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WWE’s Ten Best Matches Of The First Half Of 2014

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

Through questionable booking, a stock market crash, fan discontent, and the unfortunate loss of JTG, WWE has provided audiences with, if nothing else, a lot of great in-ring action. Here are my personal picks for the ten best bouts so far in 2014.

10. 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.

9. 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 never really impressed me in NXT, 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.

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

Forget the aftermath of the night, 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.

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

Takeover’s 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 making 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.

6. 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 in August (hailed by many as the 2013′s best match), the story was 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 Neutralize. 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.

5. 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.

4. 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). A rematch at the June 1 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’s 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.

3. 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 everyone had to be encouraged by what they saw, especially when the crowd went crazy for the Cesaro Swing attempts.

2. 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 have been truly juiced-in main eventers yet, 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 while it was still going), and remains in the running four 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.

1. 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 though Hunter didn’t know how to elevate.

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

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The Vaudevillains Reveal the Relationship Between WWE and Its Fans

June 26, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

The Vaudevillains; what more can be said about Aiden English and Simon Gotch’s dual moniker? If you don’t watch NXT, you’re missing something else: English parlays his operatic Broadway gimmick into a tandem with Gotch, a turn-of-the-century strongman with an exaggerated boxing stance and Snidely Whiplash-mustache.

Making their entrance to lively piano music through a black-and-white lens, configured with old-timey film quality, the Vaudevillains are an instant sensation. Already, the hip-to-the-room NXT crowd at Full Sail has taken to chanting “PUT YOUR DUKES UP” at the manic Gotch, who looks like he should be conspiring to fix matches with Ad Santel and Joe Stecher.

In 2014, a wrestling crowd that increasingly appreciates in-jokes, outlandish unreality, and full-blown absurdity takes to the Vaudevillains like Deadheads to a Jerry Garcia resurrection. Admittedly, it’s hard not to be charmed by the duo: any wrestlers who perform unrealistically with the gusto and enthusiasm that English and Gotch display are going to be appreciated.

It doesn’t seem that it was always this way. Transplant the Vaudevillains to 1991 or 1997 or 2003, and it’s a little harder imagining them getting over. Seems though appreciating blatant absurdity in wrestling is a modern notion.

In 1991 alone, future WrestleCrap inductions Repo Man, Skinner, Arachnaman, and Big Josh ambled onto the scene, with none making any real impact outside of Repo Man as a consistent mid-card act. Nowadays, Repo Man would be an ironic hero, getting cheers from the CHIKARA-loving portion of the audience for stealing possessions from other midcarders. His Coliseum Video vignette from over twenty years ago, which entailed stealing Bill Alfonso’s car, is over-the-top hilarious in hindsight, but it didn’t resonate with viewers of the time. Same with Big Josh: nobody cared in 1991, but you could picture fans, especially the NXT diehards, chanting “DAN-CING BEARS” at him today.

In other words, for as much as my WrestleCrap compadre RD Reynolds shares my merriment of the Vaudevillains, in another time, they may have been written off as ‘Crap’, just like Repo Man was.

To use another example, it’s also hard to imagine (at least for me, anyway) Jay Lethal’s “Black Machismo” character getting over in the pre-internet-saturation age, no matter how well Lethal nailed every facet of the Randy Savage character. In the Attitude Era, I would wager he’d be used as a colorful novelty act, much in the same way The Hurricane was employed in 2002-03; a few wins here and there and plenty of airtime, but no rocket push.

What changed?

For one thing, I think there’s far more backlash against the modern main event than there was in previous eras. It’s not even that John Cena and Randy Orton are a decade into their relentless run at the top, while fellow lifer Triple H is involved heavily. It’s that the storylines follow the same patterns, the characters virtually recite the same promos, regular viewers watch as the characters they follow week to week sometimes contradict themselves verbally, and all in all, nothing feels fresh. Compared to the wrestling of our more formative years, WWE feels like it’s stuck on loop more than ever.

When this happens, something totally zany and off-the-wall, like two 1920s throwbacks, becomes a major talking point. It’s an oasis on WWE’s tedious plane of existence. That’s why bored fans created the Fandango’ing craze; different without the guarantee of payoff becomes preferable to year whatever of the status quo.

Making matters worse is that the main event, and every ‘top story’ the company peddles, are magnified beyond comprehension. A three-hour Raw (a show that really has no business being three hours from a quality standpoint) barely features half the roster, if they even showcase half at all. Longer matches have a hand in it (I’d argue that no match on Raw needs to be longer than ten minutes, save for the main event), while the mid-card gasps for air like they’ve just been shipwrecked.

That’s why when 3MB comes along in 2012, there was a tinge of ironic excitement from the more immersed fans. Heath Slater, Drew McIntyre, and Jinder Mahal had been shuffling along, doing little of note, until they became the world’s lamest air-guitar band. Hey, it was *something*, right? And yeah, they lost 97% of their matches since, and the joke dragged on long enough that 3MB might be a WrestleCrap induction unto itself, but for a brief moment, it felt like three men among the creatively-unfulfilled had a purpose. Purpose is exciting.

Turning it around for a moment, I realize that my generation of fans is the one still watching with great regularity into our late 20s, clear into our 30s and even 40s, and we’ve exposed ourselves to a lot of wrestling. Like, a LOT of wrestling. Inevitably, we compare the modern product to what we remember and like best, and if it doesn’t match up, we thumb our noses at it immediately. A rose-colored past will always trump the uncertain present. It’s because met high-expectations from the past become the standard benchmark going forward.

With so many hours of wrestling on TV each week, plus YouTube, plus The WWE Network, plus a deluge of websites and social media with breaking ‘newz’ and meaningless speculation (yes, I realize I’m part of the ‘problem’), we oversaturate our own enthusiasm while WWE oversaturates its own product.

And yes, we all still watch, despite our constant claims of how bad wrestling has gotten. Gluttons, we are.

Between the company playing slow-pitch softball with their upper-card booking, and the jaded fan with a discriminating palette and too much sense of history, it’s almost no wonder that we praise the Vaudevillains instead of making quizzical eyes. That’s not to take anything away from English or Gotch; they’re playing the hell out of a silly idea to the point where you want to believe in it.

Perhaps it’s because the fans are increasingly feeling they have nothing to believe in.

At WWE events, fans still chant for a man that happily walked into the retirement sector five months ago. At indy events featuring men all-too-recently TNA talents, the crowd voices obscene remarks about their ex-employer (see: House of Hardcore’s recent tour). Events meant to be enjoyed for the product at hand become sounding boards to have a go at the executives and suits believed responsible for mutilating the show that diehard fans grew up with.

As an act of resistance, the unreality of two century-old showmen existing in 2014 becomes the accepted reality, as the receptors reject the centerpiece that’s collected dust in perpetuity, the unwanted eyesore.

Never before has the phrase ‘only in wrestling’ been so perfect in its application.

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

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Triple H WWE NXT Media Call Highlights

May 29, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

C.O.O. Triple H hosted a media conference call on Wednesday to promote Thursday’s WWE NXT special on the WWE Network. The call was dominated by wrestling media who were able to pull some interesting nuggets out of the Game.

This was a real interesting media call as it featured questions entirely from pro wrestling media. My hunch is that when the WWE schedules these calls, they are looking for mainstream media attention. That may be bad news for them but it was certainly good news if you follow the “dirt sheets.”

Here are just a couple of highlights from Triple H’s media call…

- NXT will have a bigger presence on the WWE Network as the Network grows. What that entails I am not quite sure. They could also have a bigger presence next year at WrestleMania.

- If it were up to Triple H, WWE NXT would air live every week. Financially though that is not a smart move nor in the cards.

- Dave Meltzer asked him about Kenta and Prince Devitt. Trips replied, “Who?” Meltzer started explaining before Trips told him he was just joking. I thought it was funny but it was a bit awkward. Anyway, Triple H had no answer when it came to plans for either guy.

- Triple H said that Vince believes they have created their own brand in NXT and was impressed with the buzz they got last time around.

- Cesaro loves working NXT and would work there as often as he could. Triple H said that he told Cesaro now that Cesaro is a bigger part of the plans, he will be less available to work in NXT.

- Regarding Tough Enough, they would like to film it at the WWE Developmental Center but nothing is confirmed.

- He is very excited about the transitions from NXT to the main roster, and put over Bray Wyatt quite a bit here. He did say that just because something does well in NXT doesn’t mean that it will work on the main roster.

- He cited HIPPA laws when he refused to give any comment on Christian or Rey Mysterio’s conditions.

- He said that he believes in Tyson Kidd, giving him a vote of confidence.

- He said the NXT roster is very supportive of each other.

- He said that Charlotte is starting to get confidence.

Those were the highlights. I will say that Triple H seemed to enjoy the call and was very friendly and professional to everyone. While I am sure he did some dancing, he seemed sincere and honest in his answers, even saying he didn’t know regarding some questions. He has plenty of haters, yet it’s hard to bash him when you hear him in this kind of environment.

WWE NXT Takeover airs Thursday night live on the WWE Network. The first NXT special was my favorite show of the year thus far. I loved it! I hope this one is just as good or better. On paper it has a heck of a chance of tearing down the house.

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The NXT Day: WWE’s Stepping Stone Has Some Hurdles

May 01, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

Among the sights and sounds of 2014, the most indelible is perhaps the city of Pittsburgh rejecting the 2014 Royal Rumble match like a poorly-matched kidney transplant. With no Daniel Bryan in sight after Rey Mysterio entered thirtieth, nearly 16,000 fans booed as though Donald Sterling was doing open mic at the Apollo.

While Bryan is deified by fans of all walks, backgrounds, tastes, and viewership levels, his core group will always be the internet wrestling community, or IWC. His loudest supporters will be the ones who watched him in those bingo halls and rec-centers that Michael Cole harped upon a few years back. Fans who followed him on his journey toward becoming Ring of Honor World Champion remain the backbone of the grassroots leviathan that is his superstar celebrity.

Bryan’s not alone. CM Punk, Cesaro, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and even Luke Harper, for their renowned indy exploits, have built-in fanbases that cheered them on in gymnasiums and lodges on Saturday nights. The same can be said for the ECW contingent of years past: Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, and Paul Heyman still get residual cheers from anyone that’s ever pronounced ‘W’ as ‘dub’ whenever they appear on the national stage.

It’s the ‘hipster’ effect. Hip-to-the-room fans will gladly tell you “I liked Cesaro when he was Claudio Castagnoli,” in much the same way some snot, wearing thick glasses he doesn’t really need, will scoff at your Green Day shirt, telling you it was all downhill artistically after Dookie.

In other words, they liked that wrestler before it was cool to like them.

Grant you, not every weekend connoisseur with discriminating taste is as snide as the stereotype listed. There is, however, a common thread among every variety of indy geek: loyalty.

It’s because a segment of the audience remembers Bryan kicking people into oblivion at the Murphy Rec Center that they carry on and cheer him today. Same with Claudio Castagnoli’s “Kings of Wrestling” days with Chris Hero, and Dean Ambrose’s out-on-a-limb speeches as Jon Moxley. Other WWE developmental talents have been plucked from more obscure places based on the fact that they’re 6’5 and look hulking in a Speedo (Mason Ryan was reportedly given a *five*-year deal with WWE after just wrestling for two years in less reputable promotions; he spent the summer of 2011 nearly killing Dolph Ziggler with ugly press slams).

Like Ryan, many heavyweights WWE’s filled their developmental program with have come in without impressive resumes. This is hardly news; the notion is that like many Divas, they have the body and the image, and WWE can just teach them that pesky wrestling stuff later.

As such, those like Mason Ryan come in without built-in fanfare like Bryan and Punk. They start behind the blocks and, once overpushed to the office’s content, they oftentimes develop a fan resentment that doesn’t wash off. While the indy darling is sustained, the musclehead bad ass of the future spins its wheels in a mudslide backlash.

This changed about a year and a half ago, when Hulu Plus began airing the revamped NXT development group. From there, The Shield and The Wyatt Family debuted to relative acclaim (though the latter had some impressive vignettes spurring crowd sentiment).

Sure, many loyalists remembered Ambrose and Rollins as Moxley and Black, but even immovable stonewall Roman Reigns had a measure of cred. Consistent booking has buoyed all six men, but having scores of fans ‘in the know’ about them has played a part in that consistent booking: WWE knows that the demand is there.

More than ever with NXT on WWE Network, in the neighborhood of 700,000 subscribers, more people can get on the bandwagons before the wheels begin turning. The audience is there; since NXT Arrival in February, TNA Impact’s dropped out of the Top 100 most watched shows on several Thursdays. Wonder what the cause is? Well, besides their own product.

Seeing the smark-heavy post-WrestleMania Raw crowd go insane for Paige’s victorious debut over AJ, roaring when her name appeared on the Titan Tron, shows the power of the faux-indy brand. At the same time, there’s a weakness to having NXT so prominently available to a larger audience.

Emma would be the prime example of this issue. In NXT, Emma’s character was in many ways what you see now: an oblivious oddity who enjoys herself, despite her awkward mannerisms sticking out like a sore thumb. Punctuated by the swim-thrust arm movements and the soap-bubble entrance, she’s well-received by the NXT cult audience.

For the most part, in spite of her quirkiness, Emma bowls over opponents with impeccable wrestling ability (similar to what Eugene was supposed to be in 2004). On the main WWE roster, however, the creative has put more spotlight on her weird side, as you might suspect, and that gets much more emphasis. When Emma produced her own pink Cobra sock on the April 21 RAW, as part of her ‘peas in a pod’ parternship with Santino Marella, you could literally hear the groans from the crowd. WWE creative’s watered down the nuances, as is their tendency.

It hasn’t been a productive three months on the big stage for Emma. Is her gimmick too ‘small time’ for the contemporary audience? Perhaps, but it could also be a harsh lesson: NXT’s best and brightest may crash and burn under WWE’s brightest lights.

ECW fans loathed what ‘ECW 2006′ had become, an affront to the underground chaos they relished. Large chunks of the audience will verbally fight back if they feel Bryan and Punk are wronged (some crowds still chant Punk’s name out of spite). With NXT getting more eyeballs on it, will more transfers to the main roster go smoothly? If not, will there be accumulated backlash?

Adam Rose’s Russell Brand-lite act is headed for a call-up; what will happen if that bombs? What if The Ascension flunks in a program with The Usos? Better yet, what happens if Sami Zayn is relegated to being midcard fodder, “Ole Ole” chants be damned?

NXT is essentially a Triple H investment. The next few talents to debut (and yes, Bo Dallas is among them) need to be impactful. Otherwise, NXT will mean less and less if the ‘stars of tomorrow’ symbolize a tomorrow that never comes.

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

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Predicting the Future of WWE’s Newest Young Stars

April 16, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

Is it my imagination or has NXT sprung a leak?

First, it was Alexander Rusev who finally, after weeks of video and entrance teases, made it all the way down the ramp to the ring on Raw Monday night and made mincemeat out of Zack Ryder.

Then Paige, the NXT women’s champion, showed up on the same program and did something that no other Diva on the main roster had done in the previous 300 days – defeat AJ Lee for the WWE Divas title.

On that same program, we saw video promos heralding the return of Bo Dallas and the arrival of Adam Rose. Dallas, as you recall, made his WWE splash last year in the Royal Rumble by eliminating Wade Barrett and holding his own in the ring. Rose, a rising NXT star, likely will be on the main stage sooner rather than later.

And if you read other Internet reports, more NXT stars ready for main-scene action include Sami Zayn and tag team The Ascension.

WWE usually trots out new talent in the weeks following WrestleMania to gauge how the WWE Universe will relate to them, not to mention them to the WWE Universe. It’s WWE’s version of Major League Baseball’s late season when young stars at the lower levels are brought up to fill spots left by injuries and other assorted vacancies. While it is unlikely that all who come up over the next few weeks will actually stick around for longer than a cup of coffee, a few do, in the words of Zeb Colter, “sneak across the borders” from the developmental territory into the big time.

I cannot say right now how Rose, Zayn and The Ascension will do at this level because I have not seen them enough to fairly judge them. I just have to rely on the assessments of those who have forgotten more about pro wrestling development than I ever will know.

But based on what I have seen from Paige and Rusev on Monday night, and Dallas last year, it is a safe bet to say that Paige and Dallas could have the longest staying power of those three.

Rusev is a throwback to the old Iron Curtain muscle characters like Ivan Koloff and Nikolai Volkoff, plus he wrestles without boots, which conjures up images of Jimmy Snuka, Argentina Rocca and Kevin Von Erich. But his character seems destined to be too one-dimensional with his low center of gravity and glacier-like speed. Plus, his partnership with the blonde Lana reminds us too much of Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale from the “Bullwinkle” cartoons. One might expect him to get on the mic and say something about “Moose and Squirrel.”

Paige has the potential to be a star and bring back some life into the lackadaisical Divas division. But the fact that she came in from NXT and walked right into the Divas Championship has to not be setting well with some of the more established performers in the division.
Dallas has the greatest potential for stardom of the young talent so far, but it may not be as the face he is in NXT. Remember that Dallas’ real-life brother is Bray Wyatt, leader of the evil Wyatt Family cult stable. I would not be surprised to see WWE Creative eventually come up with a plan to make Dallas the fourth member of that stable…eventually moving him up to become Bray’s right-hand henchman.

It will be fun to watch all these new stars develop in the coming weeks.

Bill Atkinson is a contributor to Camel Clutch Blog and the owner of WrestleWatch, a family-friendly wrestling web site. Follow Bill on Twitter at @BAtkinson1963 and visit WrestleWatch at www.wrestlewatch.com.

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WWE NXT Arrival Was The Best Show In Years

February 28, 2014 By: Category: Videos, WWE | Pro Wrestling

I wrote a blog last night criticizing the WWE decision to heavily promote NXT on the WWE Network. While I still stand by the fundamental idea of the blog I will admit one thing. NXT Arrival was the best WWE show I have seen in years.

I can’t recall a time in recent memory where I have watched a show like NXT Arrival and marked out as heavily as I did. Quite honestly it was probably back when I was calling matches on the independent wrestling scene for CZW or the first couple of Ring of Honor shows. Nothing I have seen since then has had the energy, passion, and fun-factor of NXT Arrival.

Let me make something clear. I don’t think that the WWE could ever survive in its current model by producing an in-ring product like NXT Arrival on a week-to-week basis. I get the fact that this is something that appeals more to a hardcore fan base and the business of WWE is family and entertainment. But damned this was one hell of a show!

Going back to my Pro Wrestling Radio show that I used to broadcast on terrestrial radio, I would say weekly how TNA needed to develop this kind of product. I always thought that while the WWE couldn’t run a business like this, there was a secondary market for it. WCW had the right idea with cruiserweights until Eric Bischoff ruined it. I admitted then and will admit now that it would take a little time to get the style over but this is the kind of alternative that should be offered to the WWE. Now it’s offered by the WWE.

I think that the WWE could mix some of this style into their current product. There is no reason a Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro match couldn’t take place on a pay-per-view, SmackDown, or RAW. Quite frankly I see no reason that this match shouldn’t be booked on WrestleMania. Fans are now educated to the rival and they could back and watch their previous matches on the Network. The only reason that this match shouldn’t take place on Mania is that it would blow everything else out of the water. Otherwise I see no reason this match can’t be booked on Mania.

Could this style work at the top? Anything is possible. Tastes were changed slowly as Vince McMahon went with Bret Hart in the early 1990s after close to a decade of muscular monsters with little emphasis on ring-work. I think the business model is different and you need that cartoon-aspect to the business today a lot more than you did in the 80s. That said, it would be an interesting experiment to put the title on Cesaro and allow him to have matches like this on top. Heck with pay-per-views going to the Network, why not try something different?

My biggest concern is that by exposing NXT to the entire WWE Universe you are not giving these kids time to learn and develop their characters and style. I stand by that. As spectacular as the show was, the WWE are now boxed into corners with everyone on the show. How do you take a guy like Adrian Nevelle or Zayn, bring them up, and give them completely different gimmicks? You can but it won’t work. The anonymity is lost and thus multiple opportunities will be missing for these talents.

I also want to go out of my way to praise Cesaro. What other full-time WWE star would go down to the developmental company and work such a hard match a month before WrestleMania? I can’t think of many guys on the roster who would do that. There is also the mentality of an established star giving so much to a developmental star is not good for business. Cesaro is a pro and his selfless performance against Zayn is one of the most commendable I have ever seen.

Regardless of the future I just wanted to write a blog applauding NXT Arrival. I haven’t had that much fun watching a wrestling show in years. For those of you that complain about the WWE product, John Cena, TNA or want something different, this is your show. Pandora’s box is officially open and while I disagree with it, I will certainly enjoy every second of it.

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Is WWE NXT Arrival A Mistake?

February 27, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

One of the big selling points in promoting the WWE Network was the presence of NXT. The development center will be welcomed with a special and more attention than it ever received which may or may not be a good thing.

I don’t want to focus on the event itself. I want to take a look inside the idea of NXT and NXT Arrival. The WWE needed original programming on its network. It looked internally and took a program it had already been producing and repurposed it. While NXT has been available on Hulu, it was never pushed by the company up until now.

I saw this as a huge problem from the start. My argument was that the company was taking all of this green talent and exposing them before they were ready. Were they already exposed to the Hulu audience? Yes but that was not the WWE Universe. NXT is now being pushed to the entire universe, the same audience that watches the major league WWE productions. It is a different ballgame.

The idea of NXT is a developmental company. The WWE will sign wrestlers and send them to NXT to get them ready for the big show. Some of the talent already came in seasoned, yet the WWE feels the need to change their style and until their previous style is completely gone, they will remain in NXT. Some of the talent have worked none to a handful of matches and are being trained from the ground up. Those are what I would refer to as Triple H’s gambles.

The whole advantage of NXT is to take your talent and keep them away from the core audience until they are ready. NXT is a place that allows the talent to learn and hone their craft. Heck some talent are just sent down there to be repackaged like Bray Wyatt after a failed first shot as Husky Harris. The key is anonymity and unfortunately that anonymity is gone.

If NXT is going to be pushed as a weekly television product to the same audience who is watching RAW and SmackDown, than what is the point of NXT? No longer can a rookie pay his or her dues and show up to the main roster with a clean start. Fans will now see these superstars from the second they enter the company whether they are ready or not and that is not a good thing.

I have heard some theorize that this is WWE’s attempt to take over the independent wrestling scene. I don’t know if I believe that as I don’t see NXT expanding, especially with all of the money invested in Florida. I think this is simply a short sighted business move to reallocate one of the company’s resources. While the savings in cost of taking an already produced product and repurposing it are minimal, the bigger costs to the talent are huge and should not be taken lightly. If these guys and girls were ready for this kind of attention, they should be out of NXT so I have to assume that if they are there, they aren’t ready.

How can anyone be developed at this point? Would Bray Wyatt have worked if fans saw him crafting the good and bad of this gimmick for months prior to his arrival? Can anyone come up from NXT and get a fair shot on the main roster without some kind of prejudice? I don’t think they can and that is not a good thing at all.

The only benefit besides the finances is the chance that the WWE finds lightning in a bottle. What if someone like a Prince Devitt signs and comes to NXT who is ready for the main roster and develops an early following? This gives fans the chance to get behind someone at the beginning and invest emotionally into their roller coaster ride to the top. If done right, there could be huge money in telling the story of someone who came from NXT to WrestleMania. There is always that shot but those opportunities aren’t going to come along often.

I am happy for the talent whom work so hard down at NXT to get the opportunity to show their stuff. I am also fearful for that same talent for the same reason. NXT on the WWE Network is a novel idea, but sacrificing your next generation of stars in exchange for cheap programming may be one of the most miscalculated blunders since the XFL.

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WWE Wrestler of the Week: January 25th-31st, 2013

February 01, 2013 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

Welcome back to another edition of WWE Wrestler of the Week! This is the final winner for the month of January. This week not only included the regular WWE television programs, but the Royal Rumble pay-per-view as well. This week’s winner made history at the Royal Rumble and reminded us of a storyline from 1993 too. The WWE Wrestler of the Week is NXT Superstar Bo Dallas.

I would like to give an honorable mention to the runner-up for this week, The Rock. Although it was predictable and expected, The Rock did end CM Punk’s 400-plus day reign as WWE Champion. The Rock cannot win the WWE Wrestler of the Week due to only participating in that one match, but it was obviously a big one. WWE also decided to end the pay-per-view with the WWE title match as opposed to the Rumble match. I wasn’t surprised, but was hoping for the Rumble match to finish the show.

Back to Bo Dallas.

Bo Dallas made history this past Sunday at the Royal Rumble, as he is the youngest participant ever in the Royal Rumble match. He is the first professional wrestler born in the 1990s to enter the Rumble match.

Bo Dallas began his week winning the NXT tournament at the Royal Rumble fan fest to earn a spot in the Rumble match. He was very impressive as most were probably not expecting Dallas to win. Dallas went on to enter the Rumble match at number 16 and lasting over 20 minutes. He had one elimination that may ultimately lead to his first feud in WWE. Dallas eliminated WWE Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett, who returned moments later for revenge.

One night later on Monday Night Raw, Wade Barrett was able to choose his own opponent. Bo Dallas was chosen and reminded of us of an episode of Raw from 1993. That year, Sean Waltman made his name known with a victory over Razor Ramon. He would later be named the 1-2-3 Kid as a result of his surprising victory and push. Dallas was also able to walk away with a victory over the Intercontinental Champion.

Bo Dallas comes from a legendary wrestling family. His father is Mike Rotunda who was I.R.S in the WWF during the 1990s. His grandfather is Blackjack Mulligan and uncles are Barry and Kendall Windham. His brother is Bray Wyatt, previously Husky Harris who is also an NXT Superstar. Dallas and Wyatt were tag team champions while in WWE’s developmental territory, FCW.

Bo Dallas has had a great start to his WWE career. Each NXT Superstar that has been promoted to the main roster has been successful. Each one has also been introduced in a different way. The Shield attacked Ryback at Survivor Series, Big E Langston became Dolph Ziggler’s bodyguard, Brad Maddox was a referee and now Dallas is a new version of the 1-2-3 Kid.

If this week is any indication, this will not be the last time Bo Dallas is the WWE Wrestler of the Week.

Seth M. Guttenplan is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and host of OH YOU DIDN’T KNOW!? PWPRadio’s weekly radio show covering all wrestling news and rumors. To read more from Seth follow him on twitter (@sethgutt) and check out guttwrenchpowerblog.com.

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