Add to Technorati Favorites

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Does The Nature Boy still have the Flair for the gold?

After several months in the wilderness, amid rumours of a falling out with Vince McMahon and his impending retirement, Ric Flair this week returned to WWE TV.

It was on Monday Night Raw in his home town of Charlotte, North Carolina , and the anticipation level was very high. Some believed that The Nature Boy may quit the wrestling industry for good in the ring in Charlotte, others thought that the 16-time World Champion was beginning a major storyline building to Wrestlemania.

They may both be correct.

His in-ring promo really was classic Flair. Ric has always been one of the best promo guys in the business, and he was on top form when he began to give a solemn heartfelt speech abut how the fans had been good to him, and he was having increasing thoughts about hanging up his boots, trunks and robe for good.

And just as it seemed this was the last we would see of the limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, kiss-stealing, wheelin’-dealin’ son of a gun, he suddenly burst into life, stating he would never retire.

In an exclusive interview with my colleague Simon earlier this month (click here), Ric stated that he felt he should get more time on the microphone. Why anyone would doubt this is beyond us, but if they needed convincing, then Monday night would have done the job.

Vince McMahon, though, interrupted Naitch, and basically set up what appears to be the long term plan for Flair. When he loses a match, he retires. This instantly through him into a Raw main event with Randy Orton, which gave Flair a win in front of his own fans, kept his career going, and nicely progressed the Orton/Jericho programme.

So where will this whole storyline take Ric Flair? Is he on for a 17th World Title? Signs indicate that his final match will be at Wrestlemania, accompanied by rumours that he’d be inducted in the Hall of Fame’s class of 2008.

Wouldn’t it be incredible for the two to combine? Imagine a scenario where Ric recreates 1992 by producing an amazing performance to win the Royal Rumble, setting up a title shot. He picks as his opponent Triple H, who by then has turned heel, having turned on Shawn Michaels. The clues are already there; Triple H told Jeff Hardy on Raw that he (Trips) has turned on every partner he’s ever had, and Kennedy referred to Michaels being unable to co-exist with another for long.

So DX will have disbanded for good, The Game will have gained the WWE title, and Flair wins the Rumble to earn his shot against his former Evolution cohort. If Flair wins, he’s the champ, if he loses, he must retire.

This then gives a plethora of options. The expectation might be that Flair is to retire, so a swerve seeing him winning the belt will be hugely received, and he can do similar to Trish Stratus, and end on a title winning note. On the other hand, after a hard fought, rollercoaster, thrilling match, Triple H wins (cleanly). Offers the stage up to Flair, who celebrates his career in the ring on the biggest stage of all.

Then gets Pedigreed.

Triple H then becomes a bigger heel than ever, boasting that he has now retired Mick Foley and Ric Flair. This leads to the return of John Cena for the build up to a huge feud between him and Triple H which was originally planned for Mania.

Coming away from fantasy booking the WWE (if only it was that easy), we have to look at whether Flair is up to one last ride on Space Mountain.

Don’t forget, the man is 58 years old. Although his matches are still watchable, they are not the classics of days gone by.

On the other hand, the reaction he gets from audiences is still up there with anyone. His aforementioned promo skills are second to none. More importantly, the idea which has brought him back, which was reportedly pitched to WWE by Stone Cold Steve Austin, if manufactured correctly, from here to Wrestlemania, could turn Raw into a must-see show once again.

Flair v Triple H, or indeed anyone, for the WWE Title with the prospect of his career being on the line is a mouth-watering prospect. Not just for the event itself, but for the build up to this huge occasion, should it happen.

As a Flair mark, I really hope it does.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Will the WWE crack the code for attracting ratings?

So did you watch Raw? Did you break the code? I didn’t. I thought it was going to be the return of either Nathan Jones, Steve Blackman or Taka Michinoku. As it was, it was some bloke called Chris Jericho. Never heard of him. What a disappointment.

Seriously though, Y2J is back, and he did so in typically flamboyant style last night on Raw. But was it an anti climax? The campaign, however you look at it, was a first; a very unique method of hinting at someone’s appearance. However, the proof of it’s success will now come in the form of the ratings.

If the rating is significantly up this week, then the viral campaign has done its first job. If not (and for the record, I think it will go up, but not by much and not for more than a week or so) then they should be looking to put into effect a plan which at Survivor Series seemed to be played out a bit. Namely, interesting TV.

Wow, now there is a radical concept, huh? What I mean, really, is that the best way of getting people back is continually produce interesting, gripping and surprising TV. I’m not asking for Vince Russo-style “Crash TV” where all kinds of nonsensical swerves take place merely in the hope of shocking people, but I mean interesting storylines, matches and booked angles where you don’t know the destination.

I thought Survivor Series was a cracking PPV, for what its worth. The opening ECW title match was a belter, the Tri-branded Survivor Series elimination tag was full of star power and although Triple H’s team going over was predictable, the match was good, and they look like they are using The Game’s star status to give Jeff Hardy a rub. Orton v HBK was good without being outstanding, but I had no idea who would win, and I loved the ending, which made sense within the storyline. It gave Orton a clean victory (and HBK on Raw said that the better man won) but didn’t bury Shawn because of the Superkick stipulation. Taker v Batista didn’t grip me, but for two big men they’ve had a good run of great matches, but I don’t mind not having a clean finish if you have a great impactful shock appearance like we saw form Edge.

Speaking of which, do you remember I said that Batista being put over by the Deadman surprised me a bit? I think Edge and Undertaker should have a long feud in which Edge is allowed at least one victory. Undertaker is in a position now where he should be helping groom the future. To Michaels’ credit, I think he elevated John Cena and is doing so with Orton.

Back to idea of improving ratings with good TV. Think about it this way. Who knew that Chris Jericho was coming back? Well, the people who read the news sites, the people who watch Raw and deciphered the code. The people who watch anyway, basically. Sure, you’ll probably get an extra couple make sure they watch rather than being the floating viewer that they are. But if Raw next week is no good they’ll stop watching .

Keep swerves like Edge returning to hit Taker. Keep unexpected twists like Finlay interfering with Hornswaggle. Keep associations like Triple H and Hardy. Keep entertaining promos. Mix it all up and what will happen is that the show will become very good, and the core audience will enjoy it more. Do it over a consistent period of time and the PPVs will get better on a regular basis. Advertising one big match for a show then not really delivering big style might attract a few short term, but will turn people off long term. A consistently good show will keep people watching, and the floating viewers might stay, and some of those who used to tune in may get hooked again.

If the TV improves and the ratings improve, that will be the true second coming.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Just some random thoughts......

We’re at the halfway point (ish) between Cyber Sunday and Survivor Series, and since I promised you my thoughts on the last PPV, I thought I’d combine that with some thoughts about the current product leading up to Survivor Series.

The concept of Cyber Sunday, and formerly Taboo Tuesday, is a good one, but the execution is less stellar, as only the most foolhardy and ‘green’ of WWE fans will believe that they have very much influence. There was really only one surprise in the voting, and that was a largely unwelcome one. The Miz was never a very credible number one contender to CM Punk’s ECW title, so any mystique as to whether Punk would drop the strap was gone. If Morrison had won the vote, it may have been a different story.

There were two BS finishes to championship matches. Randy Orton was intentionally disqualified in his defence against the fans’ choice of Shawn Michaels, and we were robbed (through no fault of WWE’s) of what would have likely been a great contest, when Kane replaced Matt Hardy in the US title match.

I can’t say whether Hardy would have taken the belt from the Ballin’ Smackdown superstar, but whichever match was chosen – be it wrestling, boxing or MMA – would have likely been a good’un. These two have been the strongest pairing on any brand in the last few months.

The highlight for many will have been Batista going over the Undertaker in the main event. The fans choice of Stone Cold Steve Austin as ref was again very much a lame duck selection, as although he had some physical interaction with Mick Foley and JBL before the bell rung, he had no bearing on the match itself.

Although I have been impressed with the whole Batista v Undertaker storyline, particularly the Pay Per View matches, stretching back to Wrestlemania and beyond, I thought the decision to put Batista over so strongly was strange.

I’ll concede that the way the match was put together worked extremely well, making Batista look amazingly strong rather than Taker looking weak. However, I can’t help but feel that Undertaker losing cleanly could have been saved for someone else. I’d be delighted if someone could prove me wrong, but I don’t think Taker lost cleanly (I mean pin or submission, no interference) since No Mercy 2006, when he lost to Kurt Angle. Prior to that, I can only think of Brock Lesnar that’s been allowed to cleanly defeat the Deadman in the last few years.

To me, Batista is as big, popularity-wise, as he will get. In fact, I think in his initial run with belt after he beat Triple H he was the most over wrestler in the company, but that was his first run as a babyface. Now that he is a more established name, his star has faded a little. Plus, let us not forget that he is no spring chicken. Big Dave is 38, the same age as Triple H.

I would have thought that Undertaker would have been better served putting over Edge, Kennedy or Orton, or someone like that. Look at the face to heel comparison on the roster: (Ignore injuries)

For the face side of things, you’re talking Cena, Lashley, HBK, Triple H, Mysterio, Undertaker, Batista, and Punk. Heels of note are Orton, Edge, Kennedy, Umaga, Khali, Henry, Finlay, Big Daddy V.

I might have missed a couple out, but essentially I think you’ll agree that the balance is out of proportion. Of the heels named, several really are not up to it in terms of putting on a great match. There of course is a big name to come back in Mr Jericho.

So you’d be looking at nine high level faces looking for opponents, and finding the numbers coming up well short. I think The Game may well be overdue a heel turn, possibly for one last run with HBK (I’d say after Wrestlemania) but unless they push Kennedy or Edge to the moon, they are struggling to balance the books in terms of the good v the bad guys.

Speaking of Jericho, one can’t help but feel he’ll be back any time now, with the night after Survivor Series being touted as the most likely date. But with whom does he feud? Will they take a gamble and thrust him straight back into the title picture? Or will they offer up a midcarder for him to squash first. Maybe a Royal Rumble win is on the cards? Armageddon follows Survivor Series by 4 weeks, and then it’s a six week gap until The Rumble. That could very well be the destination for a major Jericho triumph.

As someone said (it may have been Chad Kroeger) - they say that a hero will save us..........

Friday, 2 November 2007

Rob on Tour: Birmingham, October 2007

Apologies for the lack of updates as of late. I was indeed at the Raw and Smackdown tapings in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll give you some observations in just a second.

I’ve been on the road around the country for the past couple of weeks, so I haven’t had much opportunity to clock in with you, especially for Cyber Sunday. However, it was a hell of day when I got back home with two weeks of Raw and a Pay Per View to watch (I don’t always bother with Smackdown). I strapped myself in for a 7 hours WWE marathon, and waited to see the return of Y2J...........

Well, that went well.

Thoughts to follow, but let me give you the brief highlights of my time in Brum.

I got up there on the Monday, with the exciting prospect of having some interview time with some WWE superstars. I was attending the shows, as in April at Earl’s Court, as a guest of Sun Wrestling head honcho Simon ‘lilsboy’ Rothstein, but he was otherwise engaged on that Monday morning, despatching me instead to get some words of wisdom with the guys, rumoured to be Jeff Hardy, William Regal and Layla from Extreme Exposé.

It was not to be. Instead of the Intercontinental champion and the UK’s own GM of Raw, I joined Sky Sports’ Richard Parr and a group of Swedish journos in a kind of mini-press conference with Raw Diva Maria Kanellis and newby Cody Rhodes.

Cody seemed a little pensive and would have been happier to have been elsewhere, but I am pleased to report that Maria is a beautiful in person as she appears on screen, and a lovely person to boot.

After getting a few little gems from the superstars (including an exclusive on Maria’s relationship with CM Punk) we reconvened in a sort of lobby area, just in time to see tag team champions Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch meeting a greeting some lucky youngsters, who believe were form the Make a Wish charity. The champs posed for many pictures and came across as two cracking guys. Murdoch in person, by the way, looked much leaner than on TV.

Simon arrived in due course, and after a catch up beer or two with Rich, his brother Matt who is a very talented magician (check out and the Daily Star’s Patrick Lennon, who took great joy in explaining how well his 45-minute interview with William Regal had gone!

We headed to the show, and found ourselves sat directly behind 100 metre runner Jason Gardner. I don’t know whether Jason is a big WWE fan, but this Raw taping would not have converted him if he wasn’t.

Nowhere near the quality of the Earl’s Court show which came shortly after a strong Wrestlemania and featured a 50-minute John Cena v Shawn Michaels, the highlights of the night were seeing the late, great Davey Boy Smith’s son Harry in action (albeit a dark march), and a surprisingly strong Brian Kendrick v Highlander Rory contest.

We retired to the plush Hotel in which the office staff of WWE UK were staying, as I made it my mission to inform new employee, the lovely Claire, exactly what was right and what was wrong with the WWE. I’ll let you know when my new ideas get implemented!

We managed to gain the knowledge of the hotel at which the superstars were staying, and as it happened it was basically next door to our own lodgings. We had a wander by, and saw Ken Kennedy, Jeff Hardy, Gene Snitsky, Umaga (sans face paint) and Santino Marella hanging outside the hotel’s front door.

Simon interviewed Mr. Kennedy recently and Jeff Hardy not so long ago, so got chatting and they invited us to join them for a drink. Unfortunately, the bouncer (who was only doing his job, please don’t hurt me) wouldn’t grant us access as we were not staying at the hotel.

The following morning, however, we were having breakfast at a Cafe when last night’s debutant Harry Smith walked in. Mr Rothstein once again declared a past interview, and we were able to wish Harry all the best for being called up to the roster. It’s good to see him on TV now, as DH Smith, and I predict a big future for him. Another nice, seemingly down to earth guy.

We headed to the arena with the prospect of Rey Mysterio and CM Punk being our interview guests on Smackdown/ECW day, but again hopes were dashed when the, still creditable but slightly lacking star power, duo of John Morrison and Matt Striker were introduced to us.
We got 15 minutes or so with each man. Morrison seemed keen to conduct the interview in character, but we managed to talk him out of it quickly. He was a very low-key individual after the transition, somewhat at odds with his on-screen persona.

The most controversial moment of the two days came during this interview, when Simon enquired about the former Tough Enough winner’s alleged breach of the wellness policy, but was quickly interrupted by the presiding WWE official, who simply told us “No Comment”. Interesting.

Matt Striker was a great interview, except for the fact that we had nothing to ask him. The WWE policy on who we were granted interview time was very strange. You’d think that being on tour in their third biggest market outside of the US and Canada, something they only do twice a year maximum, would be an opportunity to allow us time to speak with some of the top names, such as Batista, Orton, Mysterio or Punk.

I can understand the likes of Triple H, HBK or Undertaker being held back from scrutiny, I suppose, but surely a guy with bigger profile than Matt Striker could have been found for us.
That said, he was a heck of a guy, and fun to talk to. I’d love to see him translate the charisma he showed to us to a larger scale. He would make a great Colour Commentator some day.

The show that night was marginally more exciting than the previous evening’s offerings, but by very little. The Smackdown/ECW ‘talent trade’ is just a way of trying to cover the cracks of a paper thin roster, and seeing Kane and Big Daddy V repeatedly is not quite like seeing Austin or Rock in their heyday, is it?

Possibly the coolest moment of the trip was waiting for Morrison and Striker to show up. We were position basically in a hospitality unit at the top of the stand, awaiting the ECW stars’ arrival. Through the blinds in windows, we were able to look upon the ring and view developmental talent working out under the watchful eye of various agents like Michael Hayes and Arn Anderson. Wrestlers like Elijah Burke and MVP were working with the likes of the Major Brothers and Drew Galloway, and you could see a host of wrestlers chatting away with each other.

I had only been talking to Claire from WWE about how the backstage experience, getting to see what goes on behind the scenes must be very enlightening, and she said yes, but I’d likely never see it. It was nice, even through glass from 100 feet away, to get a little glimpse of what goes on.
I’ll give you my thoughts on Cyber Sunday in due course, and will make a concerted attempt to update this page a little more often.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to keep checking The Sun’s Wrestling section at the link on the left of the page. I’ve done a piece about Santino Marella which should be posted in due course.

Have a great weekend,