If you watch Lucha Underground, you know Ricochet as champion Prince Puma, while Alexander takes on a more purist wrestling shtick, complete with Rick Steiner’s retrofied earmuffs. Ricochet and New Japan’s Kota Ibushi are one and two in some order as the world’s best high flyers at the moment, and he incorporated much of that daredevelry against Alexander in the see-saw affair. Though most of the action to this point has been enjoyable, this bout was the first to rival Steen/Bailey as the evening’s best showcase, and it may do wonders for Alexander’s name.

ATHENA REESE VS. MIA YIM (Girls Night Out, March 29, Cleveland, OH)

I’ve seen Athena in DJ Hyde’s Women Superstars Uncensored, and she may just be the grittiest female on the indy scene today. Not only that, but her wrestling is crisp and on-point. Yim’s no slouch either, and Cordeiro selected pretty much the perfect representation of the ‘fairer sex’ for the marathon. If you happen to catch this match in any form, do yourself a favor and turn down the commentary. The only redeeming quality of it is that you’ll realize that there’s nothing stopping you, no matter your skill level, from becoming a wrestling announcer yourself.

CHRIS HERO VS. COLIN DELANEY (Squared Circle Wrestling, May 16, Amsterdam, NY)

A pair of ex-WWE employees whose times achieved differing notoriety (Hero excommunicated from NXT, Delaney used as a hapless jobber in 2008), the two drew some of the heaviest raves from RAWlternative watchers with their balls-to-the-wall display. At one point, Delaney leapt from a beam above the ring, only to be kicked in the face by a waiting Hero. The caustic strikes in the match were probably most enjoyable aside from the high-risk leap, which is a sentence lifted from any indy recap you’ve ever read.


Fox has built a strong reputation as one of wrestling’s most breath-taking high flyers, with the shortstack Swann not far behind. Here, the renowned aerialists put over the duo of Team Overkill, following sequence after sequence of the car crash equivalent of Cirque de Soleil. Parts of the match were sadly missed by me due to an internet connection issue, but I did get to see Rose’s amazing finisher, Ride the Lightning (an F5 swung into a Go to Sleep).

BRIAN KENDRICK VS. DARK SHEIK (HoodSlam, July 4, Oakland, CA)

The match played out like some sort of hallucination Kendrick is prone to having, complete with a stuffed horse (named Butternuts) being thrown into the ring at random intervals. Adding to the surreality was Sheik leaping off of a stairwell into some random bystander after Kendrick had long moved out of the way. Inarguably the most offbeat entry on RAWlternative, that spot cemented by an announce team that dropped more F-bombs than Quentin Tarantino on the average day.

JOHNNY GARGANO VS. ETHAN PAGE (Absolute Intense Wrestling, June 29, Cleveland, OH)

One of the best elements of story-telling came from Page, who attacked his own interfering stable-leader, Louis Lyndon. Page, you see, had been felled by breakout star Gargano in prior matches, and was determined to beat him on his own. The despair in his face when Gargano refused to stay down enhanced the match from being more than ‘typically awesome indy fare’. That Gargano won via knockout with his Gargano Escape submission hold solidifies the story, as Page had submit to it before, and refused to this time. I didn’t know the story going in (hell, I didn’t even know Page), but I knew it by following the simple tropes, and now I’ll never forget a brand new wrestler to my eyes making a believer of me. That’s just wrestling 101, and a primer on how the basics never cease to work.


The Bucks work a wholly unrealistic style predicated on a million and one superkicks and improbable stunt work, but who the hell cares? You can never be bored watching Matt and Nick Jackson, while the charmingly named Player Uno and Player Dos were game to keep pace. The action does not stop, even for a breath, in this one, peaking with Dos hurrachanraning both Jacksons at the same time (think a wide-legged start to the move in order to capture both craniums). The fans on hand demanded superkicks, and boy howdy do they get them in perpetuity.

EDDIE EDWARDS VS. BIFF BUSICK (Beyond Wrestling, July 27, Providence, RI)

Cordeiro ended the night with his home promotion, pitting then-TNA World Tag Team Champion Edwards against then-CZW World Champion Busick (imagine Cesaro with a lumberjack’s beard, a thinner build, and a shorter temper) in this hard-hitting clash. Fans packed ringside like the mosh pit at a Cannibal Corpse concert, adding to the raucous nature of the bout, which did indeed spill to the floor more than once. A high-kick joust between the two led to Edwards winning out of nowhere with a flash pin, a bit of a disappointment echoed by fans that wanted local product Busick to win. Still, it was a worthy finale to a night of eclectic flavor.

I speak for not just myself (Twitter backs me up) when I ask for more like RAWlternative. Fans who want the Attitude Era back, I’ll note this much: much like 1998, I was far more interested in watching the fresher product than the nWo and Sting on Monday night. I have no regrets, either.

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10 Former WWE Stars Who Were Surprisingly Never Royal Rumble Entrants

January 14, 2015 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

As the 28th annual Royal Rumble approaches, we take time to look back at some of the classic Rumble matches of years past. It’s a rite of passage for most WWE superstars, especially the ones of today that grew up on the product, to hit the ring at the buzzer and take part in the industry’s most famous scrum. Even if you never make it higher up on the card, being a part of the Royal Rumble match is afforded to many wrestlers.

Amazingly, there have been quite a few stars of renown that have never known that feeling. Listed below are ten such examples of well-known WWE talents that have never once performed as a Royal Rumble entrant. Sting is excluded from this list for obvious reasons (though some wag will try to point him out). Otherwise, the list of non-Rumble players is pretty surprising.

10. Shane McMahon

The ‘Boy Wonder’ can be credited with one Rumble elimination, tossing Shawn Michaels in 2006 in the early stages of what would become the D-Generation X/McMahons war. Still, there is no official entry for one of the Attitude Era’s great risk-takers, and you’d think he’d have at least once entered as part of his father’s corporate resistance against some hero (2006 would have been an appropriate time, instead of a simple run-in). McMahon carried his own weight through a number of PPVs, and a Royal Rumble match simply wasn’t one of them.

9. Barry Windham

In Windham’s case, his times with the company either failed to coincide with the January classic, or in the case of his final tenure, the former Horseman was simply pushed aside. US Express-era Windham left before the first Rumble, and his ‘Widowmaker’ run encompassed about five months of 1989. Windham worked for two years, mostly as underneath fodder, from 1996 to 1998, and was left out of the two Rumbles in that time-frame (including the 1997 match in his native Texas). By that time, Windham’s wattage had dimmed into darkness.

8. Kamala

‘The Ugandan Giant’ ended his first notable WWE run in late 1987, missing out on the USA Network special with the inaugural airing. Kamala would return in mid-1992, and would miss the 1993 event during an angle in which ordained Reverend Slick ‘humanized’ him into a slightly-more dignified (in the company’s eyes) babyface. Although the big man departed in the summer of 1993 to little fanfare, he was actually named on WWE programming as an entrant into the 1994 match, before being replaced by Virgil for unknown reasons.

7. Lance Cade

In the days before The Shield, Bray Wyatt, Cesaro, and Damien Sandow, developmental call-ups were far more miss than hit. The good-sized Cade, with his drugstore cowboy image, had potential and a bit of company backing before his release in 2008, after a substance-related seizure. During the five years in which Cade found use, he missed out on every Rumble. Partner Trevor Murdoch took part in 2006 without him, while the duo sat out on the 2007-08 matches altogether. In the three-brand era, Cade’s odds were trimmed.

6. Funaki

Imagine someone wrestling in WWE for 12 years and never getting a sniff of the Rumble match. Well, that’s actually a misleading statement: Funaki and partner Taka Michinoku made repeated run-ins in the 2000 match for comic effect (until Michinoku infamously face-planted over-rotating to the floor). Besides that bout of diversion, Funaki was always left out of the Rumble match. A Smackdown lifer once the roster was split, Funaki rarely appeared on actual PPVs, let alone the kick-off point of what is termed “WrestleMania season.”

5. Ricky Steamboat

Not super-surprising when you remember that the eras of ‘The Dragon’ don’t exactly coincide with the Rumble timeframes, but Steamboat was on the card for one event. In fact, Steamboat competed in the first ever match in Rumble event history, beating Rick Rude by disqualification in 1988. The only other time Steamboat could have made it to the match, not counting a quickie cameo in recent years, was the 1992 event had he not quit months earlier. Ric Flair’s one-hour run for the title could have included perhaps his greatest rival ever.

4. Stevie Richards

Playing off of Funaki’s prolonged employment and never getting a spot in the Royal Rumble, Richards has a similar tale. In nine years with the company, Richards was never an entrant, despite high-profile runs with both Right the Censor and as Victoria’s submissive beau. Making it a bit more bizarre, his Blue World Order mates Blue Meanie and Nova, despite much shorter WWE runs, *have* participated in Rumbles: Meanie in 1999 and Nova (as Simon Dean) for the 2005 and 2006 matches. Richards still has his DDP Yoga and his cats, sizable consolations both.

3. Jacques Rougeau

Brother Raymond also qualifies for this list, but the focus should go to his younger sibling, The Mountie. From 1989-94, with sole exception of 1993, Jacques competed in the event’s undercard, including: a six-man tag in 1989, a tag match with the Bushwhackers a year later, an character showcase win over Koko B Ware at the 1991 event, an Intercontinental Title loss to Roddy Piper in 1992, and (with Quebecer Pierre) a Tag Team Title retention over Bret and Owen Hart in 1994, where the match was secondary to Owen’s hallmark heel turn.

2. The Dudley Boyz

This kind of/sort of excludes baby brother Spike, who was an entrant in 2004 that never made it to the ring (Kane murdered him following his elimination). From 2000 to 2004, Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley worked some form of undercard tag team bout, with four matches deciding Tag Team Champions. As the truest of default teams during the era, there were memorable bouts with the Hardyz (a table match in New York) and Edge and Christian, with a notable clunker against Evolution members Batista and Ric Flair at the 2004 card.

1. Razor Ramon

Not including the fake Razor from 1997, the genuine article of Scott Hall only graced the Rumble match once: in 1996, chasing 123 Kid in and out of the ring during that year’s brawl. From 1993 to 1996, ‘The Bad Guy’ was showcased only in singles action, all for championship gold. The first year, Razor was programmed as an early victim of Bret Hart’s World Title run, while the next three saw Hall defend the Intercontinental Title. In 1994, Razor retained over IRS, while the latter years saw him drop the belt to Jeff Jarrett and Goldust respectively.

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TNA Impact Wrestling’s Destination America Debut: The Good and the Bad

January 08, 2015 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

It’s on a third-tier American cable channel that half of the country doesn’t get. They’re coming off a six-week fresh program layoff, and hadn’t recorded new material in nearly four months (not counting Bound For Glory, which is still three months old). By the estimates of anyone who knows Impact Wrestling inside and out (read: anyone with a Twitter account, not to mention fingers), the company should be dead by now.
Yet TNA managed to secure a new cable home, Discovery offshoot Destination America, just before Thanksgiving, and has re-signed pretty much every performer of relevance save for Bully Ray. Tapings continued this week, beginning with a live broadcast Wednesday night from the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.
If you like omens, the literal ECW held its final pay-per-view, Guilty as Charged, on January 7, 2001, precisely fourteen years earlier in the same building. It’s worth noting that the ECW influence that TNA appropriated over the summer was completely absent. For once, the default number two promotion in North America stood mostly on its own two feet.
There was plenty of good to be had from the Destination America premiere of Impact, and a share of bad as well. Here’s a primer on where the company sits after one show on its new home.
GOOD: Things were happening in the opening, and they were good things!
For once, TNA felt like a happening place to be! A stylized intro saw the entire roster making their way toward the venue, mentally preparing themselves for the night ahead. That’s a nice touch, given how often TNA has devalued its own product to kneel at the altar of someone like Hulk Hogan or Kurt Angle or Sting or whatever aging former World Champion shows up this month. Bobby Roode, the reigning champion, drew the most focus along with the Hardy Boyz, Gail Kim, and MVP’s crew. Not a bad start, especially from a production standpoint. The video was on par with anything WWE or UFC would do for hype, and probably emptied Dixie’s pocket a bit. Worth the coins, I think.
To conclude the video, both sides of the roster erupted in a brawl just outside the Ballroom and then, in real time, the fight spilled into the actual arena! Samoa Joe pounded DJ Zema in the front row while a host of other wrestlers battled in the Ballroom’s balcony. Even the Knockouts were involved in the skirmish. Why were they fighting? Who cares? I’d rather a horde of endorphin-spiking wrestlers brawl at the drop of a hat than see a handful of top babyfaces get fired by the evil boss and just stand there like a sad mannequin. If the criticism against Raw is the lack of action, then Impact at least delivered in that regard. A tremendous ten minutes to open the night.
BAD: Richard Dreyfus should help the censor find the beat
Someone should clue in the censors at Destination America, who are apparently more hyper-sensitive than an eyeball to a chisel lodged in it, that sometimes wrestling crowds will chant naughty, naughty things. In the opening bit, a chant of “SHUT THE F–K UP” directed at MVP was partially censored by some lifeless drone timing the mutes with the F-bombs. The mutes were excessive to the point that MVP’s promo sounded like an airing of Pulp Fiction on ABC Family. Tell em to relax their asses a tad.
GOOD: New life in the booth
I figured even Michael Cole with a mouthful of Good-n-Plentys would be an upgrade over Mike Tenay, who for twelve years ranged from “trying to parlay the wrestling historian shtick unsuccessfully into a lead role” to “poor man’s Jim Ross” to “disinterested to the point where Taz could probably draw on him with a Sharpie during most broadcasts.” Tenay needed to be removed from the booth, I opined, and I figured Taz as well.
Replacing Tenay is Josh Mathews, a man 26 years younger, with over a decade experience in WWE on headset (mostly B-shows). Mathews appeared earnest in his first TNA outing, and never grated on the ears. Sometimes his enthusiasm didn’t exactly sell the magnitude of what was happening (a criticism of most announcers, really), but at least he was focused on the action at hand. That’s another criticism against WWE that TNA, at least for one night, avoided falling into.
While I didn’t get my wish of Matt Striker to upgrade the color commentator’s chair, Taz was a pleasant surprise. It seems like it’s been forever since I heard the “Human Suplex Machine” so lively, on-point, and knowledgeable in his call. Either the time off sharpened his focus, or Mathews is his ideal partner, or both. Whatever the case is, I found the call to be enjoyable.
BAD: Quick, onto something else!
While the change in announcing will go a little ways in extinguishing the mustiness of TNA’s worst days, the TV production needs to break some old habits. Austin Aries had barely celebrated with the X Division Title before the cameras cut to the next bit TNA wanted to get across. One thing WWE has infinitely done better is let moments sink in before going to commercial or fading to black. Tenay’s scream of “TO THE BACK” was like a twist and a turn on a roller coaster you don’t remember getting on. I realize TNA has some limitations on time (we’ll get to that later), but if they feel what they’re presenting is important, they need to let the dust settle before moving on.
BAD: Everything you remember, minus disembodied Jason Hervey
The great production piece to open the show, as I said, probably was a hit to TNA’s wallet. To off-set that a smidge, the low-quality backstage vignettes still exist. Here’s MVP and Kenny King conspiring with the graininess of a 1992 America’s Funniest Videos entry. Whatever happened to a good-old-fashioned one-question interview in front of a set-piece?
GOOD: Inquiring professor
Mike Tenay, as I mentioned, was ill-equipped to try and be TNA’s Jim Ross, given the highness of his voice and lack of authorative gravitas. In spite of the qualities the he, not to mention you and I and billions of others, lack, he’s still a well-schooled historian in the art and history of wrestling.
Tenay vacated the commentary chair to take a new role, a bit of an invesigative journalist for a secondary program called Impact Wrestling: Unlocked that will air on Saturdays on Destination America. In a preview, we got Tenay interviewing James “Bray? Who’s Bray?” Storm in a character-building piece. I’m okay with all this; as I mentioned, a big TNA knock from two points ago is that nothing sinks in. Needing a weekend show to explain everything that should be sinking in during prime time might be excessive, but it’s a leap forward, and a suitable role for Tenay.
As a side note, I think Tenay would be fine as the one-question interviewer from the last point, since Tenay’s skeptical grimace is hard to duplicate. Wouldn’t you wanna see Tenay scrunch his face up while Robbie E claims he’s the one that dumped Brooke? I know, me too.
BAD: Watermarking out
The Destination America logo bug on the right hand of the screen could double as a to-scale replica of Comiskey Park. If it were any more distracting to the viewer, the viewer would be oblivious to any and all outside interference behind him. Get a trimmer and shave that thing down.
GOOD: Keep the screwjobs simple, stupid
If you don’t count Jessie Godderz jumping on the apron in the Knockouts battle royal, then three of the five matches Wednesday night went without interference. That’s a 60 percent clean rate! Are we sure this is TNA?
Of the two matches that *did* feature screwy outcomes, one was pretty excessive (more on this later), while the other was in the Tag Team Title match. James “Why yes, I guess I am a little Husky” Storm and Abyss defended against The Wolves in a decent little match that ended with a Storm pin on Eddie Edwards, following a miscue from Jeff Hardy. Hardy was at ringside with brother Matt, and headed off interference from Storm’s other lackeys Sanada and Manik.
At least it wasn’t convoluted, right? The Wolves and Hardys (Hardyz? Is the extreme-Z still a thing?) face off on next week’s Impact, so the plan is either just a simple feud with the two teams, or a three-way rivalry for the belts. The ending didn’t make anyone look pitifully stupid and given TNA’s track record, this counts as progress.
BAD: An unfortunate lull
Ethan Carter III has come a long way from being secondary-show chum in WWE as Derrick Bateman. The character is wonderfully self-absorbed and smarmy, and is one of the better examples of TNA taking a WWE write-off and actually getting good mileage out of him. Paired with bodyguard Tyrus (a non-dancing Brodus Clay) and the act is a sustainable heel bit.
EC3’s use on Wednesday was to beat down diminutive former toady Rockstar Spud, and then go after Jeremy Borash (conducting the in-ring bit) for intervening. Carter shaved off part of Borash’s hair to punctuate the angle. A feud between Carter and Borash has no desirable payoff, unless the idea is to have Carter continuously bully ‘little’ people until someone puts him in his place. Then alright.
Beyond that, Carter struggled a bit with his live promo, and it ended up one of the lower points of the night. He’s done far better, but judging the angle as a standalone, it didn’t click.
GOOD: This IS Awesome
The January 4, 2010 Impact was derided for the debut/return of a million has-beens. Five years later, there was only one notable return on the Impact reboot: Awesome Kong, well removed from her blink-and-you-missed-it WWE stay as Kharma. The New York fans freaked out as the monstrous former Knockouts Champion stared down Havok, with the lure of Monster Female vs. Monster Female looking rather enticing.
BAD: Commercial break, or infomercial break?
One major gripe against Destination America, aside from the aforementioned lot: commercials feel like they’re WAY too long. If the breaks are shorter than four minutes, I’d be surprised. I’ve seen enough “Kate Plus Eight” and “Treehouse Masters” commercials in two hours hate everyone involved. Now I know how John Gosselin feels.
GOOD: Austin Aries as X-Division Champion
Aries regained the X Division Title over Low Ki in a fairly brisk (seven or eight minute) match that hit all of the important notes, and gives us a fresh champion for the reboot. To my way of thinking, Aries is one of the closest things in wrestling to CM Punk: a credible performer capable of working various styles and match-types, with an authentic swagger, and he carries himself like a main eventer.
If any TNA performer could be air-lifted and dropped into WWE’s upper card scene today, without being unwelcome or looking out of place, it’s Aries. He was the right man three years ago to halt Bobby Roode’s endless run as TNA World Champion (in a near five-star match to boot), and he’s a great keystone for rebuilding the company. He’s not a WWE reject, he’s not an aging has-been, and his body of work speaks for itself. Aries is the best they have.
BAD: Same old ending
The World Title match, hyped throughout the night as Bobby Roode vs. Bobby Lashley, Part III, ends with runs ins from a heel brigade of MVP, Kenny King, Samoa Joe (who initially interfered in disguise), Low Ki (ditto), and a heel-turning Eric Young. It’s a lot to digest in the 60-second span that this all happened in.
Heel stables and sudden turns have been played out by the company, one that’s had difficulty establishing who their faces and heels actually are. I suppose with a reboot, it’s a bit more permissible to re-establish everyone, but just don’t overdo the specialness of turns and groups as you’ve done in the past. The phrase, “the match was great until the ending” is a staple of TNA’s troubled history, and it emphatically ended the first show in the new home. It’s also ammo for the fans that want to ignore anything good that TNA does, with one glaringly bad/annoying instance to rip apart.
GOOD: The energy was there
While most Raws these days feel like vacant-stared death marches into oblivion, Impact actually brough feistiness and and excitement to the table, with as noted a lot of good and a lot of bad. At this point, given a choice, I’ll check out the show that actually tries.
They may be pulling out of the same old worn bag of tricks, but eh, at least they’re fumbling for the gimmicks with actual vigor.

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A Warm Bath From Afar: Jim Ross Finds An Old Groove In New Japan

January 06, 2015 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

In Charlton Heston’s baritone rasp, I recall him saying as Moses, “I am a stranger in a strange land.” Jim Ross is another distinct voice, imitable and credible alike. Wrestling fans of the last two generations know the voice, the shouts, the intonations, and the exclamations. Our fanciful daydreams of ourselves becoming a World Champion usually have Ross’ fiery call in the soundtrack. Who better than Jim Ross to narrate the story you’ve written in your mind?

The ‘strange land’ line parallels over to Ross’ appearance this past weekend for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s “WrestleKingdom 9″, with Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling aiding in an American airing. To present the import to an American audience, Ross was paired with former WWE colleague Matt Striker in hosting the Japanese equivalent of WrestleMania.

For me, Ross doing what he does (or at least, once did) better than anyone else in the wresting world once more was just as enticing as another round of Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada. Some will claim that the heat is off of Ross’ fastball, not the harshest of claims. Listening to the once-great Pat Summerall dodder away and make horrid mistakes during NFL games filled me with as much sadness as listening to Marv Albert perform a grade below his old standard in today’s NBA action.

In spite of that, knowing that Ross hasn’t been a full time wrestling announcer in over five years didn’t diminish from my excitement any. Not even having Ross out of his element, into the ‘strange land’ that is the sleek and slick New Japan product, filled me with any doubts about how he would perform on Sunday.

Oh, there were mistakes, yes. During the main event, Ross struggled with the name “Kazuchika” at one juncture, with a knowing and polite Striker helping him through. Ross acknowledged the difficulty with his dry ‘aw, shucks’ aplomb and continued on, a humble concession.

That hardly mattered when Ross settled into an old groove: the sense of impending danger. With Okada reeling behind the barricade closest to the ring, an equally war-worn Tanahashi ascended the turnbuckle and projected himself quite a distance with his High Fly Flow over the railing. Ross was a disembodied voice, but in body, you sense his mouth was agape at Tanahashi’s daring leap.

“My God, ladies and gentlemen! Can you believe what we just saw?!” offers Ross, sounding like more fan than curator. Hints of the familiar Ross broke through, particularly when Okada leveled Tanahashi with his patented Rainmaker clothesline, and a frenzied JR insisted that a title change was seconds away.

Was that salesman Ross or “I want to believe?” Ross? It was Ross’ first time calling a wrestling match without the looming spectre of the notoriously controlling Vince McMahon hanging around. There were many instances where the 63-year-old announcer allowed for silence, to take in the breathtaking action.

There were also times in which Ross flipped through the history book, as is his custom. The Tanahashi/Okada rivalry, according to Ross, was comparable to Brisco vs. Funk, Flair vs. Steamboat, Austin vs. Rock, and Michaels vs. Undertaker. That’s the salesman, putting over an already incredible product with his own seal of approval. If Ross ever compares anything you’ve done to something Jack Brisco’s done, that’s as high of praise as he could muster.

Other times, Ross deftly acknowledged the lack of Vinnie Mac by offering veiled jabs, such as during the IWGP Intercontinental Title bout with Shinsuke Nakamura and Kota Ibushi, which rivaled the main event as world-caliber fare. Ross championed the title belt and its value, rhetorically asking why wrestlers would *want* to fight for a belt if it had no meaning at all.

Ross is a businessman with over 40 years experience in wrestling. While he knows how ‘the sausage is made’, that hasn’t dulled his belief that a title belt should mean something. Hearing his impassioned speech in the middle of Nakamura and Ibushi’s kick-and-knee battle of wills goes a few hops and skips toward explaining the acrimony between he and McMahon, and the vision that necessitated humiliating the dissenting Ross needlessly from time to time.

The aging Ross sounds more and more like Gordon Solie, one of his many mentors. The smooth-yet-clipped delivery underscores the stories, occasionally losing control in utter disbelief. It’s the most credible voice one can have in wrestling, and the easiest to love: the knowledgeablesoul who is smarter than his audience, but believes just as much as they do.

When Okada landed that first Rainmaker, Ross and I shared the genuine belief that Tanahashi was done for. It’s the bond that Ross shares with more than just myself, and it’s the reason fans clamor in futility for WWE to bring him back today. I can’t speak for the man, but I’d feel bad listening to him try to sell me on Grumpy Cat or Kathie Lee Gifford or whatever else WWE presents in 2015 to prove that they’re ‘not wrestling’.

Ross deserves a show like WrestleKingdom 9, and WrestleKingdom 9, in New Japan and GFW’s reach to a new American audience, deserves Ross. The modern WWE deserves Michael Cole, an automated talking head that will sell whatever Vince tells him to sell, with energy as over-processed as cat food. At least when Jim Ross sold that similar bill of goods for McMahon, his sharper instincts dulled their metallic clang.

What we got this past weekend was the metamorphosis of Jim Ross into his most comfortable form. There was no Monday night show to hype up, no blocking out of the match at hand to talk about an off-screen main eventer. Ross may not have been wholly familiar with everything he was seeing, but Striker did the Ric Flair/broomstick job to help him along (not to compare Ross to a broomstick, but Striker’s commentary work since leaving WWE proves how gifted and instinctive he really is). Striker didn’t carry Ross, but rather he kept the road illuminated for him. Ross eventually found his way through every match, every moment, coming out in one piece.

That’s the joy I took from WrestleKingdom. Jim Ross was presented as Jim Ross, a grizzled, time-tested announcer who found a product he could enjoy with his most youthful wonderment. Because he believed, I too believed.

What an irony. Jim Ross had to travel halfway across the globe to feel more at home than he’s felt in so many years.

WWE: ECW Unreleased Volume Three

The Randy Savage Story DVD

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WWE and NXT 20 Best Matches of 2014

December 30, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

Complain all you wish about WWE, but there are 20 incredible matches listed here, all available to be watched at your leisure for, yes, $9.99 on WWE Network. Viewing all of them over the course of a few days would go a long way in taking your mind of most of the awful booking and half-baked episodes of Raw you endured in 2014, not to mention the constant plugs of the WWE App. The list is a reminder that not all was bad in the past year. In fact, quite a bit of it ruled.

Your mileage may vary, but here’s my take on the greatest matches from the sports entertainment giant from 2014.

20. The Shield vs. Evolution (WWE Payback, June 1)

Through December’s NXT Takeover: R Evolution in December, awareness of Triple H’s investment in NXT had never been higher. As such, the feud with The Shield this past spring makes the utmost sense: he trusts himself and two veterans in Batista and Randy Orton to get the most out of three of NXT’s most popular stars (next to Bray Wyatt, they’re the Mount Rushmore of NXT until Sami Zayn and others challenge them).

The bout at Payback was under elimination rules, with no countouts or disqualifications, and descended into thorough chaos, peaking with Roman Reigns taking a vestless whipping by the heels. The Shield winning was hardly stunning, but the clean sweep (in the group’s last hurrah) was: after 27 minutes, Seth Rollins pinned Batista, Dean Ambrose eliminated Orton, and Reigns speared real-life benefactor Triple H to survive with the trio in tact.

19. Randy Orton vs. Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena vs. Cesaro vs. Christian vs. Sheamus (WWE Elimination Chamber, February 23)

As long as the performers cut a watchable pace in the epic-length Chamber matches, and there’s some creative mayhem taking place between the chain-link walls, it generally adds up to a great match. This was no exception, and it even came with some added drama: would Bryan avenge his exclusion from the Royal Rumble match and become WWE Champion? A spurned Twitterverse, led by a bat-wielding Mick Foley, glued their eyes to the action.

Bryan, of course, didn’t win here, succumbing to Corporate Kane (RepubliKane?) in a screwy finish. Cena also didn’t win, as a Wyatt Family teleportation cost him Orton’s gold as well. It was Bryan’s portion of the story that received the most focus, with him taking a beating (being whipped through an empty pod by Cesaro), and valiantly clawing his way back before the heart-ripping finish. That only made the WrestleMania payoff more enjoyable.

18. Sheamus vs. Cesaro (WWE Night of Champions, September 21)

The McMahon Paradox Extravaganza: the latter wrestler he claims can’t connect with the crowd, while the former truly doesn’t, in spite of any feelings Vince has toward the wooden, but physically gifted, Sheamus. It was in this match that we got Sheamus at his most robust: the temperamental brawler who dishes out punishment as well as he receives it. Cesaro is equally in his glory in these bouts, and was capable of getting the best out of Sheamus.

With the all-but-lifeless United States title at stake, Cesaro and Sheamus made with the stiff blows, exchanging elbows and forearms with assembly-line regularity. Even with Cesaro lost in the shuffle following a summer of poor direction, it seemed at times he was closing in on finishing Sheamus, particularly in the ultimate war of strikes. Cesaro had the upper hand for a split second, and just walked into a Brogue Kick to take the loss.

17. Luke Harper vs. Dolph Ziggler (WWE TLC, December 14)

TLC (and S) failed to cobble together a fourth-quarter rally in order to beat NXT’s R Evolution event; in fact, the show was blown out of the water completely by the development squad. Much of the blame for TLC’s failure came from uninspired matches with increasingly-meaningless weapon modifiers. Ziggler and Harper’s ladder match for the Intercontinental Title went on first, and was by and far the night’s most shining moment.

The match came with some ramped-up sickness; both men bled the hard way (Harper opened up a metal-cut by his armpit), and Harper nearly busted his arm on a suicide dive. The Cleveland crowd cheered for former-homeboy Ziggler, sustaining his rise in popularity with an exciting cat-and-mouse battle with a faultlessly-sadistic Harper, overcoming him in the end with a nod to the SummerSlam 1995 finish, superkicking him off of a second ladder, and retrieving the belt.

16. Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins (WWE SummerSlam, August 17)

The company had plenty to atone for after flaking on the duo’s would-be match at Battleground, only made up for by Ambrose attempting bloody murder three times during the course of that evening. A lumberjack stipulation for the SummerSlam bout read as needless; just send the two out there and let them attempt to kill one another. Silly us; the sea of humanity at ringside only added to a heated matchup that felt all too short.

Among the highlights: Ambrose suplexing Rollins from the apron onto a group of lumberjacks, and then Ambrose crazily throwing lumberjacks aside while in crazed, Captain Ahab-like pursuit of Rollins. Babyface lumberjacks carried Rollins back to the ring as a human sedan, so Ambrose dove off the top rope onto the pile. Kane’s interference took the wind out of a wild match, but not before it engrossed a chaos-loving crowd.

15. Charlotte vs. Natalya (NXT Takeover, May 29)

This was certainly surprising. You’d expect a good match from Natalya under required circumstances (read: a match of reasonable length where she’s not selling for the trade show model du jour). But Charlotte? She didn’t impress me in NXT early on (though THAT would change), and it seemed her push was based on that she was tall, blonde, and the offspring of wrestling royalty. To say this match was incredible might be the understatement of all of 2014.

In a match to determine the new NXT Women’s Champion, Charlotte held her own in what ended up a highly intense match-up, most notable for the Sharpshooter/figure-four spot with determined reversals and realistic selling. Perhaps having Ric Flair and Bret Hart at ringside was a heaven-sent dual muse? Charlotte capped off the match with the win, which many predicted, but the story in getting to that point was something no one saw coming.

14. Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt (WWE Royal Rumble, January 26)

Forget the aftermath of the match, which consisted of two hours of fan anger the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the 1991 Great American Bash. Contained within its frame of time, Bryan and Wyatt held their own in a match that essentially saved the Rumble from being one of the absolute worst PPVs of all time. Even with the match, the night retains its unfathomable infamy, but at least you can say, “Well, one match was awesome.”

Bryan and Wyatt’s match opened the Rumble, and was pretty oddly structured for an era bent on mechanical pacing. Bryan worked Wyatt’s legs early with a series of kicks, and the match didn’t really hit the WWE Main Event Style until well into the proceedings. That was for the better, because different can be highly enjoyable. The finish was memorable, with Wyatt catching a Bryan dive into Sister Abigail against the crowd barrier, very suitably slick.

13. Tyler Breeze vs. Sami Zayn (NXT Takeover, May 29)

Takeover was a serious contender for the best WWE show of 2014. The women’s match makes this list, and the NXT Championship bout between Adrian Neville and Tyson Kidd was a viable list candidate that just fell short. Breeze and Zayn’s number one contender match was the best of a well-executed card, hardly surprising given Zayn’s general Midas touch. However, the match served as Breeze’s coming-out party, making him one to watch.

Making anyone this generation’s Shawn Michaels is a risky proposition, equal to calling any NBA player “the next Jordan”, but WWE’s all in with coloring Breeze the risk-taking pretty boy incarnate of today. He was game on exchanging crazy moves with the experienced Zayn, including a weird reversal sequence that ended in an improvised powerbomb. The ending was also a creative bit of screwiness, involving a questionably-blatant low blow.

12. Jimmy and Jey Uso vs. Luke Harper and Erick Rowan (WWE Battleground, July 20)

What is it with Harper and opening matches that all but save mediocre-to-bad PPVs? Not only does a bleating hillbilly make the Intercontinental Title feel like its worth fighting for, but Harper did the same for the Tag Team Championships, held by the Usos. The two teams met in a two out of three falls match, a stipulation that seemed oddly tacked on, and in the end, it wasn’t even necessary. The efforts of the four drove the match beyond anyone’s expectations.

The Wyatt disciples grabbed the first fall after a Harper running boot, but the Usos quickly tied it with a roll-up. The third fall extended to epic length, with a ton of false-finishes, last second saves, and ante-upping action, including Rowan hitting a double-superplex on both Usos, and a spiraling moonsault from Jimmy Uso. The brothers retained with a pair of diving splashes, but not before the crowd found itself living and dying on every close pinfall attempt.

11. Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins (WWE Hell in a Cell, October 26)

For the first time since 1994, a WWE PPV had ended with two men under 30 years old in a singles main event. Ambrose and Rollins, both 28 at match time, figured to be blowing off a five-month issue after the split of the Shield, and conventional wisdom had Ambrose getting his receipt from the SummerSlam loss. The match would tap into some lost Attitude Era magic and imagination, with a swerve ending out of Vince Russo’s soggiest wet dreams.

Channeling their collective inner Mick Foley, the two began the match on top of the Hell in a Cell cage, with Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury taking part in the mayhem. Ambrose and Rollins took a safer (only slightly) fall off of the cage through tables, but continued the fight inside with Ambrose gaining the upper hand. This led to the utterly random ending with Bray Wyatt interfering following a holographic smoke signal, but everything up to that point was killer.

10. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn (NXT Arrival, February 27)

Nothing better than a feud over who is simply “the better man.” Strange concept to some in power, but for my simple eyes, the Zayn/Cesaro rivalry was some of the most enjoyable wrestling over the past several years. After a two-out-of-three falls match that Cesaro won the prior August (hailed by many as the 2013’s best match), the story was that Zayn was bent on avenging the loss, and challenged Cesaro to a final battle at WWE Network’s first major special.

The cat-and-mouse nature of the match, with Zayn’s eager risk-taking and Cesaro’s defiant power response, built feverishly to Cesaro gaining the definitive upper hand, and Zayn looking the beaten man. Cesaro even begged Zayn to stop kicking out, but Zayn countered the Neutralizer. That led to Cesaro brutalizing him with Swiss Death, a discus uppercut, and the punctuating Neutralizer. Afterward, Cesaro gave Zayn the gesture of respect he’d wanted.

9. Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Rob Van Dam vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Jack Swagger vs. Kofi Kingston (WWE Money in the Bank, June 29)

The latter four names served as little more than aerodynamic fodder for this match. While most Money in the Bank ladder matches leave story locked away in favor of letting directionless talents put on a 20-minute stunt show, the Rollins-Ambrose war began boiling here. An increasingly-unhinged Ambrose entered himself in the match with less interest in a World Title contract, and more focus on maiming Rollins for his unexpected betrayal four weeks earlier.

Ambrose attacked Rollins from Jump Street, fondly reminiscent of Cactus Jack’s “who cares about the belt?” vile pursuit of Sting over twenty years ago. Rollins took a scary bump onto a wedged ladder display, and Ambrose sold a dislocated shoulder in his undeterred quest to make Rollins pay. Kane interfered in the final stages, Tombstoning Ambrose so that Rollins could snare the briefcase. The other four men contributed mightily, but for once, there was an actual story.

8. Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan (WWE WrestleMania XXX, April 6)

Nostalgia always feels best when its employment seems natural. There was no shoehorning of classic Attitude Era elements into the WrestleMania main event, which saw the use of a crooked ref, even more crooked authority figures, and a teased stretcher job for Bryan that turned into a Willis Reed comeback special. Add to it the legitimate want of the audience to see Bryan prevail, and the elements were there for a tremendous ‘Mania finale.

It took a lot to get the crowd back into it after The Undertaker’s streak was startlingly ended less than an hour earlier by Brock Lesnar, but all three performers held their own, even the maligned Batista. The bomb/neckbreaker combo on Bryan through the table was memorably sick, and Bryan’s forcing of Batista to submit erupted the Superdome appropriately. If this were the Newlywed Game, WWE held up cards that had every fan answer correct in this one.

7. Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn vs. Tyler Breeze vs. Tyson Kidd (NXT Takeover: Fatal Four Way, September 11)

Demonstrating the sort of knowing, long-term building that the latter day Vince McMahon lacks (“We have one week to get the ratings up to a 2.9 or the stockholders will burn Titan Tower down!”), NXT had built up Zayn as the perfect underdog: the fair-playing gentleman who will compete to his last breath, but won’t yield from his principles. Lacking the hypocrisy of John Cena, NXT viewers rallied behind the proud ethics of Zayn, wishing him toward the top.

This fatal-four-way took some time to find its groove, but did in a major way. The narcissistic Breeze had a good showing in the middle with plenty of near falls, but Zayn brought it home, ending a frenzied sequence with a Heluva Kick on Kidd for two, after a desperate Neville pulled the referee out. Neville used the unsportsmanslike move to land Red Arrow on Kidd and retain, which robbed Zayn once more. Not a worry; his day would come in the grandest of fashion.

6. The Shield vs. Evolution (WWE Extreme Rules, May 4)

The Shield coming to Bryan’s rescue the night after WrestleMania kicked off a highly enjoyable run against the reformed Evolution (until Rollins was swiftly turned, apparently in response to low Memorial Day ratings if you believe the sheets). The aforementioned rematch at Payback event, under elimination and ‘no DQ’ rules, was pretty great in its own right, but the original from Extreme Rules remains the superior exhibition, with its faster pace and livelier crowd.

Rollins continued his campaign to become the modern WWE generation’s Jeff Hardy, doing so by leaping off of the upper deck at the IZOD Center onto Triple H, Randy Orton, and a sacrificial Dean Ambrose. Say what you will about Batista, but he’d been a good sport since the poorly-received comeback, putting over Roman Reigns clean as a sheet by eating the Superman punch, and the emphatic spear. WWE has issues creating stars, but got the Shield 100% correct.

5. John Cena vs. Cesaro (WWE Monday Night Raw, February 17)

If you’re given twenty minutes on free television to work with John Cena, and you’re still kicking around the midcard or upper midcard with little in the way of promising direction, chances are this is your litmus test. WWE seemed to be flirting with a true push of Cesaro in the preceding weeks, sticking him into the Elimination Chamber match, and even put him over champion Randy Orton in a non-title bout. So far so good, but the real test was at hand.

The win over Orton raised the possibility that he *could* beat Cena, instead of having it be the obvious “LOL CENA WINS” trope, and Cesaro held up his end. The most notable spot was the deadlift superplex, now a Cesaro staple, which was used on the B-shows before its unleashing on Raw. Cesaro did end up losing clean to Cena, but was rewarded with the WrestleMania battle royal win and earning Paul Heyman as a manager before things cooled off.

4. The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family (WWE Elimination Chamber, February 23)

Pretty good sign when the fans are chanting “THIS IS AWESOME” before any of the six have even made contact with one another. Then again, it raises the bar pretty high for a group of men, none of whom were truly juiced-in main eventers at the time, that are being counted on to deliver in a prime spot. It was hailed as a match-of-the-year candidate before it even ended (and indeed before it even kicked off), and remains in the running ten months later.

The Shield weren’t particularly babyfaces in the run-up to the match, aside from not backing down in face-to-face confrontations, but the trio took to the good guys formula with the sort of timing and pacing that made it seem like they’d been faces for years. The chaotic end-run of the match, which was a star-maker for the kamikaze Rollins, puts it above most other spotfests by having logic and organization behind each stunt. The Wyatts won, but really, so did the Shield.

3. John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, Big Show, Erick Rowan and Ryback vs. Seth Rollins, Luke Harper, Kane, Rusev, and Mark Henry (WWE Survivor Series, November 23)

Other than Roman Reigns’ breakout showing at the 2013 event, there hasn’t been a truly classic Survivor Series match in years, probably since the madcap fun of the Raw vs. Smackdown match in 2005. Picking the greatest elimination bout of all time was a veritable toss-up between the 1987 20-manner and the Austin/Bischoff-helmed teams in 2003. For years, that was my either/or argument until this match swooped in and surprised pretty much everyone.

The crowd built to nuclear levels following Rusev’s elimination nearly 20 minutes in, and were stunned when Show double-crossed Cena. Ziggler’s subsequent valiant effort to overcome three-on-one odds saw him win over the fans, building to a dramatic finale with Rollins where Triple H would not let him win. Sting’s debut iced the match as a modern classic, made all the more enjoyable by Stephanie’s well-done breakdown in the aftermath, her job lost.

2. Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H (WWE WrestleMania XXX, April 6)

After “The Game” made Brock Lesnar slow down to his pace for a trio of matches, and needed Shawn Michaels to play rodeo clown in the overrated “End of an Era” match, I went into his match with Bryan with lowered expectations. I’d figured Bryan would have to slow down to allow his 44-year-old boss with two bum legs to keep up. Lo and behold, the Fountain of Youth resides in New Orleans, as Triple H had his greatest match in probably a good decade or so.

As if he was determined to prove he could still go with the best, and maybe feeling slighted that CM Punk brushed off a match with him, Helmsley wrestled a beaut with the best technician in the company, mixing pure wrestling with the sports-entertainment transition spots you’d expect out of his matches. In the end, Triple H put Bryan over 100% cleanly, and allowed him to kick out of the Pedigree in the process. And we all thought Hunter didn’t know how to elevate.

1. Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn (NXT Takeover: R Evolution, December 11)

One of the bolder statements I’ve seen among internet feedback: Zayn’s NXT Championship victory meant more than Daniel Bryan’s WrestleMania title win. I can see this point, actually: with Bryan, you knew that once the YES Movement had the ‘YES-in”, he was getting the strap. With Zayn, there was no telling if he’d truly be a bridesmaid forever, even with the stipulation that he had to leave NXT (read: go to the main roster) if he lost to Neville once more.

The story told was some of the best you’ll see: Zayn fighting the urge to cheat, in spite of Neville’s prior claims that without bending the rules, he would never get the gold. The match built toward two ref bumps, Zayn’s patent frustration, and a finish where Zayn finally conquered the Brit and won the elusive title. The celebration with debuting Kevin Owens and the roster solidified the moment….and Owens’ heartless double-cross only enhanced the awesomeness.

WWE: True Giants Home Video

The Randy Savage Story DVD

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