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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.

RICH SWANN/AR FOX VS. CHRISTIAN ROSE/MATT CAGE (DREAMWAVE, March 1, LaSalle, IL)

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 YOUNG BUCKS VS. THE SUPER SMASH BROTHERS (SMASH Wrestling, August 17, Toronto, ON)

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.

WWE: The Destruction of the Shield

The Randy Savage Story DVD

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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.

WWE: ECW Unreleased Volume Three

The Randy Savage Story DVD

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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.

WWE: ECW Unreleased Volume Three

The Randy Savage Story DVD

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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.

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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.

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The 25 Lamest WWE PPV Endings Ever

December 23, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

It didn’t take long for Dean Ambrose’s exploding-television mishap (Magnavox Overdrive?) to become subject of ridicule. The fact that Ambrose is winless in all pay-per-view bouts post-Shield split (that’s since June 2) only makes an incendiary monitor more the source of caustic feeling.

The ending of a WWE pay-per-view is generally the lasting impression left on viewers. There may have been some enjoyably crisp match in the undercard (certainly the Dolph Ziggler/Luke Harper ladder match from TLC fits this profile), which may have to yield in the face of a thudding finish. Ambrose being defeated by technology, an incident more likely to do in Cosmo Kramer or Kenny McCormack than wily-whackjob Ambrose, is such a thud.

Over the years, harebrained ideas have punctuated these events, earning their rightful place in negative lore. Your mileage may vary, and with all matters wrestling among distinct fan tastes it will, but I’ve concocted a list of what I feel are the 25 most absurd final acts in WWE pay-per-view history.

CAVEAT 1: this list doesn’t necessary include instances where ‘the wrong guy went over’. That’s certainly subjective. You’re better off writing, “25 times I think Triple H and John Cena should have put someone over.” Now THAT’S a subjective list. But there are a few examples littered in here.

CAVEAT 2: Montreal is disqualified. No incident that turns Vince McMahon into the grandest of villains for Steve Austin to combat with weekly, spurring wrestling’s vaunted Attitude Era into the highest of gears, can count as lame. Unfair to Bret Hart? You can pick a side. Lame? Hardly.

CAVEAT 3: Chances are, you’re going to see something on this list that you personally enjoyed. That’s what friendly debate is for. I once inducted WrestleMania XXVII into WrestleCrap and I still get raked over the coals from time to time for it. Once again, this is all subjective. Just play along, if you would.

CAVEAT 4: For those who DO take offense to anything written, keep in mind it’s almost always written with a playful grin than with a scowl. So many of these moments provided unintentional bits of comedy, how *can* you hate them? Wrestling is fun, even when it’s garbage. Sometimes it takes years to see the humor in these happenings, and other times it’s instant. But hey, it’s why we still watch.

And now, here go the list.

25. THE WHAT GENERATION? (King of the Ring, June 19, 1994)

In 1994, WWE earnestly promoted its hard-hitting, fast-paced “New Generation”, with prime talents like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels leading the way. To contradict this fresh sentiment, the King of the Ring closed with Jerry Lawler wrestling Rowdy Roddy Piper, both men well into their forties. While both men have forged storied legacies, this match is best left out.

Piper fought the insipid Lawler for the right to donate his ‘winning money’ to a Toronto children’s hospital, and Lawler was set on stopping him, like something out of a Marx Brothers movie. The match felt just as aged, and the slow finish didn’t help: Piper hitting a slow-motion back suplex with an awkward bridge that Lawler somehow could not escape.

24. A GRADUAL BURIAL (Rock Bottom, December 13, 1998)

Stone Cold Steve Austin could do no wrong in 1998. It goes without saying that bits like whacking Vince McMahon with a bedpan, or humoring McMahon’s attempt at making him over in corporate stylings, could have bombed with a performer of lesser personality. Austin’s cool factor buoyed many moments, even ones that were just beyond his control.

Closing out 1998, Austin would defeat the increasingly-Satantic Undertaker in a Buried Alive match. While Undertaker lay prone in the grave, Austin instructed a backhoe operator to pile on the dirt. After fidgeting with the controls, to noticeable crowd groans, the driver managed to dump the soil on after what felt like an agonizing hour, with a possibly comatose ‘Taker.

23. MONTREAL: THE SEARCH FOR MORE MONEY (Breaking Point, September 13, 2009)

While Montreal, polarizing as the moment remains, was undeniably the source of great growth for a blissfully-seedy WWE, attempts to rip it off have been lacking. Survivor Series 1998 gets points only for the Rock-Mankind double-turn. Other occurrences of ‘ringing the f–king bell’ since only make the home viewer want to smash their monitors, a la Bret Hart.

At WWE’s lone Breaking Point event, highlighting submission matches, World Champion CM Punk defeated Undertaker in a criminally short match when that bell f–king rang as ‘Taker was in the process of countering the Anaconda Vice. The sort-of explanation: a galvanized Teddy Long orchestrated the screwjob to impress Vince McMahon. Well, it WAS in Montreal….

22. PAY IT OFF ANOTHER TIME (Unforgiven, September 22, 2002)

One major change from the Attitude Era’s closing was, to a degree, serious slowing down of storylines. The good: an exciting story has time to breathe and build (see: Jericho vs. Michaels, 2008). The bad: you’re liable to get a screwy finish on pay-per-view, with the rematch coming the following month. At $45-55 a pop, this can be very irksome to tight-budget viewers.

A fresh-faced Brock Lesnar had just become WWE Champion, and warred with Undertaker in a decent brawl that ended after 20 minutes with a double-DQ that was simply rare in post-Attitude, re-education-filled 2002. The Los Angeles fans blew a gasket in response, and rightly so. The Hell in a Cell rematch a month later is legendary, though the road there had this pothole.

21. TV TAPING (Extreme Rules, April 25, 2010)

There’s two ideas that clash like oil and water: the concept of violent wrestling, and the Bugs Bunny-like comic mischief of John Cena. Hey, Hulk Hogan did plenty of goofy stuff in his matches (many of his Saturday Night’s Main Event moments are beautiful in their intricate silliness), and Cena certainly runs to that well in order to ‘create smiles’, per company mantra.

Cena and Batista put together a pretty good Last Man Standing match for the WWE Championship, and Cena did emerge as ‘last man standing’. That’s because Cena duct-taped Batista’s ankles around the ringpost, taking just long enough for the 300-pound Batista to look foolish in his inability to kick his muscular legs free. Admittedly, that stuff is potent.

20. THE RIGHT/WRONG MAN (In Your House: Triple Header, September 24, 1995)

Bait and switch, thy name is Titan. Immediately following SummerSlam 1995, WWE went into hype overdrive for the third In Your House, booking a true rarity: a match in which the World, Intercontinental, and Tag Team Titles would be on the line. Diesel and Shawn Michaels would defend their respective belts against tag champs Owen Hart and Yokozuna.

Hart would end up making the PPV late following the birth of his daughter Athena, but that only triggered an obvious escape clause. Davey Boy Smith, freshly-turned heel on Diesel, substituted for his brother-in-law. Late in the bout, Owen ran in from out of nowhere, and was immediately powerbombed and pinned by Diesel. The title change was nullified the following morning.

19. WWE LOSES CONTROL (Cyber Sunday, November 5, 2006)

Any sort of celebrity endorsement of WWE is gratefully accepted like a sandwich by a beggar. There is literally almost no D-or-E-lister that WWE won’t latch onto for a quick sniff. These days, middle-of-the-road TV stars are the preferred wagons to hitch to, though WWE has a history of scraping Hollywood’s barrel base for some sort of bad-boy connection. Enter Kevin Federline.

Remember Britney Spears’ ex-husband? At this time, ‘K-Fed’ released a unanimously-panned rap album, Playing With Fire, and WWE’s Attitude-lite product was attempting to make him their new Mike Tyson. Federline cost John Cena the World Heavyweight Title in a triple threat match via distraction, beat him on Raw two months later, and then vanished forever.

18. GASSED CHAMBER (SummerSlam, August 24, 2003)

The case against Triple H from diehard wrestling fans can be extensive, but give the man credit: his pedigree, pun intended, of great matches is a lengthy one, and he’s capable of delivering a believable main event. This wasn’t always the case; in 2003, as World Heavyweight Champion, Triple H reached a career nadir with Raw in a slump, and he quite literally couldn’t carry things.

By SummerSlam, Triple H was badly out of shape, thanks to a serious thigh/groin injury that kept him from working out to his overzealous liking. This meant in SummerSlam’s Elimination Chamber title defense, Helmsley (in garish bicycle shorts) watched Goldberg pulverize everyone before pinning “The Man” with a solitary sledgehammer blow, doing two minutes of work.

17. PULLING THE STRINGS (King of the Ring, June 27, 1999)

One of the en vogue story tropes of the Attitude Era was the “WHODUNNIT” mystery. Who ran down Austin in the parking lot? Who hit Kevin Nash with the Hummer truck? Who is the Higher Power? After Vince McMahon was hastily revealed as that last shrouded figure, the mysteries lost their luster considerably. At least the Higher Power, though, had a payoff.

Steve Austin battled Vince and son Shane for total control of WWE at King of the Ring in a ladder match, with the ownership certificates suspended in a briefcase above the ring. Austin had the match won, and made his climb, when the briefcase was suddenly jerked out of Austin’s reach. The McMahons won full power, and the assailant was never, ever revealed.

16. THIS IS A RECORDING (Over the Limit, May 22, 2011)

John Cena doesn’t quit. Period. Wisenheimer fans will note that Kurt Angle and the redacted Chris Benoit have made Cena tap (for $9.99, you can watch Angle do it at No Mercy 2003), but those are bits of buried history in the primary narrative. Cena, unless he turns heel, is never submitting. Otherwise, those hand-towels he displays are worthless. Well, even more so.

After tormenting WWE Champion Cena in an I Quit match, The Miz managed to draw a submission with a chair-shot beating. The referee then deciphered that it was a recording of Cena previously saying the words in a promo, via Alex Riley’s cell phone lying near Cena’s head. Cena came to life, chased Miz up the rampway, and made him submit seconds later.

15. HELP ME, OBI-WYATT (Hell in a Cell, October 26, 2014)

If the feud between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins has not truly ended, then this entry wouldn’t be so bad. As it stands, it’s a detour for WWE’s best feud of 2014 (assuming it picks up in 2015 sometime). That doesn’t extinguish the randomness of the moment, as well as the all-too excessive nature of what took place. It did take away from an enjoyable brawl.

As Ambrose and Rollins concluded their violent-minus-blood Hell in a Cell bout, Ambrose was about to win when *gasp* the lights went out. Some sort of plain-spoken Middle-Eastern chant was played on loop for what felt like hours. Then a hologram of Bray Wyatt appeared over a smoking lantern in the ring. Wyatt appeared, randomly attacked Ambrose, and Rollins won.

14. SOME PARTING GIFT, BROTHER (WrestleMania VIII, April 5, 1992)

WWE began something of a free-fall in 1992, in regards to a major roster purge. By year’s end, The Ultimate Warrior, Davey Boy Smith, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts, Legion of Doom, and Sid Justice would all leave the company. Hulk Hogan, the biggest star WWE had known by a country mile, was finishing after WrestleMania VIII, a fact that the company vaguely hyped as true.

Hogan headlined against Sid in what was a pretty bland match, building to the Hogan Formula Finish. That’s when Sid kicked out of the legdrop in a shocker, purportedly because an interfering Papa Shango was late. The fact that WrestleMania ended with a disqualification was a considerable letdown, even with Ultimate Warrior making the save in a startling return.

13. OH, THAT’S WHY THEY…. (Royal Rumble, January 29, 2006)

In the 1990s, the company experimented three straight years with putting the World Title match on after the Rumble match. WWE soon figured out that nothing could follow the one-hour tradition, and by 1999, they reverted back to closing the event with the signature gauntlet. An exception has been made twice since: 2013, so Rock could close, and this mind-boggler.

In 2006, the 30-man classic went on fourth out of six matches. Kurt Angle and an ice-cold Mark Henry went on last for the World Title in a plodding affair, headshaking until Angle’s victory celebration. Undertaker arrived on a chariot and caused the ring to collapse as a means of challenging Angle. Boy, good thing WWE changed the match order before that supernatural act.

12. DEAL WITH IT (Royal Rumble, January 26, 2014)

A rare entry on this list that exclusively criticizes the choice of winner than an actual convoluted finish. You won’t need much reminding: Daniel Bryan was by the time the most popular wrestler in the industry, shaking off pointless refuge in the Wyatt Family by destroying the trio in a memorable conclusion to Raw, with the thunderous crowd “YESes” shaking the venue.

Two weeks later, WWE excluded Bryan from the Royal Rumble match, having him put Bray Wyatt over cleanly to start the show. As the crowd gradually grew more sour, an unwelcome Batista ended up winning the Rumble match. When Rey Mysterio entered at No. 30, the realization of Bryan’s absence drew the sort of caustic rage that every heel dreams of.

11. STEP ASIDE, JABRONIES (WrestleMania XXVII, April 3, 2011)

When The Rock made an unexpected return on the February 14 Raw, shockwaves coursed. It’d been seven years since “The Great One” made any sort of meaningful appearance in an actual WWE arena. The Attitude cornerstone would take on the dreaded ‘guest host’ role at WrestleMania, though his diatribes against John Cena were positively right out of 1999.

Problem: Cena wasn’t facing Rock. Instead, Cena was challenging WWE Champion The Miz, with whom he had as unspectacular a main event as you could have on the biggest stage. Miz wound up retaining after Rock cost Cena the match. Then Miz would ‘know his role’ by getting Rock Bottom’d in the aftermath, leaving Rock, a non-wrestler, as the only man standing tall.

10. GREAT MAIN EVENT? NO CHANCE (Royal Rumble, January 24, 1999)

As the previous entry suggests, a bad main event is made much worse with a ridiculous ending. A bad match that lasts one hour and has an equally insulting finish? Much worse, as you’d probably guess. When a bad Royal Rumble came down to the first two entrants, a barely-active Steve Austin and Vince McMahon, jaded fans half-heartedly expected a swerve, which they got.

After Austin beat McMahon half to death, with a World Title match hanging in the balance, he didn’t eliminate the boss, choosing to inflict more damage. This brought The Rock out to distract Austin, giving carte blanche to years of distraction finishes. A suddenly stupid Austin fell under Rock’s spell and tangled with him, allowing the cadaver of Vince to dump Stone Cold.

9. SPONSORED BY JIMMY-JOBS (Extreme Rules, April 29, 2012)

Brock Lesnar’s return following a bountiful UFC run created plenty of excitement. His post-WrestleMania arrival, in which he F5’ed John Cena, nearly blew the roof off of the arena. The vignettes hyping their match four weeks later at Extreme Rules were a paradox of simple, and outside-the-box. Lesnar was now a crossover star, the magnitude of which WWE covets.

So then after bloodying Cena with stiff blows, and nearly breaking the man’s arm with a kimura lock, Lesnar would lose the high-profile bout cleanly. Making matters more confusing was a post-match Cena promo, in which he claimed he may be going away for a while to rest. Not only did Cena not go anywhere, but it undermined the marquee return of beastly megastar.

8. CRANE POSITION (Survivor Series, November 19, 2000)

When topping a heinous act with a measure of revenge, never underestimate WWE’s ability to veer too far into the realm of the absurd. One year earlier at Survivor Series, Steve Austin would be struck by a car in a plot masterminded by Triple H (with Rikishi as the driver). Austin and HHH would war one year later. In Attitude Era WWE, they knew they had to top a speedy rundown.

The match spilled all over the arena, and into the parking lot. Austin fought off the interfering Radicalz, while an ill-tempered Triple H started up a nearby car. As he started it up, Austin appeared inside a crane, lifted the car a few stories off the ground, and let it drop with Helmsley inside. Instead of being, well, dead, Helmsley reappeared not long after with nary a scratch on his body.

7. PLOD DEVICE (No Way Out, February 20, 2005)

One of the common elements on the list: the sudden stupidity of babyfaces. For many of these ideas to ‘work’, the purported hero has to lose 50 IQ points at the worst possible time. Take the barbed wire steel cage match for the WWE Title between JBL and Big Show. On many occasions, Show has played the ogre-like fool, but none moreso than the ending of this No Way Out.

The bloody affair saw Show chokeslam JBL off the top rope, through the actual canvas. Instead of dragging JBL out of the pit and pinning him (Nick Patrick was officiating in the ring), Show slowly kicked open the locked door, walked 1.3 MPH out of the opening, and slowly walked down the steps. Surprise: JBL won when he crawled into the pit, and out from under the ring.

6. TV IS BAD FOR YOU (TLC, December 14, 2014)

I feel fairly confident with the high placement of this entry. Factoring in that Dean Ambrose hasn’t won a pay-per-view bout since June 1, in spite of the favorable reception he receives for his masterful selling, mannerisms, and presentation, WWE has yet to really throw him a bone in his singles run. The ending of TLC has become a new running gag, rightfully so.

Branching off the “sudden stupidity” theory from the previous entry, Ambrose had Bray Wyatt beaten following a car-crash of a TLC match. That wasn’t enough, so Ambrose brings in a plugged-in monitor from under the ring, admires himself in it, and tries to nail Wyatt, only for the plugs to explode and blind him. Say it with me now: Sister Abigail for the pin.

5. SHOW STOPPER (Battleground, October 6, 2013)

Battleground wound up earning the honor of Worst WWE PPV of 2013 across most outlets, and it’s easy to see why. Other than the Rhodes Brothers taking on the Shield, everything else ranged from dull to downright bad. The PPV was the third paying installment of the Daniel Bryan/Randy Orton/Abeyance World Title angle, so at least there’d be a payoff, right?

After 20 minutes of wrestling, Bryan had Orton enveloped in the Yes Lock, only for Big Show to jog down, pull the ref, and lay out Bryan with the WMD, at the behest of Brad Maddox. Show pulled a second referee after a change of heart and then KO’ed Orton, who he was supposed to be helping. Sixty of your dollars later, and the belt remained vacant until the next PPV.

4. EARLIER SHOW STOPPER (Over the Limit, May 20, 2012)

This one features all of the elements of a bad finish: hacky comedy, a plot hole, a bad match, and a worse ending. John Laurinaitis was forced into action against John Cena, with his job on the line. Anyone who interfered would be fired. There’d be no disqualifications otherwise, allowing Cena to drag the former Johnny Ace through some ha-ha-larious predicaments.

Days before the match, a surly Laurinaitis had fired Big Show on Raw. After 15 minutes of Cena pounding Laurinaitis (he could have pinned him at any time), the VP tries to escape, only to conveniently run into a loitering Show. Show brings him back, and then KO’s Cena in a swerve. You know, after Laurinaitis nearly lost a bunch of times. Ace wins, and Show was rehired.

3. GET EM, HULK! (WrestleMania IX, April 4, 1993)

Anyone shedding tears over Hogan’s half-hearted farewell one year earlier will either be overjoyed at the end of WrestleMania IX, or be further appalled. As WWE’s roster shifted into promoting gifted workers with realistic bodies, Bret Hart became its flagbearer and World Champion. A match with portly Yokozuna at WrestleMania IX would put him over strongly.

Hart lost, somehow knocked unconscious by salt to the eyes. This brought out a suddenly-slimmer Hogan to protest this great injustice. Then Mr. Fuji stupidly challenged Hogan to a title match on the spot. Seconds later, Hogan beat Yokozuna to become champion, wiping The Hitman off the slate completely. Hogan then devalued the belt while touring New Japan.

2. STARS AND SWERVES FOREVER (SummerSlam, August 30, 1993)

After Hogan vanished following his title loss back to big Yoko, WWE did not reinsert Hart back into the picture. Instead, they stripped Lex Luger of his ho-hum Narcissist persona, costumed him in all colors Americana, effectively trying to make him the new Hogan. Luger slammed Yokozuna in a public challenge on the Fourth of July, and seemed poised to win the gold.

After Yokozuna’s spokesman Jim Cornette deemed this Lex’s *only* shot at Yokozuna, the two proceeded to actually have a good match. Luger would indeed win, but by countout. Using the steel plate in his forearm, Luger blasted Yoko and knocked him out cold, but through the ropes. Luger celebrated with other babyfaces while balloons and confetti fell, but without the title.

1. LEGACY CEMENTED (Great American Bash, June 27, 2004)

The Undertaker has had his share of unrealistic storylines, many unworthy of equaling the supernatural grace he so easily portrays. In 2004, Undertaker reassumed his ‘Dead Man’ image after a few years performing as an amped-up version of his real life grizzled biker self. With the return to the Dark Side came the package deal of far-fetched incidences as well.

At this event, Undertaker faced the Dudley Boyz in a handicap match with Paul Bearer (back on Taker’s side) sitting in a clear cubicle. If Taker didn’t lay down, Paul Heyman would authorize dumping wet cement on him. The goop built, but Taker won anyway. Then, for reasons unknown, Undertaker himself filled the cubicle, presumably killing Bearer. This wasn’t a heel turn, by the way.

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Objects Of My Disaffection: WWE Waters Down the Appeal of the Weapon

December 15, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

Close to a decade ago on Monday Night Raw, WWE was in the process of hyping the groundbreaking (as in, breaking old ground at a time where doing so permeated the room with daisy-freshness) ECW One Night Stand pay-per-view. On the Raw in question, Chris Benoit raved about his memories in the land of Extreme, and agreed to take on Yoshihiro Tajiri, an ECW icon past Benoit’s seven-month tenure, in an Extreme Rules match.

The problem was plain to an ECW fan: Benoit wasn’t associated with weapons in ECW. His time was measured by breaking Sabu’s neck on a lifter-gone-bad, ragdolling a waifish Al Snow with a Brock Lesnar-like barrage of throwing suplexes, and teaming with Dean Malenko for a six-week reign as Tag Team Champions, overthrowing Sabu and Taz. Very rarely did Benoit alter his character from emotionless mat machine to fit the stereotypical view of the ECW wrestler.

Taz said it best in one of his many identifiers: “I don’t need a weapon; my hands are my weapon.” Taz was more prone to suplexing some poor soul onto his neck than diving off of a ladder.

ECW was about embracing your inner animal to the nth degree, and if it just so happened to involve sadistic use of weapons (Sabu, New Jack, The Sandman), then great. If you were a technician or daredevil that didn’t seek constraint by those fancy-pants sanitized promotions (Benoit, Rey Mysterio, Jerry Lynn), then steal the show with your literal body of work.

Weapons have a place, no doubt, but when they’re applied incorrectly, it cheapens their aura of danger. Weapons for the sake of weapons kills off the appeal quicker than you’d think.

In 2014, ‘extreme’ is passe without innovation or a story to tell. That wasn’t any more evident than during TLC on Sunday night, with no less than five (!) gimmick matches promising carnage and the eradication of a fighter’s will to carry on.

Problem: none of the stories were particularly potent. The lack of a meaningful World Title bout (or *any* World Title match) was bad enough, but TLC was an incredible misfire. Making matters worse, there was the report that the WWE locker room didn’t want to be upstaged by the fantastic NXT Takeover: R Evolution event this past Thursday. It was going to take a major effort to outdo Finn Balor’s transformation, Charlotte and Sasha Banks’ enjoyable bout, the rise of Kevin Owens, and the culmination of Sami Zayn as he finally took down Adrian Neville.

Sadly, what we got out of TLC, I believe, was WWE’s idea of ‘topping’ NXT: weapons for the sake of weapons. Somebody should bring up at the next closed-door meeting the idea that maybe, just maybe, a broken table might be about as fresh as VHS.

The opener was as good as it would get, a high quality ladder match for the Intercontinental Title with Dolph Ziggler capturing the belt before his hometown Cleveland fans, besting Luke Harper. Ziggler is a viable hero, and Harper a capable monster heel. The two lost plenty of unintentional blood and gave it their all. Ziggler’s hot as a performer at the moment, so that buoyed the weightless story (no fault of the performers). Ziggler and Harper’s willingness to sacrifice their bodies held the bout together, and Ziggler’s win felt special.

The next gimmick bout had to follow a screwjob finish, and it was sent out there to die: Big Show vs. Erick Rowan in a “stairs” match, where the metal ring steps are the only legal weapon. Begs the question, if Show bashes Rowan with the steps, but then doesn’t break an armbar on five when Rowan has the ropes, is it really sensible to disqualify him?

Quirks of the rules aside, the match was plenty dreadful. Faint “NXT” chants were heard in the distance, which said it all. The match came to be when he, brace yourself, hit Rowan with the steps on Raw a couple weeks back. They even modified the event name, tacking on “and Stairs” with a soldering iron, for eleven minutes of tedium. It’s hard to fathom anyone purchasing WWE Network solely to see a match with this background.

At the 9 PM hour, John Cena went over on Seth Rollins in a table match to preserve his shot at Brock Lesnar for the Royal Rumble. Admirably, they got the crowd back after Show and Rowan’s debacle, which was trumped only by Johnny Manziel for worst outing in Cleveland on the day. The match, by the standards of the men involved, did drag, and became extra convoluted with a false finish (Rollins went through a table with the referee down), a double-finish (the match resumed after both men went through another table), and the interference of Jamie Noble, Joey Mercury, and Show. Roman Reigns evened the odds and Cena managed to put Rollins through, seen by the referee, to win.

By this point, we’ve seen tables breaking, dives off of ladders, blood, and copious use of metal ring steps. It’s four matches into the show, bear in mind.

The fourth ‘special’ bout was almost as dull as the stairs one, featuring Ryback and Kane in a match where chairs are legal. While it’s somewhat silly (but wholly understandable) that two hulking brutes don’t swing the chairs at the other man’s skull like Miguel Cabrera in the Home Run Derby, there was nothing exciting about the match. Kane is dead as a performer, and Ryback simply isn’t catching on, no matter how much metal he wielded. The smattering of boos he received for six minutes off and on was suddenly drowned by a “FEED ME MORE” chant that started at the highest decibel. Well, comparing him to Goldberg is a bit wrong, but at least they have the heat machine in common.

Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt were tasked with heading off the downward slide with a TLC match, combining chairs, tables, and ladders from the prior bouts (but no stairs, the athletic commission put their foot down). Nevermind that WWE found a way to put two compelling performers, with endless personality, into a feud with as much depth as a steam tray, now they’re tasked with blowing off the PPV with something memorable, using implements that had already been, pun intended, beaten into the ground.

The match wasn’t bad, but there was no impact. Ambrose swings a chair? Ryback did it. Wyatt goes through some tables? So did Rollins. Ambrose off a ladder? Ziggler was there.

Ambrose’s manic antics woke the crowd up in the latter stages, but that was merely the prelude to quite the corny finish: Ambrose blinding himself with a TV monitor that was still plugged in, so that when he tried to yank it in for weapon usage, the sparks from the disconnection temporarily blinded him. Wyatt pinned him with Sister Abigail seconds later.

The lure of the event was destruction through specific weapons. WWE delivered on its promise, but yet it feels as though nothing was accomplished.

For a company that brags that it ‘tells stories’, it sure does lean on props to fill the dead spots. Compared to smaller-fries NXT, those dead spots are becoming more and more frequent.

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Surviving the CZW Cage of Death, From those Risking Life

December 11, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

There are at least two concerns with working in the confines of a match calling itself, “The Cage of Death.” One, obviously, is the physical toll. When the match’s moniker sounds like something out of a Mad Max movie, real pain is to be expected. Previous incarnations of the match, dating back to 1999, have been tests of the human threshold for pain. Can you rip your body to pieces in a ‘best-case scenario’ and still put on a satisfying finish?

That first concern flows into the second: the unwritten notion that each Cage of Death must somehow top the previous. There’s enough of a following for Combat Zone Wrestling that its awed acolytes remember the dizzying heights (or carnaged depths) of those bloodstained benchmarks. Can-you-top-this gone berserk.

“We know that we have to step up and we know we have to deliver, because we don’t want this to be that Cage of Death that sucked,” says Sozio, once known as Niles Young. “We also don’t want to get all beat up and cut up and hurt, and people *still* say that it sucked.”

Sozio took shelter in CZW as a fresh-faced rookie in March 2003. Today, the mellow-voiced, weary-eyed veteran reigns as CZW World Heavyweight Champion after a double-cross of his protege, hard-nosed brawler Biff Busick, on October 18. In his role as a cut-throat capo dei capi, Sozio is shaded in with ruthless resolve. That doesn’t stop the man in the pressed wifebeater-tank top and ‘fuhgeddaboutit’ pompadour from being apprehensive about the danger he faces Saturday night in Voorhees, NJ. His memories of the Cage of Death are all too vivid.

“Ian Knoxx going off the tippy-top of the cage (COD V, 2003) to the floor through just one table. That was scary, having trained and being friends with him. You get close to these people and you see them do this crazy stuff, it’s like watching your brothers basically kill themselves. It’s hard to watch.”

One year later, the Cage of Death almost lived up to its name, as a young Jack Evans demonstrated the hazards of upping the ante for the sake of the show. Sozio recalls it with chilling accuracy.

“Jack Evans’ elimination from the cage came when Chris Ca$h had given him some weird belly-to-back suplex, threw him off the top of the cage, and at the last second Jack kind of grasped the bottom of the cage and I guess broke his fall, because, well, he was somehow alive.”

The video of the incident plays out in its Zapruder-ish, almost underground fight club-like, glory: Ca$h tightropes the apex of the cage with Evans in his grasp. Fans begin buzzing with gasps that turn to screams. Eddie Kingston, teaming with Evans, can be seen steadying the cage wall under the guise of climbing it in order to save his teammate. Ca$h flips Evans, who subtly hooks his fingers into the mesh to take what is a ‘safer’ bump, allowing him to over-rotate for a more controlled landing. Evans’ feet push into the side of the cage, and the daredevil wrestler jackknifes, landing on the floor of the ECW Arena, instead of a conveniently-placed table nearby, lumbar-first. This site’s very webmaster Eric Gargiulo was on headset, along with longtime partner John House, shrieking like banshees as Evans went limp.

“He hit hard, John! He missed the table!,” Gargiulo breathlessly exclaims, while ringside personnel surround Evans. Always one for booming hyperbole, the thudding drop in Gargiulo’s octave underscores the real horror at hand. Fortunately, Evans would turn out to be alright long-term, and took part in all three nights of Ring of Honor’s Anniversary event the following February.

Bumps off the top of the cage, as well as scaffolds. Landings on thumbtacks, broken glass, and barbed wire, or simply the naked irresistance of the bare concrete floor. Each year is a chapter in the CZW Anthology, with Cage of Death its blazing climax. By all accounts, Evans even being able to walk, let alone wrestle again, following his breathtaking fall ten years ago is nothing short of a miracle.

Current NXT hopeful Solomon Crowe (Sami Callihan) crashed through panes of glass with Danny Havoc, blood spilling from multiple wounds in 2009’s spectacle. Havoc was contorted like a rollaway bed in a scaffold drop a year ago, with broken glass again playing a disturbing part.

“As for myself, I know that this is bad for me,” Sozio admits. “I know being 32 years old and doing this for many weekends, month in and month out, it’s not a good idea if I’m looking to live a long and healthy life. Taking that into account while approaching the Cage of Death, it’s difficult. It’s really scary.”

Sozio shares the concerns and the confines with the aforementioned Busick, not to mention the fearless BLK Jeez and decorated technician Drew Gulak this Saturday night, with the championship at stake. Although CZW has its share of gutsy grapplers that shine most in these sorts of bouts, from Devon Moore to “Bulldozer” Matt Tremont to hard-nosed boss DJ Hyde, the four competitors on Saturday are more accustomed to standard wrestling, as opposed to this sort of unforgiving melee.

“Death matches are so unpredictable,” realizes Gulak, one of more promising young stars of the modern independent scene. “It’s one thing to have the danger of taking a bad fall or hurting a joint while wrestling, but adding on top of that elements like the Cage brings a whole new level of danger. I’ve been preparing myself rigorously for the match.”

“Of course I keep the element of danger in perspective, but my goal is always to be entertaining and to give the people their money’s worth, regardless of the circumstances,” says Jeez. “It’s pretty much the same mindset that I always have.”

Despite a decidedly showman’s point of view, Jeez knows the peril firsthand.

“I’ve been in the Cage Of Death before and the other three guys haven’t. I ended up with a concussion and was in lots of pain. I’m expecting the same thing this time.”

Jeez highlights the stark reality of the match in question. Ten years ago, yes, he was concussed during the course of the War Games-style encounter, in the very same bout in which Evans took the scary fall of the cage relayed earlier. Even with multiple wrestlers in the Cage of Death, that doesn’t mean a few are leaving unscathed.

“Injuries will happen regardless, but without trust and safety, things can go really bad, really quickly,” notes Jeez. “Trust is of the utmost importance in a match like this.”

Gulak credits having experienced deathmatch performers at hand to seek advice from, adding, “I am very fortunate to have shared a locker room with people like Danny Havoc, The Wifebeater, Jun Kasai, Nick Mondo, Necro Butcher, New Jack, Zandig; the list goes on. I am always seeking out the console of my peers.”

Busick concurs with Gulak, adding, “I am always interested in learning from those with more experience than me, especially in matches such as this. You can’t know too much.”

Sozio and Busick took part in what could be termed a ‘prelude’ to the Cage of Death on November 1, tangling literally in a barbed wire match in Deer Park, NY. Both individuals lost their share of blood through the course of the bout, before Sozio went over following interference from his fedora’d henchmen, collectively known as “The Front”.

“Barbed wire or a cage filled with hazards, whatever the case it, I approach it like I do any match,” says Busick. “Wrestling is very dangerous whether surrounded by barbed wire or not; it’s all in how you protect each other.”

Despite this grisly tune-up for December 13, Busick declares that he’ll approach it as if it were any other match. Sozio admits that it’s not an easy match to piece together.

“It’s going to be difficult, absolutely. Going into the no-rope barbed-wire match with Biff, we hadn’t wrestled each other before, anywhere. To get in there with someone you’ve been helping groom for two years, and you’ve been rooting for him, and now you’re standing across the ring from him and it’s intense. Now we have to cut each other up, and it’s going to be f–king nuts. It’s absolutely insane.”

“(Sozio and I) fought hard in that barbed-wire match,” intones Busick. “The Cage of Death is an even bigger match for all of us, and I hope the fans appreciate our efforts.”

The performers have been quick to note their most serious injuries. Gulak claims his worst was a displaced sacrum, the vertebrae at the base of spine that wedges into the base of the pelvis, creating walking difficulties for him. Jeez admits to unbearably working through a broken ankle and a broken jaw sustained in different matches. This past July in a match with Gulak, Sozio took a backdrop off the top turnbuckle onto six unfolded chairs in the form of a makeshift table, just days after seriously hurting his neck during a routine workout.

The show goes on for all of them, in front of what is expected to be a packed house at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees. With no delusions about the hell they’re in for, the performers are hoping for that best-case scenario.

“As far as best-case scenario, we’ll all still be alive,” says Jeez plainly.

“Best case scenario, we’ll be cut up but nothing serious that needs stitches or serious medical attention,” hopes Sozio. “We’ll be able to walk; we won’t have concussions. Hopefully, everything will pretty much be in tact. When the time comes and we get out there, there’s going to be s–t everywhere, we’re going to get cut up, it’s going to suck, and everyone’s taking a lot of heat.”

“Hopefully, we’ll all be able to hug when we get to the back.”

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