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Let CM Punk Fade Away, He’s Not Required

April 17, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

The contrast between the infamous 2014 Royal Rumble and present WWE programming is a stark one. On the one hand, watching a DVD of this year’s Rumble is akin to viewing the videotape in The Ring; you could actually be found dead within a week via its horrors.

On the other hand, the negative reception, the threats of show-hijacking, and the need to cater to fans on the fence about dropping $10 a month on the greatest on-demand service ever devised had an effect. WWE would do a 180 from their WrestleMania plans, and retailor it to fit the stimulus response to seeing Boo-tista standing tall.

Where do the changes leave us? Daniel Bryan is the WWE Champion. The Shield transitioned successfully into babyfaces with their soldier-of-fortune hellraiser act in tact. Cesaro has become a villain of escalating stock, thanks to a high-profile WrestleMania win, and a new-found alliance the company’s most watchable baddie, Paul Heyman. The Wyatt Family have yet to see their standing drop, as godfather Bray continues his psych war with John Cena.

Everyone considered a detriment to WWE’s youth movement, namely Triple H, Batista, and Randy Orton, has been quarantined into the Evolution group once more, where they can draw heat together, and put over the new class together. NXT just churned out the sultry anti-Diva Paige, and has the dementedly-affable Adam Rose on his way. Focus is currently being put on the Intercontinental Title, via a tournament of recognizable names for top contendership.

All seems to be going well, and all manner of things are–

Wait, hang on; the populace has a message for all of us. Let’s take a listen–

“CM PUNK! CM PUNK! CM PUNK!”

If you watched Raw on Monday, you heard a sizable chant for the long-since-departed Punk during Dolph Ziggler and Bad News Barrett’s quarterfinal-round matchup in the third hour. Although a spirited effort from both men led to the Birmingham fans buying into the near falls by the end, the fact remains: Punk chants still rang out, as they have for ten weeks.

Maybe it’s just me, but as a Punk fan, I was quite alright with Punk taking a walk. This isn’t because I hate WWE, because I don’t (in spite of my reasonable critiques). I just feel that no star is particularly capable of hurting the company by leaving.

If anything, I think Punk leaving was a massive wake-up call. Because now, the media company who lives and dies by how they’re able to portray themselves to sponsors, stockholders, and the media machine that spoon-feeds the lowest common denominator, had to answer to the fact that one of their most heavily-marketed stars hit his ejector seat button.

To me, the proliferation of ‘CM Punk’ chants in the coming weeks were less a demand that WWE bring back their hero, and more an indictment of a conglomerate that needed to take its blinders off and turn its head the full 360. The chants didn’t stop, despite the company downplaying it like a congressman would a fund-raising scandal, and when the threat of the March 3 Chicago hijacking came to be, WWE soon configured their product to match fan demands.

Well, sans having Punk in the fold, anyway.

The changes to me are quite satisfying, and it led to probably the best WrestleMania since the well-received WrestleMania 23 seven years ago. No matter how you feel about Brock Lesnar thwarting Undertaker’s streak (and I’m alright with it), it was a stellar WrestleMania, almost top to bottom.

But yet, there were the Punk chants, finding their cone to be heard of out of. In spite of the positive alterations listed, there’s still a segment of the audience spoiled enough to not be satisfied until Phil Brooks peels himself away from the comic books and Walking Dead DVDs, as well as his Chicago Blackhawks run toward a Stanley Cup title defense, shows up on Raw, and does something. Or other. Or something AND other, who knows?

Far be it from this longtime Punk supporter to say it, but it’s true: the WWE does not need CM Punk at this time.

Go back to the Attitude Era, and of course many of you would like to, since that was the holy grail of everything (or maybe it was just a time in your life where you had less responsibility, and thus it acts as a metaphorical security blanket). Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, two of the top ten WWE stars of the WrestleMania era, were gone before the company turned the tide against WCW. Hart left after Montreal; Michaels was finished after dropping the belt at WrestleMania.

And yet here’s WWE, destroying Nitro on an increasing basis behind three men that never held a World Championship until 1998: Austin, The Rock, and Mick Foley. Where were Bret and Shawn? Bret was toiling through murky WCW plot points, while Michaels was icing his back with a fishing pole in hand.

It’s the presentation, less so the names, that make a wrestling promotion fun. Would Daniel Bryan’s WrestleMania title win have been as sweet had he not faced Randy Orton and Batista? The fact that he went over on two performers commonly identified as honorary ‘fortunate sons’ of the McMahon Empire, downing Batista by submission, made Bryan’s victory much, much more enjoyable.

Yes, I’d rather watch a Punk match from a ‘purist’ standpoint than I would a Batista match, but if the primary option is “Batista tries to beat Bryan, but the undersized hero kicks his head in for 20 minutes”, sign me up.

There can come great things with the current WWE direction, and WrestleMania weekend is proof positive of that. For as much as WWE takes heat for living in the past, here they are moving forward; nobody over the age of 40 won at WrestleMania for the first time in fourteen years. Meanwhile, it’s the fans, the so-called forward thinkers, clinging to a man who apparently does not want to be there.

If Punk comes back one day, great. No sense in forcing it, though. WWE’s got a good balance going, with no need to rethink the current direction one bit.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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Put The Next Madison Square Garden Show On The WWE Network

April 14, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

Are we all enjoying WWE Network?

I know I sure am. Six weeks into its existence and I haven’t even begun to grow bored with it yet. Virtually every 1993 Monday Night Raw is available, most ECW episodes from 1994, every PPV under Vince McMahon’s lock-and-key can be watched, and WrestleMania XXX was there to be relived the day after the event.

Why, if I had a social life, I’m sure the people in it would be worried about my continuous absence.

Exploring every nook and cranny of the WWE Network map with a grapple-mark’s wanderlust, the section I love most, being a thirty-year-old male fogey who still actively buys CDs (“Digital downloads?! In my day….”), is the Old School folder.

After a steady diet of WWE’s glitzed-up, high-tech, billion-watts-of-light, jillion-watts-of-salesmanship-and-huckstering production for years and years on Raw and pay-per-view, it’s fun to just turn the lights down, install some low-key announcing from Gorilla Monsoon and whoever else, and just take the sense of urgency out of the action, no commercial breaks to be in bondage to.

I have more appreciation for these kinds of broadcasts after attending a house sh–err, ‘live event’ a year ago in Atlantic City. Characters that were just tiresome on television, such as The Miz, Alberto Del Rio, and Jack Swagger, were unencumbered by the live show format, and just impressively worked up a storm. In fact, the pre-intermission match pitted Miz, Del Rio, and Chris Jericho against Swagger, Wade Barrett, and Fandango, and I dare say it’s one of the greatest matches I’ve ever seen live. Without a half-baked script and rigid timing cues, they could just, you know, wrestle.

As much as I love Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall (maybe in part because I once won big on a penny slot at Caesar’s down the block), there exists a magic to seeing a WWE event at historic Madison Square Garden in New York City. Even when Raw emanates from there today, and MSG’s distinguished features are cloaked under the gaudy lighting, the New York attitude shines through, spurring the performers into a different state of mind. The WWE Tree’s roots are firmly planted in New York City, and it’s a raucous homecoming any time they work within the hallowed halls.

Even if the Madison Square Garden shows on the Network aren’t always five-star quality, they’re eye-catching visuals. You see the stars, ranging from Hogan to Flair to Hart to Backlund to Slaughter, and you hear the unmistakable Noo Yawk roars and catcalls, but the image of it taking place in sobering darkness gives it a special feel.

Sadly, Garden house shows stopped being recorded and broadcast on the MSG Network in 1992 (save for a one-night revival in March 1997), and MSG events in general have petered out. What was once a monthly occurrence through the early 1990s became quarterly-annual by the mid-2000s. In fact, there have only been ten Garden shows since the start of 2010, and just one in 2013 alone.

While the novelty of wrestling in ‘the world’s most famous arena’ took a backseat to the constant trek of global branding for WWE, I think there’s still an audience out there that would love to see a ‘classic’ Madison Square Garden show, one without the now-standard production values that televised events are afforded.

If fans will pop for Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Sgt. Slaughter playing with glorified Legos at WrestleMania, and excitement abounds for the episodes of “Old School Raw” (“There’s going to be metal guardrails again! Those are tremendous!”), then why not go REALLY old school, and put together a classic Madison Square Garden event?

A quick check of the calendar indicates that the company will be swinging through the Garden on Saturday night, July 12. There’s no PPV for eight days afterward, so it’s possible that WWE could throw together a story-centric event with a couple of long matches (maybe even a twenty minute draw, remember those?) with lesser-pushed talents. Then Cody Rhodes can tell young whippersnappers one day, “Sandow and I, we had 20,000 people screaming from the rafters on down, as we went to a twenty-minute broadway. He potatoed me pretty good, but the rush from the people kept me going well into my comeback.”

Rhodes will then pause to sip from his flask.

Of course, since such an occasion would invoke fond memories from the yesterday-clutching generation, this would be a good spot to stick in few Garden legends. After all, WWE’s never hesitated to hit Sgt. Slaughter’s number on their speed dial, have they? You’re telling me that Slaughter, Duggan, and Backlund destroying 3MB in Madison Square Garden wouldn’t be harmless fun?

Naturally, this would be broadcast on WWE Network, since they’re getting a lot better at preventing bandwidth and usage lag (even though the PlayStation 3 version of the Hall of Fame ended nine minutes behind the WWE.com version). Hearing a more subdued Michael Cole introducing himself and JBL at ringside, at a wooden table, would be surreal enough, just as disarming as hearing him and his colleague speak more freely, without plugging the App or talking over each other.

Also, red, white, and blue ropes, with blue ringposts. Do the right thing.

Furthermore (to use Jack Tunney’s favorite word), when a wrestler’s theme song hits, he can’t make his entrance for 30-45 seconds. The song has to build up a bit, and we have to see the wrestler walking through the main hallway of the Garden, loosening his arms and neck in stride, before stepping out of the curtain. It’s the Madison Square Garden way.

Finally, no disrespect to Justin Roberts, but give him the night off, and put good old Howard Finkel in that bow tie once more. Let him introduce Daniel Bryan for his pre-intermission title defense, along with everyone else.

Put this together, and you’ve got a special presentation that would make WWE Network even more incredible.

As if I didn’t watch the Network enough as it is.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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The Ultimate Warrior’s Top 10 WWE Moments

April 10, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

The Ultimate Warrior’s WWE career is unparalleled by anyone else’s body of work. His unique soliloquies, unflappable madness, and supercharged physicality made him ideal for WWE’s Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted just days before his death. Listed below are the ten most memorable moments of a career marked by glory, controversy, and unquestioned uniqueness.

10. “TEAR DOWN THE COCKPIT DOOR, HOKE HO-GAN” (March 1990)

Warrior’s primal linguistics are absolutely unmatchable, rivaled only in loving parody by you or me snorting and grunting through a bowl of ‘threats and words’ soup. Nobody could replicate his monologues with the same linear gusto, even for as chaotic as they were in their bold execution.

None are more famous than Warrior’s unusual speech in the run-up to WrestleMania VI, in which the Intercontinental Champion spoke of dead pilots on Hogan’s airplane, compelling Hogan to storm the cockpit, remove their dead bodies from the chairs, and fly the plane himself to Parts Unknown in order to confront his maniacal challenger.

9. Crushing The Game (March 31, 1996)

While Warrior’s 1996 run was the Jaws IV equivalent to his 1987-92 Robert Shaw standard, it did produce one truly awesome moment, one that gains steam in passing years, especially among a spiteful (albeit playfully) IWC.

Before Triple H was “The Game”, he was a midcard performer in horse-riding pants, and that very midcarder was tasked with putting over a returning Warrior at WrestleMania 12. The match took place in under 100 seconds, and included Warrior no-selling the Pedigree. Literally, he got up two seconds after being hit with the move. A guilty pleasure.

8. “This Place is Going to Explode!” (January 21, 1990)

Andre needed help to beat Hogan. Savage couldn’t beat Hulk, no matter how hard he tried. It seemed as though Hulkamania was infallible without chicanery being required. Did anybody exist that could fell Hulk Hogan on sheer merit? At the 1990 Royal Rumble, the new challenger appeared, and the comparisons began.

After Hogan and Warrior cleared the ring of Shawn Michaels, Honky Tonk Man, and Rick Martel, the two champions stood toe to toe, face to face, as the Orlando Arena went from buzzing to shrieking in mere moments. The confrontation ended with a double clothesline, to be continued another day.

7. Replacing the Old Rival (April 5, 1992)

With The Hulkster fading into a sudden retirement following WrestleMania VIII, a massive hole was being left on WWE’s marquee. Macho Man Randy Savage captured the WWE Championship earlier in the night, but the second highest-billed hero would either be IC Champ Bret Hart, or a freshly turned Undertaker. There was a bit of a drop-off.

With Hogan’s sunset beginning after a disqualification win over Sid Justice, via interference from Papa Shango, it was Warrior who made a shocking return following an ugly firing seven months earlier. The returning maniac cleared Sid and Shango, and took the torch from Hogan once more, albeit only temporarily.

6. Warrior’s First Great Match (April 2, 1989)

While not known as a masterful technician by any stretch, Warrior’s PPV matches could take the form of well-choreographed good-vs-evil epics, especially with the right opponent. About a year and a half after bursting onto the WWE scene, his first defense of the Intercontinental Title on PPV doubled as his first classic.

After entering a rivalry with Ravishing Rick Rude following a sneak attack at the 1989 Royal Rumble, Warrior granted Rude a title shot at WrestleMania V, putting forth a quality power battle, notable for his prying free of Rude’s Awakening. Warrior would lose via Bobby Heenan’s interference, but revenge would be coming.

5. The Winner’s Corner (August 29, 1992)

Ultimate Warrior’s last storyline of major intrigue took place leading into SummerSlam 1992, when Warrior challenged the man he once retired in Savage for the WWE Championship. With the rematch looming, the big speculation concerned a man not physically involved.

Mr. Perfect, the ‘executive consultant’ for Ric Flair, declared he had a stake in this match, and would manage the winner. Playing Savage and Warrior against each other with volleying paranoia, Perfect and Flair interfered, causing Savage to lose via countout, revealing their involvement to be a ruse to soften up Savage just for “The Nature Boy”, who’d win the title days later. Undoubtedly Warrior’s last quality performance.

4. Warrior’s Revenge (August 28, 1989)

After losing the Intercontinental Title in entry #6, revenge would be inevitable for the war-painted hero. Five months later, at the second annual SummerSlam, Warrior would seek his vengeance, unknowingly to be aided by Rick Rude’s newest sworn enemy.

For some reason, Rude and Warrior had impeccable chemistry (the Undertaker/Batista Theorem), and a tremendous back and forth battle ensued, with Rude getting the upper hand late. A freshly-returned Roddy Piper made his way out, mooned Rude with a lift of the kilt, and the distraction bought Warrior the opening needed to polish Rude off.

3. “Send Somebody Out Here!” (August 29, 1988)

You can’t tell the story of Ultimate Warrior’s legacy without including his breakthrough moment. At SummerSlam 1988, The Honky Tonk Man was fifteen months (still unsurpassed) into his Intercontinental Title reign, and opponent Brutus Beefcake was unable to compete following a gruesome injury at the hands of Outlaw Ron Bass.

Before the Madison Square Garden crowd, the sniveling heel declared he’d fight anyone, and told the producers to just send anyone out there. Warrior’s music hit, and the rocket-fueled challenger annihilated Honky in 30 seconds to win the title. The champion didn’t even get his Elvis jumpsuit off before the abbreviated thrashing began.

2. It’s Not Big Enough for the Both of Them (March 24, 1991)

After Warrior refused to grant Savage a WWE Title match in early 1991, Savage cost Warrior the gold against Sgt. Slaughter at the Royal Rumble. The war was on, the match was signed, and a stipulation was made for the showdown at WrestleMania VII: whoever lost the match would be forced into retirement. It was the most high profile “loser leaves” match signed in the annals of professional wrestling.

While the post-match activity is just as famous (Savage is attacked by an angry Sherri, and a returning Liz saves, reuniting with her partner-in-life), Warrior’s match with Savage is possibly the best physical performance of Warrior’s career. The ending was a tad anti-climatic, with Warrior pinning “The Macho King” after three shoulder blocks, but the tension and excitement were off the charts all the way through.

1. The Ultimate Challenge (April 1, 1990)

You expected anything else? Warrior/Savage may have been a hair better from an action perspective than Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior’s title-for-title opus at SkyDome at WrestleMania VI, but Warrior’s most defining moment came one year earlier. As hinted in the 1990 Rumble entry listed earlier, Warrior projected as the only man on Hogan’s level, and it remained to be seen if WWE had the faith to put him over “The Immortal”.

Even Jesse Ventura remained impartial as Hogan and Warrior one-upped one another with tests of strength, making each other look different shades of mortal through the first 20-minute-plus match in WrestleMania history. Warrior evaded a late leg drop, and splashed the spent Hulkster to capture the title in the apex of his career. Hogan would have his day again, but not before the Warrior had the greatest professional outing he’d ever know.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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Remembering The Ultimate Warrior and The Man Beneath

April 09, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

The Ultimate Warrior’s thrashing theme music blared in SkyDome, moments after he achieved a coup the likes of which would hardly be rivaled until Brock Lesnar ended Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak days ago: Warrior pinned heroic Hulk Hogan cleanly.

Twenty-four years later, Warrior, after a generation of bad blood filling a moat between he and Vince McMahon, took his rightful place, etched in stone into WWE’s Hall of Fame.

Less than 72 hours later, Warrior was dead of as-of-yet unofficial causes at age 54.

If the placing of those items seems odd and blunt, it’s perhaps apropos, considering that Warrior himself was odd and blunt. For a man never afraid to speak at length about the business, politics, lessons of life, and his respect or disdain for fellow public figures, few stars of his magnitude were as shrouded in mystery as he.

Warrior was a riddle, subject to death rumors in an era of “Pop Rocks and Coke killed Mikey the Life cereal kid”, and such rumors subsisted for years. Even when Warrior would return, face paint and hairstyle changes shrouded the man once birth-named Jim Hellwig, making it possible for yarn-spinners to say, “Oh, that’s somebody else underneath the paint.”

His outworldly nature made it easy for us to believe urban legends like that, mostly because he never seemed human. His super-sonic running, rope-thrashing, opponent-crushing, Neanderthal-grunting, apocalypse-forecasting image fit a man surnamed “Warrior” moreso than “Hellwig”. The real life name change was befitting of the character’s quirks, namely because nobody who saw The Ultimate Warrior could imagine him existing as anything but The Ultimate Warrior.

At the Hall of Fame Saturday, we got to see Warrior’s mother, a timid-looking elder easily imaginable in any sewing circle, or enjoying leisure time with her grandkids. I joked to readers that the phrase “Ultimate Warrior’s mother” seemed odd, because you couldn’t imagine Warrior being a child who went to school, played sports, and went to the prom.

Warrior had to have been born from a reptile egg, or descended from some uncharted galaxy, or evolved suddenly from some jungle creature. Even as the man spoke eloquently about his experiences and feelings, looking very much like an easy-going Ron Perlman with a more jutting jaw, I was still making convoluted allusions to his unique alter ego. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

As I write this, and as you read this, conspiracy theorists and closure-minded folks will scour both the Hall of Fame speech and his Monday Night Raw ‘in character for old time’s sake’ promo, looking for an “I Buried Paul” clue that may have foretold his death. Speculation will run rampant about how he went from ‘here he is’ to ‘he’s gone’ in a day. It’s a testament to Warrior’s reckless image, cultivated by years of equally reckless portrayal, that his death will be subject of far-fetched speculation, even if the cause is determined to be acutely explainable.

The irony in all of this is that Warrior *was* human, moreso than most of his peers in the business.

While those he’s faintly damned with the bluntness of tongue continue to hang on for one more day in the spotlight, or one last payday, Warrior had the financial freedom to walk away. He wasn’t a wrestling fan, but he could perform to the standard of packed arenas globally. Stories of an out-of-control ego are contradicted by his presence away from the wrestling business, wrestling exactly one match between 1998 and the end of his life. Near as I can tell, Warrior didn’t wrestle once in 1993, 1994, 1997, or 1999, the ages of his life where men like Undertaker, Batista, Steve Austin, and Bret Hart were at their respective peaks.

For as boisterous and profoundly vociferous as he was with a microphone in front of his painted face, Warrior spoke intelligently about conservative politics, whether or not you agreed with him (and one part his 2005 Connecticut speech would certainly hit a sensitive nerve). He stressed the differences in privilege and entitlement, and how he feels society blurs those lines to the detriment of people he feels actually earn their keep.

How odd that Jesse Ventura, on headset, often derided Warrior as a rambling idiot with no regard for the safety of others, and yet Warrior smoothly followed Ventura’s real life creedo on wrestling: you get into the business to get out of the business. Whatever philosophical differences the two may have had politically, they can admire each other’s exit strategies for escaping a sapping, grueling form of entertainment, and remaining free on their own terms.

We saw his family on Saturday. We listened to him speak knowledgeably about WWE’s ‘little people’, and how he remembered their considerable contributions to his living. We watched him gently shake off the chants of “One More Match”, saying ‘no, no more match.’ The cheese in that trap didn’t entice him as it would others. He was proud, charming, playful, thoughtful, and most of all natural. Nothing put on. Even the triple-pointed make-up job remained unapplied.

How do you remember The Ultimate Warrior? How does a fan of Jim Hellwig, or even an observing detractor, put together the images of the unearthly hero and the articulate family man? We saw both; hell, we saw em 48 hours apart between his induction and his final “Warrior” promo.

ESPN’s Bill Simmons quoted his own father when he was asked what current NBA player the late “Pistol” Pete Maravich most resembled, and the elder Simmons said there wasn’t a comparison out there. That’s how I feel about Warrior, and that’s the simplest legacy for a complex man: there is no comparison for The Ultimate Warrior.

In his prime, Warrior stood out in a sea of lively hues. In retrospect, a melding of multiple eras still sees Warrior fail to blend with anyone else, even other industrial giants.

To remember Ultimate Warrior is to remember him alone. He conquered alone, he walked away from wrestling alone, and he stood on a proud, self-made pedestal alone.

The fact that The Ultimate Warrior and the man we saw this weekend on the final run of his life occupy that same pedestal, one built for only two human feet, is why his strange and unique legacy will never be forgotten.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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WrestleMania 30 Firmly Turns The Rusty WWE Wheel

April 07, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

The braintrust at World Wrestling Entertainment probably wouldn’t know literary symbolism from an Irish whip reversal, but sometimes, their presentation magnetically drags the pieces into place for a picture of change.

Or maybe WWE intentionally painted the strokes they painted at WrestleMania, hoping that we’d tilt our heads, and see the same meaning that they’d brushed on that canvas.

When WWE Network launched on February 24, you and I and millions of others (after enough lags to win the Network a job working for a transit authority) were besieged with a maelstrom of yesterday. WWE makes their money off the past. As ESPN Classic, The Angry Video Game Nerd, and every production company that lives to pump out remakes can tell you, there’s dollars and cents in yesterday.

WWE knows this, but at WrestleMania XXX, they flipped the calendar forward for a change.

For one thing, did you know that WrestleMania XXX is the first Mania since 2000 (fourteen years!) to have nobody over the age of 40 win? Undertaker turned 40 in 2005, so you can write off 21 onward through 29. 20 had Flair win, 19 had Hogan, 18 had DDP, 17 had Iron Sheik (in an old-timer’s match, but still).

Just how many 40-year-olds did this year’s show throw out there?

You can start with the super-duper-mondo-extended intro in which Hulk Hogan couldn’t remember the venue’s name (though his favorite 1980s sitcom is still Super Spoons). He, The Rock, and Stone Cold shared the stage, WWE’s three greatest stars of all time, in a surreal love-in that, while excessive, was still more fun than Rock’s “when I say Yabba!” bit three years ago.

Hogan, Rock, and Austin jerking the curtain. Sure, it wasn’t a match, but other than one comedy bit with Hogan later on, the three took their bow, and exited stage left, as they’ve done to end eras prior.

As for the elders that donned tights (or ‘work slacks’, in the case of a certain pencil-pushing demon), I count Triple H, The Undertaker, Kane, Road Dogg, Billy Gunn, Goldust, The Big Show, and Mark Henry. You can also add Batista and Great Khali, but for this point, they can take a seat.

Those first eight names, do they look familiar? Maybe you were like me, sitting there in junior high and high school, watching them on Monday nights as they shoveled coal into the furnace of the locomotive that demolition derby’d WCW into oblivion.

Yep, Attitude relics, all of them. None of them were victorious.

The King of Kings laid down first, performing in his best non-Undertaker match in at least six or seven years. Daniel Bryan needed the rub if he was going to take the torch, and a great match was had. As much as Stephanie irks me, I was glad she was at ringside, chewing the scenery with her last obnoxious nerve. Reminded me of 2000 WWF.

Then Bryan ripped that page off of that dingy wall.

Kane and the Outlaws didn’t get a fraction of time Hunter got. The Shield, all of whom were in elementary school at their opponents’ apexes, dispatched the trio in about three minutes.

Then strongman Cesaro wins the Andre battle royal, outlasting Henry and Goldust, ultimately slamming Big Show over the ropes in a way that would make Hulk’s slam of Andre look like a school-yard foot-trip.

You don’t have to tell a Rec Center devotee that the first three matches were won by Bryan Danielson, Tyler Black, Claudio Castagnoli, and their Cage of Death cohort, Jon Moxley. All at the expense of the hangers-on of time.

Then Cena beat Bray Wyatt after a long, psychological war (had Wyatt won, you could say Luke Harper was the fourth ROH alumnus to stand tall), but even Wyatt going down wasn’t as shocking as the ultimate defeat following.

Nobody expected Undertaker to go down, outside of the know. When Brock Lesnar landed the third F5, I said to my viewing party, “is Taker really kicking out of a third?”

Then the hand dropped a third time. And the astonished faces in the crowd said it all.

You expected Kane and the Outlaws to be crushed. You expected Bryan to go over. You kinda figured a young gun would get the Andre trophy if one-time purported son Big Show didn’t.

But Undertaker losing at WrestleMania? That’s bleeping crazy.

Then Lesnar beat him. It felt as though an unbreakable chain snapped with one mighty pull, and that chain was the restraint that kept ‘yesterday’ from falling over.

Tim. Ber.

Method actor Paul Heyman couldn’t believe his client pulled it off, pulling the black and purple sword from the stone. The hush was louder than any catcall could have been. The last thing from our past that felt real, without artificial propping, finally cracked and crumbled to the Earth, and even us jaded dweebs who say, “yeah, it’s fake, but…” double-taked with eyes bulging out like silent film comedians.

When Triple H promised a ‘reality era’, it may well have been Paul Levesque promising a ‘different’ era. Nostalgia is fantasy, after all, gussied up by our memories, and we roll in those memories like a flowery meadow.

When the rug was swept out from under Taker’s calling card, what was left?

The new era. The literal, actual, 100% certified Reality Era.

Once the Diva clusterfack subsided, Daniel Bryan took center stage, in effect becoming what fans had wanted him to be all along: the main man.

With the floor his to save the day, Bryan was booked to come through against Randy Orton and Batista (the era after Attitude, though Brock and Cena are of that cloth too, but eh, go with it). With Bryan standing tall, YESing the arms up with a belt in each, WrestleMania XXX became his show, and the WWE became his yard, to borrow a phrase from a departing icon.

WWE will still present their nostalgia for the quick dollar, and they do it better than any. Still, it’s refreshing to see an era give way to another, because that’s how it should be, right?

I’m pretty sure I can get a yes on that.

And another.

YES!

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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WrestleMania XXIX: A Portrait In History

April 04, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

WrestleMania XXIX
From MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ
April 7, 2013

BACKGROUND

With 1.22M buys being tallied for WrestleMania XXVIII the previous year, little spurring was needed to steer Vince McMahon’s money-snatching fist straight through the glass pane of the event’s tagline. The epic clash between John Cena and The Rock had been dubbed ‘Once in a Lifetime’, but the capitalist nose of the WWE Chairman would sniff out a way to render that moot.

In July 2012, CM Punk found himself in the midst of an unexpected eight-month reign as WWE Champion, though his matches had taken a backseat to whatever monthly arc terminal hero Cena was engaged in. At Monday Night Raw’s 1000th episode gala, Punk began a sudden heel turn, surviving a title defense against briefcase-cashing Cena, and then assaulting Rock at the show’s end.

Those with even adequate pattern recognition knew where this was going. Earlier in the night, The Rock had announced his intentions of challenging the WWE Champion at the Royal Rumble, six months away, while not wrestling anyone else beforehand. In the interim, Punk took the plunge into one of the oddest character shifts known to fan.

Punk, once a plain-spoken firebrand that stood up for himself, was now a sniveling coward hiding behind Paul Heyman, and was being called out as said coward by Cena on a weekly basis. Punk was even accused of stealing the flying elbow smash from deceased Macho Man Randy Savage (*cough* done in tribute) to solidify his turn.

Truth is, a number of fans still cheered Punk all the way to the Rumble, where he was downed by The Rock in a pretty good match to switch the title. Meanwhile, Cena won the night’s Rumble match, last tossing Ryback.

You knew Cena wasn’t picking Alberto Del Rio as his Mania foe; ‘Twice in a Lifetime’ await. Could the magic be duplicated in North Jersey?

THE EVENT

The actual build toward the Cena-Rock rematch maintained a paucity of tension compared to the previous year, as the two crossed paths exactly twice on the road to the encounter. The first showdown occurred March 4 at Old School Raw, when the two had words, and Cena blamed his entire downhill 2012 on losing to Rock. Their other occupation of the same space happened three weeks later, when Raw ended with a town-hall debate between the two, who took questions from various WWE Hall of Famers. That absurdity ended with a Rock Bottom on Cena.

Other than that, there was little of note between the two in the build to ‘the biggest rematch of all time’, aside from Cena retaining his title shot by beating CM Punk on February 25. In one of the greatest matches in the history of Monday Night Raw, Cena AA’ed Punk to close a 25-minute epic in Dallas, ending their two-year feud once and for all.

Speaking of Punk, he found his way into WrestleMania by winning a fatal four-way at that Old School Raw to earn a match against The Undertaker. Less than 24 hours later, Undertaker’s legendary manager, Paul Bearer, passed away from respiratory complications at age 58.

Bearer’s death was shoehorned into the virtually non-existent storyline, as Punk stole Bearer’s trademark urn from a somber memorial held on March 11. For the next several weeks, Punk taunted The Dead Man with the token, disrespectfully playing catch with it, and then striking Undertaker with it the week before WrestleMania, dumping the ashes all over him. That segment was most notable for Punk’s advocate, Paul Heyman, dressing as Bearer in guffawingly over-the-top fashion.

Punk wasn’t Heyman’s only charge with a WrestleMania appointment. After Brock Lesnar was about to assault Vince McMahon for the second time in 2013, Triple H made the save. Lesnar had snapped Triple H’s arm in a victory at the previous SummerSlam, and, naturally, the feud had to continue.

In the skirmish, liquid was spilled. Brock ended up busted open after hitting the ringpost, and Helmsley, perhaps after an impact to the abdomen, literally peed his pants. Triple H eventually gained the rematch he sought, but only after Heyman added a provision: The Game would have to retire if he lost, presumably going back to his miserable life of running a corporation for millions of dollars a year.

Rounding out the main tier, and this only because a World Title was involved, sudden-blue collar hero Alberto Del Rio would defend his World Heavyweight Title against the winner of the Elimination Chamber match, Jack Swagger.

Swagger abandoned his no-frills amateur wrestling persona, and took on Zeb Coulter as a manager. Coulter, a Vietnam vet who platooned with Swagger’s father (in story), railed against what he perceived to be America’s willing blindness toward illegal immigration, and he and Swagger became Tea Party caricatures in a war with Del Rio, who now embodied Latin spirit instead of bragging about how many landscapers he employs.

Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and JBL performed commentary duties. Diddy performed a song medley, while Living Colour performed “Cult of Personality” live for Punk. Governor Chris Christie also made an appearance for a charity photo-op with Stephanie McMahon. The Hall of Fame class included Bruno Sammartino, Mick Foley, Bob Backlund, Trish Stratus, Booker T, and frequent WrestleMania celebrity Donald Trump.

THE RESULTS

The Shield def. Big Show, Randy Orton, and Sheamus in 10:35
(The relentless push for three all-business newcomers continued, going cleanly over three established World Champions who couldn’t ably be company flagbearer)

Mark Henry def. Ryback in 8:02
(Just a bad match redeemed only by a shock ending, Henry winning cleanly. Ryback would then get World Title shots at the next two PPVs. Yep)

WWE Tag Team: Team Hell No def. Dolph Ziggler/Big E Langston in 6:16
(Cute moment as Daniel Bryan nearly pinned Ziggler the same way Sheamus pinned Bryan quickly the year before. 24 hours later, Ziggler was World Heavyweight Champion. Yep)

Fandango def. Chris Jericho in 9:17
(Jericho’s the only Attitude Era part-timer that returns with the intent of making new stars. Fandango’s win, plus the Cha-cha’ing crowd the next night, held short-lived promise)

World Heavyweight Championship: Alberto Del Rio def. Jack Swagger in 10:28
(No wonder they unified the titles at the end of the year. Scores of fans actually left to get snacks or take a whiz during this one, virtually killing the ‘heroic’ Del Rio run for good)

The Undertaker def. CM Punk in 23:07
(Finally, the show begins to feel like an actual WrestleMania. Punk was having a grand old time ripping off Undertaker’s spots in mock fashion (Old School, the throat slit). Absolute highlight was Punk slapping on the Anaconda Vise, and Taker doing his patented sit-up and glare, much to Punk’s horror. Taker regained the urn after extending the streak to 21 wins)

Triple H def. Brock Lesnar in 23:58
(Just terminally boring in about every way. A part-timer like Lesnar needs someone mobile and agile to go 20 minutes with, and Hunter ain’t it. Shawn Michaels had to be interjected in spots to take bumps while his friend sucked wind. You know, just like the previous year)

WWE Championship: John Cena def. The Rock in 24:32 to win the title
(Not as bad as many outlets make it out to be, but really did feel like a paint-by-numbers re-enactment of the previous encounter, save for Cena stopping himself before repeating his fatal mistake of running into the Rock Bottom. Not great, but a respectable closer)

ITS PLACE IN HISTORY

Was it a good WrestleMania? A bad WrestleMania? You could lean toward an indifferent one, which seems to be the best classification. There were no backstage segments or promos the entire night, while a host of deserving talents (Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, Antonio Cesaro, Kofi Kingston, even Divas Champion Kaitlyn) were left off of the show entirely. Interspersed between the matches were build videos for Rock and Cena (separately), as well as commercials, and a bit where Governor Christie and Stephanie McMahon flanked Special Olympians on the entrance set.

WrestleMania XXIX, more than any other WrestleMania, felt like a cynical cash-grab of half-baked build-ups, with the idea being that four hours of two WrestleMania logos humping would still make tens of millions of dollars.

More and more, the company diverts from the genetic make-up of a fun wrestling show, hoping the lure of big names from yesterday will give them the buyrate they need to brag over. In truth, about 200,000 less households purchased this show compared to XXVIII. There’s no measurement to tell whether that number jives with the anemic build to the show or not.

As for a ‘portrait’, just go with Rock endorsing Cena at the end of the main event. It’s one of few things a viewer would actually remember.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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WrestleMania XXVIII: A Portrait in Wrestling History

April 04, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

WRESTLEMANIA XXVIII
From SunLife Stadium in Miami, FL
April 1, 2012

BACKGROUND
It’s been purported that each WrestleMania event is generally planned a year in advance, and the booking is written backwards to support what they want to present on the grandest stage. While recent WrestleManias seem a bit more thrown-together at times, owing to an increasingly frenetic Vince McMahon being known to make constant changes, WrestleMania XXVIII was an event where a year-long plot was used, this time as an actual storyline.

One night after WrestleMania XXVII in Atlanta, John Cena called out The Rock. Rather than thrash the previous night’s guest host for costing him his World Title match against The Miz, a calm and happy-go-lucky Cena simply challenged Rock to a match at next year’s big event, giving both men one year to prepare for the clash of the ages.

The idea was unique for a modern time frame in which that $45 secondary PPV that you’re being offered has but two matches booked sixteen days before the event. It’s a little hard to get up for those shows (and buyrates seem to agree), but a WrestleMania where the main event is entrenched in everyone’s brains for 363 days?

Those “in-the-know” fans who balked at WWE’s most overexposed star, and most overexposed part-timer, getting a full calendar of non-stop billing would be rewarded by the successes of their heroes.

WWE was becoming a different place, as CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, who’d each passed through Philadelphia’s Murphy Rec Center on the way to the top, won the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships in 2011.

In spite of all of the social media blitzes, irksome moments from Michael Cole, and use of gimmickless FCW/NXT castoffs, it seemed WWE was crafting a WrestleMania unique among the pack. Between a year-long main event build, and two “workrate” champions, the everyday mold was finally being broken.

THE EVENT
Cena and Rock crossed paths prior to the WrestleMania main event, as Rock’s movie schedule allowed him to wrestle at Survivor Series 2011. That night at Madison Square Garden, he and Cena formed a super-team that annihilated The Miz and R-Truth. Afterward, Rock dropped Cena with a Rock Bottom as a reminder that, in four months, they’d each engage in a defining match in their careers.

After Cena was sidetracked by a hard-boiled feud with Kane through early 2012, he and Rock criss-crossed on the remaining road to WrestleMania, insulting each other in their typical juvenille fashion. Rock would host one of his trademark “Rock Concerts” laden with entendres and jibes toward the current company flagbearer, while Cena reinstituted his “Doctor of Thuganomics” persona, ripping into Rock with some lines that would make the kid-friendly sponsors cringe.

The match was even given a TV special on USA Network to promote the history of the icons, giving this match, dubbed “Once in a Lifetime”, a super fight feeling like no other in recent memory.

As if the dream match wasn’t enough to churn buyrates, the “end of an era” was also promised. The Undertaker, 19-0 at WrestleMania, wasn’t happy with how he barely eked the win out over Triple H one year earlier, and demanded a rematch with COO of the company.

Hunter initially balked, but The Dead Man persisted, eventually goading the man technically his boss into a fight. The Game agreed on one condition: that it be a Hell in a Cell match. Shawn Michaels, who’d had his career ended by Undertaker, was made guest referee as one last twist of the screw.

Sheamus was the winner of the 2012 Royal Rumble, last ousting a quizzically-acting Chris Jericho. The Celtic Warrior waited three weeks before deciding which championship to challenge for, ultimately deciding on the World Heavyweight title held by an increasingly-self-indulgent Daniel Bryan.

Bryan was an anomaly, winning the title as an underdog hero on December 18 via briefcase cash-in, but slowly took on a portrayal as an egomaniac jerk. Not only did he ignore the affection of girlfriend AJ Lee, but Bryan began to praise himself more and more for minor victories, many of them tainted. He even allowed AJ to be injured by a stampeding Big Show, all just to keep his title.

As for the WWE Championship, anti-hero CM Punk would face the winner of a ten man battle royal that took place on February 20. Jericho would win, and thus be afforded a chance to continue his vague “end of the world” crusade via the company’s top champion.

Jericho first began the mind games with Punk by claiming the “Straight Edge Superstar” had stolen his “Best in the World” moniker, which Punk gladly challenged Jericho to try and take back. With the champ not fazed, Y2J resorted to revealing the ugly family history of Punk, complete with the addictions his family members all once had. Jericho promised to lead Punk down the road of self-destruction en route to taking his title.

Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler were the evening’s commentators, joined by a now-goateed Jim Ross for the Hell in a Cell match. For the third time, Lilian Garcia performed America the Beautiful. The Hall of Fame Class of 2012 consisted of Edge, The Four Horsemen (dual induction for Ric Flair), Ron Simmons, Yokozuna, Mil Mascaras, and celebrity inductee Mike Tyson.

THE RESULTS
World Heavyweight Championship: Sheamus def. Daniel Bryan in 18 seconds to win the title
(And we stumble out of the gate. Boy the fans at SunLife dumped on them for this decision. I’ve said it in other mediums: it’s not the treatment of Bryan that made this moment suck; it was the belief by the company that Sheamus was going to look stronger as a result. The people who run WWE couldn’t find the pulse of the fans if they had a GPS)

Kane def. Randy Orton in 10:56
(I don’t know who this “Daniel Bryan” fellow is, but he sure got a lot of chants during this match. Decent contest that ended with a flying chokeslam)

WWE Intercontinental: Big Show def. Cody Rhodes in 5:18 to win the title
(The build was entertaining, with Rhodes showing film of Show’s WrestleMania embarrassments to psyche him out, but the match was all too brief. Rhodes actually reigned as champion for eight months)

Maria Menounos/Kelly Kelly def. Eve Torres/Beth Phoenix in 6:49
(All of these women are gone from WWE, which is a commentary on how women would rather do “something else” than work there. But I’d take a stinkface from Miss Menounos, at least)

Hell in a Cell/”End of an Era”: The Undertaker def. Triple H in 30:50
(Opinions of this one are a little divided. Some call this the greatest match in the history of the galaxy. Others think it was stupid to have Triple H assault Undertaker with basic moves, and have Michaels nearly “stop the match” because Taker couldn’t continue. Because Hunter’s so bad ass. Eh, 20-0 is 20-0, even if was slower and more plodding than Heaven’s Gate)

David Otunga/Mark Henry/The Miz/Dolph Ziggler/Jack Swagger/Drew McIntyre def. Kofi Kingston/Santino Marella/Great Khali/R-Truth/Zack Ryder/Booker T in 10:38
(As a result of this, John Laurinaitis won complete control of Raw and Smackdown from Teddy Long. Oh, and Zack Ryder looked like a useless tool. That’ll learn em)

WWE Championship: CM Punk def. Chris Jericho in 22:21
(A highly physical and intense battle that took some time to find second gear, I still found it to be the best match of the night. The battle at the end over the Anaconda Vise, with Punk refusing to give up on the hold, despite Jericho’s vicious struggle, was a nice touch)

“Once in a Lifetime”: The Rock def. John Cena in 33:34
(Nice throwback to the big-time WrestleMania main events of old, even if it was preceded by a six hour concert featuring Flo Rida and anorexic Shannon Moore. Cena’s undoing came as he tried a People’s Elbow, only to be Rock Bottom’d. Some said it was boring, but I actually liked it. Whether Rock has the endurance for another 30 minute match is another story)

ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
It’s hard to argue with 1.22 million buys, a WWE record, so some would say that a year-long build is the way to go. Rock would remain a part of WWE in a limited capacity, sticking around to challenge for the WWE Title at the 2013 Royal Rumble, but we’ll get to that next year.

The show began disastrously, and the fans largely didn’t come out of their anger-induced coma until the Hell in a Cell match. As many people who remember that match, and Rock and Cena’s epic showdown, equally remember how the show opened with the misstep of Sheamus and Bryan, possibly the worst WrestleMania booking since Hogan went over a tired Yokozuna at WrestleMania IX.

It wasn’t a terrible show, but it wasn’t a home run in any way except financially (undoubtedly important, despite our gripes). For the official “portrait” of the show, my pick will be a split screen. On one side is Shawn Michaels and Undertaker holding up a semi-conscious Triple H on the stage, while The Rock stands tall on the other side. WWE more than ever lives off of the past, as it can’t create an exciting present. Logically, their imagery should make you think you’re in 1998.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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WrestleMania 27: Well, That Was Different

April 03, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

-Another day, another running diary. But I keep coming back to entertain all (sixteen) of you that read my work. And, unlike certain hosts of certain PPVs, I will NOT phone it in via satellite!

-I’ll phone it in right here, in person.

-We are looking LIVE (Trademark Brent Musberger) from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, where fingerpoking and NFL playoff choking are all the rage. I’m joined at my brother Josh’s domicile by Josh himself, and jaded buddies Dave and Rob for some good action and, hopefully, some unintentional comedy to offset the cost of this shindig. Also, Domino’s Pizza is the order of the day, because if you’re going to pay to see Snooki, you should at least get fat on Cheesy Bread doing it.

-Keri Hilson performs America the Beautiful, and is the latest contestant in the “Are they Black or White?” game with Derek Jeter, Latoya Jackson, Alicia Keys, and Jason Kidd. Black seems likely, for those wondering how I’d score.

-The Rock is out here to waste time, you know, because the biggest show of the year needs talk. Rock assures us, through his self-intro, that he still eats pie, which must confuse twelve-year old kids in the audience who see a muscular athlete that LOVES to indulge in pastries. But you can see why Daniel Bryan and Sheamus would get axed.

-Rock further validates their excising by leading the crowd in a chant along. Here’s one for you: When I yell “RE!”, you yell “FUND!”. Ready?

-I never thought I’d see the day where four longtime wrestling fans shake their heads in exasperation, wondering when Rock is going to stop talking. I thought April Fool’s Day was Friday.

-Wait, wait, wait, wait…..The World Heavyweight Title match….is OPENING? The prize for winning the Royal Rumble is to open WrestleMania? Well, it’s Atlanta, and Vince probably thought “You know….I wonder how I could devalue the World Heavyweight Title more than WCW ever did”.

-So it’s Edge, with Christian, defending against Alberto Del Rio, with Brodus Clay and Psicosis in a tuxedo. Del Rio takes a nasty slip to the floor, indicating that perhaps Del Rio wants to steal the show and make Vince pay for his error in judgment. Or, maybe he just slipped.

-Del Rio hooks the cross-armbreaker, leading to a false finish. Del Rio then ups the ante with a springing enzuigiri. You’re telling me it was necessary to not make room for this guy later in the night? I thought WWE was all about putting over the future? You know, that outmoded concept that TNA seems to not seem to buy into? Did Russo book this?

-Edge’s spear misses, and it leads to a cross-armbreaker, which Edge refuses to give into. If Edge tapped in the opener to lose the title, then it’s proof Russo WASN’T booking. My money would then be on David Lynch.

-Edge gets the Edgucator, and Del Rio won’t give up. The challenger finds his way out, and Edge merely spears him to win. Really? All that “destiny” chatter and this is the payoff? It was a good match, with few flaws (you know, other than being the opener), but why have Del Rio fall short in what was, basically, a throwaway? I’m not mad, just confused. A lot of us are, really.

-Meanwhile, Michael Cole taunts Jerry Lawler from inside the Cole Mine. He shows off his Slammys and calls himself a “broadcast journalist”, which makes him half Owen Hart/half Bobby Heenan. No wonder I like him so much now.

-Cody Rhodes is out next, Vinny Del Negro face shield and all, to take on Rey Mysterio, who is dressed as Captain America. Interesting that WWE took their two top “lucha” stars and put them at the bottom of the card. Know what other company used to do that? Hint: they were based in Atlanta, and aren’t in business anymore.

-Well hey, Cody’s bringing the energy. It’s like he wants to steal the show all for himself, as he’s keeping up with Mysterio all the way. Not only does Rhodes bust out the Alabama Slam (finisher of ex-partner Hardcore Holly), but he even borrow’s CW Anderson’s delayed superplex. There’s even faint “CODY” chants in the Georgia Dome. Good on you, kid.

-Rhodes tries going into Mysterio’s pant leg, which makes me think he’s trying to find evidence of drug muling, but he’s merely going after Mysterio’s knee brace. Rey responds by taking off Cody’s facemask (“WE CAN SEE WHO IT IS! IT WAS CODY THE WHOLE TIME!”), putting it on, and then headbutting Cody with it. Isn’t that a DQ?

-Rhodes goes an eye for an eye by bashing Rey with his own knee brace, and then hitting Cross Rhodes for the win. I enjoyed the match, and Rhodes proved who the real dead weight of “Legacy” was. No wonder Triple H embarrassed Junior Dibiase so handily. Welcome to the food chain.

-To further urinate in Sheamus and Bryan’s faces, here’s a pointless talent contest backstage. Just know that Rowdy Roddy Piper does a pretty good impression of Jeff Hardy at Victory Road.

-I’m going to give the eight man tag as much time and effort as WWE gave it. I don’t think I physically saw Justin Gabriel. I’ll also bet Vince couldn’t pick him out of a police line-up.

-Eve tells The Rock that she’s enjoying the show. She also believes that, as Divas champion, she’d valued more for her brains and ability than looks, so her credibility is somewhat questionable. Mae Young shows up, because Vince loves her, and then we get an Austin/Rock staredown for old times’ sake. Ok, that was enjoyable. Just glad Austin didn’t strike Eve.

-Randy Orton and CM Punk, the match I was looking forward to the most, is next. Just a classic cat and mouse heel vs. face feud, with very few weak spots. Except for the acting of Randy Orton’s “wife”. This should be an annual tradition: find a fitness model with zero personality, and make her Orton’s designated wife. It’s like “Rock of Love” with fewer degrading skits.

-It needs to be said: CM Punk is about as complete a heel as you’ll find in wrestling these days. He was born about twenty years too late. Take away the excessive tattoos and couldn’t you see him in the old NWA, attacking babyfaces in the parking lot? He’s like Tully Blanchard, except you won’t find him repenting tearfully over the days of sniffing lines out of the belly buttons of ring rats.

-Punk is carrying his end swimmingly. I think he and Cody Rhodes are playing “can you top this” in terms of bringing their A-Game to the night. Punk’s arrays of kicks, as well as the kick-to-the-face counter to the RKO, are keeping the viewing party entertained. In other words, we like Punk.

-ANACONDA VICE! ORTON HOLDING ON BY A THREAD! Hold my coat while I forget that this is fake for a little while!

-After Punk avoids a few defeat attempts due to Orton’s injuries, Punk springboards into the ring and eats a vicious RKO. Great match, best of the night so far (edging the Cody-Rey “feelin’ it” fest). For as badly structured as the backstage stuff is, the ring work is carrying the card.

-The Rock talks to Pee Wee Herman. I go for more cheesy bread, to find none left. I’m sad twice.

-Howard Finkel! #27! THE REAL STREAK LIVES!

-Hall of Famers are then introduced: Abdullah the Butcher, Sunny (YOWZA!), Legion of Doom (Man, Hawk got small….oh, that’s Ellering), Bullet Bob Armstrong, Drew Carey, Hacksaw Jim Duggan (complete with tuxed-up 2X4), and Shawn Michaels, whose presence on these shows is definitely missed. Now we have to be more selective with our “FIVE STAR” declarations.

-Booker T is out next to commentate as is, wait for it…..GOOD OL JR! And Jim Ross said on Twitter that he WOULDN’T be commentating! Using Twitter to deceive people? When did JR become Dixie Carter?

-Michael Cole is dressed as a mildly-less retarded Rick Steiner while Jerry Lawler is, well, Jerry Lawler. Steve Austin, the referee, nearly runs over Jack Swagger with his ATV. What if Swagger DID get hit? Could they have tousled Drew McIntyre’s hair and given him a singlet in time?

-Cole’s having the time of his life, performing like a modern Andy Kaufman. Meanwhile, Swagger busts out the ankle lock on Lawler. Question: if Kurt Angle was a real Olympian, is Swagger WWE’s “Special Olympian”? Question two: am I going to Hell for making this joke?

-Cole seems to have no concept of applying holds, which may lead one to think he doesn’t watch ROH. And why would he? Working ROH style leads to you having your US Title match scrapped.

-Match slows down as the crowd chants “DORING” in the hopes that former ECW Tag Team Champion Danny Doring arrives to spice things up. No dice, sadly.

-The match breaks down into a typical Austin showcase (Stunner for Swagger, babyface comeback), with Lawler applying an ankle lock for the submission, with Cole tapping forever, and Austin delaying the bell ringing. Just for fun, Booker T jumps in for a beer and eats a Stunner, because Austin remembers when Booker stole his truck and cost him the Undisputed Title.

-But WAIT! The Anonymous GM, per Josh Mathews, announces that Austin overstepped his bounds and that the virtually dead Michael Cole wins by DQ! So Austin beats up Mathews, just because. Maybe Austin’s just mad because they’re making Expendables II without him.

-Meanwhile, at AXXESS, Sheamus fans flew from Ireland to see him! Just slap em in the face, why don’t ya, WWE….

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-No Holds Barred is next, and while I’m fearful of Zeus returning, it’s actually the heavily-hyped Undertaker-Triple H match. Hear that buzzing? That’s me. I’m abuzz.

-Triple H immediately endears himself to me by using “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, my favorite song from my favorite band of all time, Metallica. The booking staff could use “Frayed Ends of Sanity” themselves. He then switches to Motorhead after a redux of his Conan entrance, and then The Undertaker arrives to Johnny Cash. Metallica, Motorhead, and Johnny Cash? Sounds like the contents of Triple H’s iPod. Can we work some Warrant in there somewhere, just for laughs?

-Of note, this is Triple H’s first match in almost a year. In most cases, the man’s gut might sag. Not the case here, but his forehead’s sloping to the point where he could become a GEICO pitchman.

-The brawl goes outside and they end up destroying the Cole Mine, near the Spanish announce table. Rob points out that the last time he saw a mine collapse in the presence of Latinos was in Chile. So Rob takes my coveted title of “most tasteless joke told in a Justin diary”. I couldn’t hold it forever.

-Match is a damn good brawl, and Hunter takes a SICK backdrop off of the announce table, landing right on his hip. Gotta respect the man for taking so much abuse when he can just sit back.

-Jerry Lawler mentions that Undertaker’s never faced someone quite like Triple H, except when he faced…..Triple H. Of course, Lawler missed that WrestleMania when he protested alongside a woman that would later desert him for another man, so I can excuse it.

-HHH lands a Pedigree for 2, and then another which doesn’t finish. Hunter is now screaming “STAY DOWN”, which seems to indicate that Undertaker isn’t following the script that Hunter carefully wrote. Had Hunter yelled “JOB!”, that would have been my undisputed WrestleMania 27 moment. Hands down.

-Hunter decides to violate company policy by bashing Taker in the head with a chair, and then adds a Tombstone, which still isn’t enough. Finally, he gets the sledgehammer, but Undertaker applies Hell’s Gate. Hunter can’t swing the weapon, goes limp, and then lightly taps out. Wow, insanely epic brawl. Perhaps it’s not of the caliber of the Taker/Shawn matches, but best match of the night anyway.

-Note: Hunter tapped three times in big Mania matches. Who says he doesn’t lay down?

-Undertaker, near death, is carted off with the help of several officials, including IRS. Didn’t IRS once repossess headstones just to mess with Taker? Wrestling sure is full of forgiveness.

-Hey, Vickie’s here to shriek! Fan sentiment: “if we keep booing her and giving her insane heel heat, maybe she’ll go away!” Yeah, sure, maybe.

-John Morrison, Trish Stratus, and Snooki are facing Dolph Ziggler and LayCool, which seems to be a recipe for disaster, especially when Trish and McCool fall awkwardly to the floor from the top rope. Then McCool accidentally almost takes Layla’s face off with a blown kick meant for Trish. WWE does strong style better than the indies!

-Morrison adds a Starship Pain to the floor. Bad ass.

-Snooki gets booed after a tag, but amazes all with a handspring back splash that puts Great Muta to shame. Flip splash pins McCool to give us a pleasant surprise. Ya know, take away her drunkenness, her annoying personality, her burnt skin, and her overexposed celebrity, and what do you have? A short girl with some shapely thighs and is quite bottom heavy. Give her a normal life where she’s just “Nicole”, and I’d be shamelessly lusting after her like George “The Animal” Steele.

-(The above statement was made without a trace of irony)

-The Tough Enough contestants are in the crowd and, as Dave points out, they got better seats than the WCW roster did ten years ago at X7. Shows you where WWE’s priorities are.

-Miz’s opening video for the main event, with him “taking over production”, while “Hate Me Now” plays, is one of the freshest presentations WWE has yet done. Makes The Miz seem like a big time performer.

-Alex Riley, by managing Miz in the main event, is the Harvey Wippleman to Riley’s Sid Justice. It’s official.

-John Cena‘s entrance of the year: a church choir, singing over a montage of Cena photos and videos of his youth. If you’re going to do a church choir, can’t you get a James Brown impersonator to sing in preacher garb while Cena yells “THE BAND, ELWOOD! THE BAND!”? Is that too much to ask?

-Slow opening to the WWE Title match. Fan with a sign reading “PLEASE GIVE UP” in one of Cena’s fonts makes us laugh. Not a good sign.

-Cena and Miz seem to be rushing through this, due to time constraints. I dunno, maybe giving Rock 4 hours at the start of the show to cheerlead wasn’t such a good idea.

-For a WrestleMania main event, this is resembling a match in Stu Hart’s basement: no heat, and it’s not exactly visually pleasing. Oh, and there’s a ref bump! This just gets better by the second!

-Riley bashes Cena with a briefcase, which IRS seemed to have left at ringside, and Miz still can’t finish. So the two men brawl to the floor and Cena takes Miz over a pair of railings. Mike Chioda counts both men out which means….MIZ RETAINS! The crowd, which booed Cena all match, boos Miz retaining the title. And this is why smart-ass fans can’t have good things.

-But WAIT! Rock is out here to restart the match! The crowd doesn’t know how to feel.

-But it’s okay, because Rock gives Cena Rock Bottom as a receipt, and allows Miz to pin him and retain. Ballsy ending, I’ll give em that. Not a great match, but it’ll be fun to see where they take it from here.

-Oh, and Rock gives Miz a beating as well, because Rock’s the star. The prodigal star.

CYNIC SAYS: I didn’t HATE the show, but the structure was definitely weird. Taker-HHH was a match of the year candidate, Rhodes-Rey and Orton-Punk were both excellent, and the World Title matches were solid enough (yes, even Miz-Cena was “okay). Lawler-Cole was also fun for what it was.

There was nothing outright terrible, but not a whole lot of “blowaway” for the biggest show of the year. Call it a thumbs in the middle, leaning up, pending further review some day.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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WrestleMania XXVII: A Portrait in Wrestling History

April 03, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

WRESTLEMANIA XXVII
From The Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA
April 3, 2011

BACKGROUND
WrestleManias these days are more like the Super Bowl than ever before. In the NFL’s biggest annual game, while the outcome determines a champion, thus making the game the most relevant part of the weekend, the lure and aura of the halftime show, commercials, and interminable pre-game shows loaded with puff pieces draw in the casual viewer.

With WWE’s ratings and buyrates waning incrementally from the Attitude Era’s ending, Vince McMahon has discovered other ways to appeal to the casual viewer, especially come “WrestleMania season.”

In the last year and a half or so, World Wrestling Entertainment has dove into the deep end of social networking. You can’t sit through more than five minutes of Monday Night Raw anymore without Michael Cole prattling on in his cacophonic shriek about “hashtags” and “trending” and whatnot. Wrestlers tweeting threats to each other on off-days, usually in character, have begun to replace traditional story elements of tag team miscues and title shot demands as a means of fueling feuds and grudges.

With Twitter and Facebook as prime means of communication, it’s no doubt that WWE would exploit any chance to reach potential viewers.

Of course, WWE also continues the time-honored tradition of immersing past stars into the present story world. In recent years, we’ve seen Chris Jericho run afoul of Hall of Famers like Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat on the Road to WrestleMania. One year later, Vince McMahon and Bret Hart modified their years of bad blood into a three month story arc that culminated in one of WrestleMania’s most unlikely matches.

With a Georgia Dome to fill, and fans to get talking, WWE brought somebody in off the bench to help ensure the likelihood of both. It had been nearly seven years since he was last seen….

But finally……he came back.

THE EVENT
On February 14, 2011, a day devoted to love, wrestling fans jilted by the loss of WWE’s classic spontaneity and assertiveness were greeted to the sports entertainment equivalent of John Cusack standing below their bedroom window with a boombox.

One week after Vince McMahon announced a special guest host for WrestleMania, The Rock showed up in Anaheim, to an ungodly ovation from fans who had missed one of the sport’s greatest heroes. Dwayne Johnson systematically riffed on The Miz and John Cena, the two would-be main eventers, the latter in particular for some scathing public comments. Cena had derided Rock for leaving WWE completely behind in his pursuit of Sunset Boulevard, and now “The People’s Champion” was back to dress down his verbal attacker.

For weeks, Rock and Cena exchanged jibes back and forth so often, you’d think they were facing off at WrestleMania. Instead, Cena (who won #1 contendership at Elimination Chamber) would be challenging The Miz for the WWE Championship. Miz became a secondary figure to Rock and Cena’s trash talk, even while Michael Cole was championing Miz as “the most must-see WWE Champion in history.”

Ahh, Michael Cole’s heel turn. That ties into WrestleMania as well, as Cole, now pro-heel to the hilt, kept getting under the skin of Jerry Lawler, his longtime partner. When Lawler attempted to become WWE Champion in his only-ever shot, and felt short vs. The Miz, Cole rubbed it in to Lawler in antagonistic fashion. Emotions spilled over when Cole let slip that Lawler’s now-dead mother watched her son lose, and “The King” finally put his hands on his partner.

Soon enough, a match would be signed, with Jack Swagger as Cole’s trainer, and Stone Cold Steve Austin (what did I say about classic acts?) as the guest referee.

We haven’t even mentioned the Royal Rumble winner yet. Alberto Del Rio won the only 40-Man Rumble in history, and selected Edge, the World Heavyweight Champion, as the hilltopper he wished to knock off the summit. This feud had the added advantage of involving Christian, whom Del Rio put out of action in the fall of 2010. The reunited brothers (not friends, screw you WWE) banded together against Del Rio, his servant Ricardo Rodriguez, and protégé Brodus Clay.

To add more star power, The Undertaker’s streak of eighteen WrestleMania wins would be put on the line. Rumors swirled about who would try to end the mark. First, former UFC Champion Brock Lesnar was considered, but a deal never occurred. Then Sting was to jump from TNA, but re-signed with the company in the eleventh hour. Finally, Triple H stepped in, and engaged in weeks of tremendous dueling promo monologues with The Dead Man. The one from March 28 involving Shawn Michaels was some of WWE’s best TV to date.

CM Punk would face Randy Orton in a war over some of Orton’s past acts of aggression. And speaking of aggression, Orton would take out each of Punk’s Nexus flunkies on the road to their showdown.

Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and Josh Mathews provided commentary, with Jim Ross and Booker T joining in later. Keri Hilson performed America the Beautiful. The Hall of Famers included Shawn Michaels, The Road Warriors, Paul Ellering, Sunny, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Abdullah the Butcher, Bob Armstrong, and Drew Carey.

THE RESULTS
World Heavyweight Championship: Edge def. Alberto Del Rio in 11:10
(Not only did the Royal Rumble winner open the show, but he also lost, looking like quite the “chumpstain” in the process. This would be Edge’s final match before retiring due to spinal injuries, but at least it was a really good opener. But still, why did it have to open?)

Cody Rhodes def. Rey Mysterio in 12:00
(This was quite an important match, as not only was it really good, but it showed that Rhodes can shine in a role outside of being Randy Orton’s lackey, or Ted Dibiase’s co-conspirator. If you wonder why Rhodes is trusted with a serious push, look here)

Kane/Big Show/Kofi Kingston/Santino Marella def. The Corre in 1:35
(As of this match, Santino Marella is 2-0 at WrestleMania, and Big Show is 3-8. Let that sink in)

Randy Orton def. CM Punk in 14:48
(If the crowd wasn’t so restless by this point, and if the night didn’t have a sour tone overall, this would be remembered as something more. Damn good match, but greater things lie ahead for both. Especially Punk about three months later….)

Michael Cole by Jerry Lawler by DQ in 13:42
(Why yes, this got more time than the first two matches. Coupled with The Rock wasting fifteen minutes at the start of the show with a cheerleading session, and you see why Sheamus and Daniel Bryan’s US Title match was bumped. The only good this match provided was getting Jim Ross to do commentary for the rest of the evening. Watching Cole on extended offense is like watching a midget do a caber toss)

No Holds Barred: The Undertaker def. Triple H in 29:26
(Not the five star classic some were hailing it as, but still a match of the year contender, surpassed by Christian/Del Rio a month later, and then Cena/Punk at MITB and Summerslam. Just a wild brawl with an insanely intense last few minutes. Undertaker springing back from the dregs of death to make Triple H tap out was heart-stopping excitement, and it pretty much saved the show. 19-0)

John Morrison/Trish Stratus/Snooki def. Dolph Ziggler/Michelle McCool/Layla in 4:00
(I’ll say it: Snooki + WWE’s make-up team = mildly attractive. She filled out those shorts nicely, even if I find her repulsive otherwise. Morrison snubbed Trish for much of the post-match, out of protest for Melina not getting to be on the show, and would fall out of favor with WWE entirely, leaving by year’s end. Actually, factoring in Layla’s near year-long injury, and Dolph is the only one still there)

WWE Heavyweight Championship: The Miz def. John Cena in 16:10
(If there’s one thing Miz doesn’t know how to do, it’s put on an epic match. Pedestrian, Raw-like, and building to nothing exciting, the match ended in a double countout before Rock restarted it, just so he could screw Cena with a Rock Bottom. Then Miz, after winning, got one too, and Rock celebrated to end the show. Really, that was the ending. The Seinfeld finale was better conceived)

ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
Rock and Cena would immediately begin to hype their one on one match for a year later, but the fans were still coming to grips with the show that they’d just been fed. Bryan/Sheamus bumped? Edge opening? Rock rambling in horrible segments? Cole wrestling for fifteen minutes? Snoop Dogg hosting a sing-off? No title changes? SNOOKI?!?!

Four of the matches (Edge/Alberto, Rey/Cody, Punk/Orton, Taker/HHH) were all WrestleMania worthy, and keep this from being a complete clunker. That said, there were so many head-scratching decisions involved with WrestleMania XXVII, you’d think Vince McMahon was bound and gagged backstage while Vince Russo and Herb Abrams ran amok with the booking sheet.

As for the show’s most enduring image, it has to be The Rock. It was supposed to be, theoretically, a night for Cena and Edge, two longtime heroes, to wage war with two upstart villains, Del Rio and Miz, in championship matches, but they were mere appetizers. Rock leading the fans in a chant exhibition, and then cavorting around with Mae Young and Peewee Herman…..this was somehow necessary, according to WWE.

Rock standing tall to close the show is the official portrait, and that pretty much sums up the show’s downfall.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

WWE: The Greatest Wrestling Stars of the ’80s

Wrestlemania 30 DVD

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