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Sunday, 31 January 2010

Royal Rumble Preview

Tonight it's the Royal Rumble. I'll stop a little short of saying the Rumble is my Favourite Pay Per View (though I have said that before) because Wrestlemania has such an aura these days. However, it is without a doubt the best concept event ever created, and a highlight of the year.

Say what you like about WWE, but they have done a marvellous job of getting to the turn of the year and making us all believe in "the Road to Wrestlemania". We're all thinking ahead to the big March PPV, and the build to that heightens the importance of this and No Way Out or Elimination Chamber or whatever we are calling it now.

The trouble is with me going into this show is that I start fantasy booking the next three months, and getting way ahead of myself. I've chosen a winner of the Rumble partially based on a storyline I'd like to see, but also as a sort of hedging of bets.

That I'll come to in due course. Let's get a couple of undercard matches out of the way.

ECW Title - Christian v Ezekiel Jackson
I'll be honest, I'm not expecting a classic.

On the one hand here, I'm seeing this as a good opportunity to take the belt away from Christian, since Big Zeke is a credible guy to have beat Christian, possibly with a little assistance from William Regal. I think Christian is destined for bigger things than ECW, is a lock to go to Smackdown in the next draft, and probably ought to be in the Money in the Bank match at Mania.

On the other hand, if you take the belt off of him, the ECW title picture loses instant credibility. People who don't watch ECW will likely have forgotten who Ezekiel Jackson is (He's the big scary black dude who used to be bodyguard for Kendrick, by the way) and with ECW ratings tanking, he might not be the man to have at the helm.

How about a screwy finish to this match? I can see an old fashioned double pin or something leading to the belt being vacated. That's an out for Christian to lose the belt without having to lose a match, and the "new ECW" crowning a new ECW champion. Who that'll be I have no idea.

Prediction: Christian loses the belt, if I'm sitting on the fence. Whether that is clean to Zeke, via interference from Regal or a disputed ending, Christian's run with the belt is up.

Michelle McCool v Mickie James
Every critic, his dog, his nan, his next door neighbour, his next door neighbour's nan, his next door neighbours nan's milkman, and the bloke who the milkman met in the pub the other night all think Michelle is going over because Mickie is in the doghouse. Everybody seems to think this whole angle is shockingly demeaning.

Is it not just a wrestling angle? Is it not just an old fashioned 'heels are bullies' storyline? And is it not finally an angle for the girls to get hold of rather than just shitty number contender matches leading to three minutes every two weeks before the champion beats Alicia Fox or someone in a shockingly crappy match?

Many of you will know that I am a strong critic of Michelle McCool, and I still think she is overrated in the ring. But I'll give her this; she has been very effective as the bitchy girl in school that no-one likes, and they always have a toady little friend sucking up to them too, don't they?

I've enjoyed this storyline a lot, because it's shown strong heel qualities, build up sympathy for a Babyface, and also included other girls. Layla as the sidekick, Maria last week sticking up for Mickie, and a conflicted Beth eventually siding with the heels.

The thing is, though, good storylines need good payoffs. I'm holding out for one here. Mickie MUST win this match. Wrestling, at the end of the day, ought to play out in favour of the babyface at the end. Especially in areas of the show which isn't selling tickets. No-one is buying this show tonight to see what happens to the Women's title, but every match that is on the show, both in episodes and on a PPV, must play it's part as a cog in the wheel. There is an opportunity for a really big babyface moment tonight, for an over female babyface (you don't hear anyone say that very often) to beat a heel who deserves her comeuppance.

Prediction: Mickie James. Please.

Right, back to the point in hand, which is realistically who is going to win the Rumble, and I'll address this here because the winner affects the two title matches.

Royal Rumble Match
*You can go back a couple of posts to see a more detailed (some would argue too detailed) analysis of Royal Rumble contenders.

Basically, I believe there are three contenders, with possible arguments for three others, but weak ones. The three favourites have to be Cena, Michaels and Triple H. The other three are Batista, Punk and DiBiase.

I'll start with the weak ones. Batista is a contender so that he can a) face Mysterio if Rey beats Taker. That would fit with HBK costing Taker the title, either now or at the next PPV, allowing Rey to get the strap. That, though, wouldn't help Rey in particular, and Rey and Batista have enough of an issue that if they want that match at Mania, they can do it anyway. The second way for Batista is that Cena could win the Raw title in the Elimination Chamber, and Batista chooses to face him. I think both matches can be achieved without Batista winning the Rumble, though.

Second weak argument is CM Punk. The man is on a roll right now, and winning a Rumble would give his whiny, self-righteous character more to brag about. It would also fit his character, having won two Money in the Bank matches, to have a title shot through drawing a late number and capitalising on a personal issue between other. Like McCool, Punk now has an effective, heatseeking character who people might just pay to see get beat. The drawback, though, is that he hasn't been given the credibility to hang with the elite tier of WWE (Who I'd say would be Cena, Orton, HBK, Hunter, Taker and probably Edge) and he doesn't have an obvious opponent, although you could again argue the idea of Shawn costing Taker so that Rey has the belt, then go Rey v Punk.

Final weak shout is Ted DiBiase. Although you could argue a case for Cody Rhodes, it's generally assumed that Ted is the longer term prospect as a major player. Personally I don't believe he has the skills to be a top babyface, but then neither did Orton, and he's done ok since he went back to his heelish ways a few years back. DiBiase is only a contender if Orton wins, as DiBiase v Taker, Rey or Sheamus makes no sense. While on one hand it would be very cool for an outsider to win the Rumble, as a prediction it is deeply flawed, because WWE like to have a marquee winner, generally. It probably isn't Ted's time.

The big three all have a good argument for. Shawn Michaels' is rather obvious. He may need to win so that he can wrestle Taker at Mania. And it could well happen. Although it may seem too telegraphed, WWE aren't known for subtlety or nuance, and it certainly would be a popular choice. It'd be fun TV, too, watching Shawn trying to protect Taker's title before Mania. It may be too obvious, but then it might be a double bluff.

John Cena should never be discounted when thought about in conjunction with a big match. His particular route to Mania, should he win the Rumble, could take many forms. Maybe he could swerve us all, including HBK, and go after the Undertaker. They could follow through with this, do Cena v Taker and use it to facilitate the DX break up. What if we came down to the last three, Shawn and Hunter fight, and Cena dumps them both. Cena heads for the Deadman and DX explode at Mania, a la the Mega Powers. I'd absolutely love this outcome, and I think it's what I would book, but it does leave too many other questions, especially re: Sheamus and the WWE title.

Another route could also be Cena choosing Taker, but Shawn costing Taker the Chamber match, and Batista winning, giving us Cena v Batista for the title, Shawn v Taker as a grudge affair and still leaving room for Trips v Sheamus and Orton v Ted. This could lead to a few weeks of teasing various combinations, and also a tense stand off between Shawn and Cena, which could give a really nice Raw main event at some point. Finally, they could simply go Cena v Sheamus for the easy title match. The problem with that is, assuming Shawn v Taker, that you are left with Hunter being a spare wheel, unless he wrestles Batista.

All these combinations are giving me a headache......

Finally, we come to my pick, Triple H. He's my pick because I feel he is due a big win as a single again, and like Cena they can go many ways with him. You could have Hunter declare he wants Taker. I'd love that, as it would really piss off the HBK character and lead, you'd feel, to the inevitable DX break-up, especially if Shawn forces a title change, taking not only the belt from Taker but the Taker match from HHH. Hunter could then have the option to switch to Sheamus or go with the winner of the SD title, which may well be Batista.

Or, they can go the other way, and have Hunter tease going after Taker, but choosing Sheamus, and having the Triple H character say that he is doing it so Shawn can still chase Taker.

Ultimately I'm choosing Hunter over Cena and because I think there is more they can do with Hunter in that position. But it's very open. If any one of them wins there is a multitude of ways they can go in storylines.

You could complain that it's bad that only three out of thirty guys can really win, but I'd argue that some years it's only two, and others only one. At least we have three strong choices.

So then, the title matches.........

Sheamus v Randy Orton
It doesn't really make any sense for Orton to win this. I know it seems obvious to say that Cody/Ted, or just Ted, costs Orton the match, but sometimes obvious = sensible. It keeps the belt on Sheamus, and Sheamus v Hunter or Cena is more sensible than either of those babyfaces against Orton, which we've seen before.

If Ted costs Orton, Randy can go into a chamber to try and get back in the picture, while Ted v Cody can be booked down the card, if Ted makes the break on his own.

Prediction: Sheamus. Because it just makes sense.

Undertaker v Rey Mysterio
There is an issue with the positioning of this match, because if Rey is to win, then it ruins the Rumble for Michaels. If you are booking Rey to go over, then this match has to go on after the Rumble. I don't want that to happen, and I suggest WWE don't either. But if the Rumble isn't on last, expect Rey to win.

I don't think he will though. I think Taker has to win, although I think the match itself will be built around Rey having a million near falls but not quite getting there. Taker winning makes all three of my main picks, Cena, Hunter and Shawn, much more viable options.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Captain's Blog - Stardate January 16, 1995

Let’s wind the clock back, folks. Let’s transport ourselves from this era and remind ourselves of what things were like fourteen years ago.

Ah, it was so very different. For it was the run-up to the Royal Rumble. Shawn Michaels was the favourite to win, and Bret Hart and William Shatner were about to appear on Raw.

Wait, hang on..........

Anyway, I thought it might be a little bit of fun for us to have a retro review of the last time William Shatner popped up for a guest appearance on Monday Night Raw, direct from The Summit in Houston, Texas.

A little backstory. Captain Kirk had appeared on a talk show segment known as the King’s Court, hosted by none other than Jerry Lawler. This, we should point out, was Lawler as a slimy heel, which is of course when he was at his best, and not being a sycophant who laughs along with Michael Cole every week.

Shatner was talking to the King to promote his new show “Tek Wars” which had a wrestling tie-in because.......well it had no relevance at all, except Tek Wars was to be shown on USA Network straight after Raw. That’s pretty much why that guy from Psych was on this week.

King was a little embarrassing in the sense that he had to say Tek Wars was great, but told Shatner that he must be really impressed to be in the ring with the King. Shatner told King off, and Vince on commentary laughed uproariously.

Shatner pulled an elementary wrist lock on King to shut him up, then as Lawler charged he monkey flipped him. I mean, it wasn’t like we were going to mix Shatner up with Rick Steamboat, but it was impressive, I guess. Bret Hart rushed the ring to raise Shatner’s arm, while Jeff Jarrett and The Roadie (Road Dogg/BG James) emerged to console Lawler. This set up the following week’s Raw match of Bret v Jarrett, which was taped that same evening.

So let’s jump to that week, but rather than delve straight into that feature match, I thought it’d be fun to see the other amazing offerings that the one hour, taped, unopposed Raw was doing in the pre-Nitro era.

We kick off with theme music I don’t remember at all. Just a generic beat and saxophone solo before we hear the music of the Heavenly Bodies in the background. Vince greets us and says it’s two weeks until the Superbowl, but the Royal Rumble is before that. He is joined by broadcast colleague......SHAWN MICHAELS?! Wow, I don’t remember Shawn doing much commentary, but then I guess at this point we in the UK only used to see highlights of Raw on WWF Mania hosted by Todd Pettengill every Saturday Morning. (We’d have Superstars that evening and Wrestling Challenge on the Sunday. Them’s were the days)

Shawn says that William Shatner better watch himself, because Double J might send him to a Galaxy Far Far Away. Who wants to tell him that was Star Wars, not Star Trek?

The Heavenly Bodies are facing 123 Kid and Bob “Spark Plugg” Holly, who had got to the finals of a tag team tournament to find new Tag Team Champions. The Bodies have Jim Cornette with them, and jump the “Cinderella team” as Vince calls them.

Vince is very high-pitched early on, and he and Shawn reflect on the fact that Kid and Holly beat Heavenly Bodies to advance in the tournament. Bodies dominate early on, but my thoughts are on the commentary duo, who not only play the old “heel v face” battle in order for each man to promote each team, but they actually talk solely about these two teams, the match, and the match at the Rumble for Kid and Holly against Tatanka and Bam Bam Bigelow. No mention of (it probably didn’t exist, but you get my point) no plugs for other things on the show. Just proper focus by the commentators. It’s very effective.

After Holly gets killed for about six minutes, 123 comes in and starts fast. The Bodies double team him, go for a double suplex, but while he is in the air Bob Holly takes out Tom Pritchard, and the Kid nails a Northern Lights Suplex to beat Del Ray. Bammer, Tatanka and their manager Ted DiBiase, who have wandered to ringside, look on.

A really, really strong opening segment for its purpose. The match was no better than average, but it was the week before the Rumble and effectively sold the reasons to watch one of the matches on the show in under seven minutes.

Next we go backstage with Bret Hart and William Shatner. Vince asks Bret if he has “ring rust” to which Bret vigourously denies this, saying he is 100%. While he does so, Shatner continually butts in while Bret keeps talking, with statements like “I’ve seen him work”. Thanks, Bill.

Shawn then asks Shatner if he is watching Bret’s back, who is watching Shatner’s. Shatner replies that no-one needs to. That actually makes Bret look less tough than Shatner in a way. He then does a bad does a bad job of threatening The Roadie, calling him Roadkill, before the interview ends and Vine promises us the Monday Night Raw debut of Mantaur. I think he had had several matches on Superstars, though.

After a break, we get mooing, and Mantaur appearing along with Jim Cornette, who apparently was making his first appearance with the Cowman, because Vince sells shock at seeing Jimmy. Mantaur is facing a gentleman with too many consonants in his name.

Vince and Shawn now do stray away from the match, but it’s a little more understandable because they are trying to sell the Rumble match, in which Mantaur is entered. Shawn says it doesn’t matter if he draws number one, which is fortunate, because he did, and he won. Vince basically tells him he won’t win, and plugs The Action Zone. I’d forgotten that show.

Shawn says “a couple of nice wrestling moves......I guess.” As Mantaur just runs into his opponent, knocks him over, falls on him, and pins him.

We then head off to the Royal Rumble report with Todd Pettengill in front of a sunshine graphic. The Rumble was in Tampa that year, I believe. He checks in with Jarrett and the Roadie backstage at the arena for some reason, then gets on with his report.

He says about the Pay Per View that it is from the WWF, “The originator, not the imitator”, whatever that means. He reminds everyone that Pamela Anderson will be the ‘host’ to the Rumble, then talks about the main 30-man match, including a brief rundown of how the match works. They made the Rumble 30-minuntes that year because the talent roster sucked, basically.

Plugging other matches, he mentions Undertaker v IRS, and we get warbling Paul Bearer and Taker threatening Irwin in the usual manner, except the graphic behind them is of a seashore with the tide rolling in. Slightly juxtaposed images there.

Todd bigs up the “Cinderella Story” of 123 and Holly (he got the memo, then) and then says that Diesel v Bret will be awesome. It wasn’t, but it was pretty good until the booked the hell out of it. He concludes by saying that Jeff Jarrett will challenge Razor Ramon for the gold, then starts to ‘interview’ Jeff but is clearly just saying a scripted line and they cut it together in post. Actually, although it’s clearly manufactured and Double J says the usual thing, it is quite cool little exchange.

Onto the match, and we come back after a break with Jarrett in the ring and strutting to his music. Vince thanks the owner of the building for his hospitality, then weakly segues into talking about the match. HBK talks the match up, and indeed Bret’s popularity. The reaction is genuinely massive for him, which is interesting because they will have already seen him in the taping that evening. Bret was unbelievably over back then.

Jarrett stalls early in the match, as Vince speculates as to whether we’ll see Lawler during the match. The story of the match is basically whether Bret has “changed”. He’d been away since the previous Survivor Series when he lost to Bob Backlund and lost his title, and upon his return they had Bret occasionally flouting the rules and being more aggressive. Bret dominates the early stages while working on Jarrett’s arm.

Shawn on commentary, meanwhile, puts Bret over in spades, and alludes to being happy with the Hitman being Diesel. Jarrett gets on top and we got to a break.

On return Double J is on top, while Shatner cheerleads. Bret turns the tables, and Vince says that Shatner is offering “words of encouragement”. The only audible words we hear from Bill are “Take him down” while Jeff is flat on his back. Yeah, doesn’t Bones need you in Sick Bay or something, Kirky?

Bret’s fightback ends when Jarrett blocks the Sharpshooter, and after a little Roadie help, Jarrett has the advantage and locks in the figure 4, but Bret has the ropes. Shortly afterwards, Jarrett rolls Bret up, but is reversed, and Bret gets the three. Roadie comes in and meets a Shatner forearm, gets his head rammed into the turnbuckle and gets thrown over the top. Roadie must be a Romulan or something, Shatner hates him.

That it for that segment, but Raw is nowhere near finished. That’d be a sure-fire main event and closing segment now, but not in ‘95 it seems.

We get an ad break, then a recap of the tag tournament, including clips of Bam Bam and Tatanka beating the Headshrinkers, and Kid and Holly beating the Heavenly Bodies. Another break, and it’s the Kings Court will all of the Million Dollar Man’s Corporation. Hey, King never appeared at all in the Shatner/Bret/Jarrett deal.

DiBiase is announced as the CEO of the Corporation, and he says that for the “mongoloids” who don’t understand, that means Chief Executive Officer. Mongoloids? Really? Really? (/Miz)

By the way, the Corporation at this point appears to be Bam Bam, Tatanka, IRS and Bundy. This is when the Faction idea was very effective with the right leader.It still could be to be honest. DiBiase runs down the Undertaker, and explains why IRS will beat him. Then he praises Bam Bam and Tatanka, saying they’ll easily win the Tag Titles. “It’s a shoo-in” he says. (They lost). DiBiase also explains that his new champions will defend against the Smoking Gunns, who had vacated the title in the first place. Then he explains why Bundy will win the Rumble and go to Wrestlemania.

In five minutes, we got build up for three matches, including the Rumble, a manager putting his stable over, and a plug for a title match on the following week’s Raw. What more can you ask?

Big Mabel is out next, along with his rapping manager Oscar, in full purple babyface mode. For the uninitiated, Mabel is Viscera/Big Daddy V. Mabel squashes Lee Tobin, with the commentary drifting by now to Shawn talking about how awesome he is. Vince and Shawn interview Mabel post-match, with the big guy just generically saying he’ll win. Shawn asks why he’ll win, and Mabel starts talking about being the biggest and the baddest before being interrupted by Bundy. Mabel challenges him, and it’s into the ring they go.

Quick ad featuring Pam Anderson and hype for the Rumble, and we come to Shawn and Vince talking up the Rumble and next week’s Raw. Then a hype video for Diesel? Huh? What happened to Bundy and Mabel?

And that appears to be it. Interesting stuff. I’m not necessarily saying it was better or worse than the modern product. Some differences, some for the better and some for the worse, and fascinating to look at some of the guys who find themselves in prominent positions now (Nash, HBK, Jarrett, Hart, Shatner) and how they’ve developed. Also ought to be noted that this one hour show featured very few of the roster, especially the stars. Bret was wrestling, but IC champ Razor Ramon, top of the card act Lex Luger, The British Bulldog and WWF champ Diesel were all absent apart from mentions and clips. Shawn on commentary actually was a masterstroke for getting character over the week before the biggest night of his career at that point.

Hope you had some fun with this – looking forward to seeing Bret and Shatner again this week, and indeed the Rumble on Sunday.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Who Will Win the Royal Rumble?

Raw this week – a very solid affair, I might add – was heavily focussed on the build to the Royal Rumble, which has always been my favourite Pay Per View.

We have started to find out some of the competitors, and it appears that the line-up is quite strong for the big over-the-top match this year. My big hope is that whoever wins the Rumble that they do not move their title shot to the next PPV, the one before Mania. It really lessens the impact of the Rumble. It is not supposed to be merely earning a title shot, but being in THE MAIN EVENT AT WRESTLEMANIA. It ought to remain sacred.

It’s high time to look at the contenders for this year’s Rumble. I know not all of the competitors have been announced, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that all of the names discussed will be entered in the 30-man over-the-top bout.

We’re putting aside the names Christian, Zeke Jackson, Randy Orton, Sheamus, Undertaker, Rey Mysterio, since they are booked for title matches at this point.

I shall discuss, in no particular order, who I believe are the only people, barring a shocking return/debut, that can win the Rumble, and then go onto those who are in the Rumble and ought to have a storyline development in the match. Then I’ll give a prediction of a winner and tell you who I would book as the winner.

Shawn Michaels

It seems right to start with HBK, since his was the name that started the Rumble talk on Raw. Having asked Taker for a match at Mania and been denied, Shawn declared his intention for the Rumble.

He has history in the match. He was the winner in 1995, entering as number one and winning overall. (If you are checking stats, it was only 60 second intervals that year) He won the following year, having turned into arguably the number one babyface in the company and returning from injury. Then, in 2007, he was the runner up to , of all people, the Undertaker, but still went on to wrestle John Cena for the WWE Title at Wrestlemania.

Shawn and the Rumble fit like hand and glove – so much so that they could do anything they want with him. They could have him enter late as they often do with big names, and build to his entrance. They could put him at an early number and play off his resilience and longevity again.

He is the most likely contender at this moment, potentially, when you consider the build up to a potential match with Taker.

But is it too obvious? It does seem to be a slightly telegraphed, and doesn’t suggest great storytelling if he says on TV “I’ll win the Royal Rumble then” and just goes and does it. Seems a little easy. Not that the people would care. HBK is probably the most beloved babyface in the WWE.......and maybe the world. People want HBK/Taker II, and if he wins the Rumble, they’ll get it, provided Taker retains the gold.

Triple H

Also entered is Shawn’s DX running buddy Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who was trying to tell Shawn something throughout Raw, then did so by throwing HBK over the top rope in an act designed to suggest that Hunter is the stronger member of DX. It was also a measure which perpetuated the suggestion that DX may split.

They (WWE) are in a fantastic position with Triple H, Taker and Shawn, in that they could have a match involving any combination of the three. I would hope they wouldn’t do a three-way, but Shawn v Taker we’ve talked about. Hunter v Shawn is possible, with Trips possibly costing Michaels the Rumble, continued dissention and a break-up leading to a Mania blow-off.

But don’t rule out Hunter v Taker. WWE have a trick up their sleeve in that they could achieve two birds with one stone – they could build up an intriguing match in HHH v Taker (which they never pulled the plug on despite the pair being on Smackdown together for a long time) whilst strengthening the storyline of breaking up DX. The ace in WWE’s pack is Hunter being able to say “Shawn isn’t the only one to have lost to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania” because HHH lost to Taker at WM17. (Like last year’s Mania, also in Houston, funnily enough)

That would make for great TV, seeing HHH chasing Taker, and not knowing if Shawn wanted Hunter to win or not. They could prolong that for ages, and if they didn’t want to break DX up, they don’t have to for a long time, if ever.

To that end, I think Trips a strong contender for winning this. Add to the HBK/Taker scenario the fact that Sheamus currently holds the WWE belt, and is said to be very close with Paul Levesque. Trips could go to Mania to face Sheamus and as a friend, put him over to make Sheamus look good (like Hunter has done for Cena and Batista in the past) or to be the big babyface win that Mania tends to have.

Hunter has a big Mania albatross round his neck after last year’s majorly disappointing match with Orton, so may well be keen to at least partially erase that memory.

Chris Jericho

You have to factor Jericho into proceedings because he has just been so damn awesome for the past two years that a Wrestlemania main event would be just what he deserves. His character would be so suited to a sneaky late entry and capitalisation on other events, and I could see him lording it over HBK and Hunter that he has won the right to wrestle at Wrestlemania and therefore can choose which brands champion he will wrestle – thus allowing him to appear on Raw again.

Ultimately he would need to choose The Undertaker and produce his first meaningful feud with the Deadman. The decision would really be whether Jericho could be taken seriously to win the title and end the streak, and whether this pairing, accepting that you’d be maybe looking at Cena/Sheamus for the other title, HBK/Shawn and maybe Randy v Ted or Cody as the rest of the line up is strong enough to sell the PPV. I fear it wouldn’t be, even though I’d love to see Jericho given the opportunity. He does deserve it.

John Cena

Any match that John Cena is in, you have to consider him a favourite for. When you weigh up the star power in the Rumble, his star shines as bright as any, and when you break down the Road the Wrestlemania, he will have to figure prominently somewhere.

Cena’s stock in terms of winning the Rumble is high through three major reasons. The first two lie in the fact that he is a feasible opponent for either Sheamus or Undertaker if they keep their title until Mania. A Sheamus rematch is surely owing to him after the way he lost the title and then failed to regain it in controversial style. I have thought for a long time that Cena v Undertaker is perhaps the last of the dream matches and as high as Cena is regarded now, he could be elevated even higher by having a great match with Taker and ending the streak.

It could also be the catalyst for a Cena heel turn. “I beat the Undertaker” might be met with boos, and eventually he could snap and say “I gave you everything and you still cheered The Undertaker.” When they want to do it, Cena will be a massive heel.

The third pointer might be the lack of an obvious opponent for John Cena at Wrestlemania. He is too big for the Money in the Bank match, so won’t be thrown into that mix. Last year he was sort of strong-armed into the Big Show/Edge mix to get him into a title match. If it is easy enough to fit Triple H, Michaels and Orton into matches then Cena might be allowed to win the Rumble and set up a title feud.

The other options are, for him not winning the Rumble, that someone would win the Rumble and pick Taker, leaving Cena to win the Raw Elimination Chamber or that he is ousted from the Rumble by someone with whom he could feud until Mania, the identity of whom has not been, erm, identified...........


......until now? It’s not definite, and doesn’t quite carry the same aura as it might have done at one point, but Cena v Batista is a strong possibility, especially considering the position we’ve talked about for Cena.

However, I think it is less likely than Batista carrying on the Mysterio programme all the way through to Wrestlemania. Strikes me that a logical progression is to have Batista cost Mysterio the match against Taker, then for Mysterio to distract Big Dave, causing him to be removed from the Rumble. The two would then both be likely to meet in a Smackdown Elimination chamber, with their final match being at Wrestlemania.

Batista might win the Rumble, and his name and marquee value means he has to spoken about with the names in with a chance of winning. However, it is hard to state a case for him above most of the other contenders.

CM Punk

Punk is, once again, on a roll right now. His almost Cult-leader-like character has really drawn some heat on Smackdown, and it would be fantastic to watch him use that shtick to try to bring down the Undertaker.

Sadly, I don’t see it. In many fans’ eyes Punk v Taker will be a letdown after building up and teasing a HBK rematch, and when you could throw HHH or Cena at Taker, Punk might not be seen as the right choice. Add this to the fact that Punk has wrestled Taker within the last year and been portrayed as a lesser entity, it just isn’t that likely. I’d love to see it, but I fear the powers that be would not concur.

Big Show

The Big Man is obviously set to be an imposing presence in the match, but realistically he shouldn’t be a Rumble winner to go on to a major main event at Mania. I know he was in a Triple Threat for the World Title last year, but the Rumble winner’s programme is generally bigger, and I don’t think Show has the adequate profile.

Maybe Shaq will be back before Mania, and Show can have the ‘wrestling the sports star’ slot again.

Kofi Kingston

I don’t think Kingston is in the position to yet win a Royal Rumble, but he definitely ought to be someone who enters the match early (maybe even at one or two) and lasts a very long time, with the announcers talking up his tremendous feat.

I still like the idea of Kofi winning Money in the Bank.


The best thing about Raw two weeks ago, these two suddenly have quite a hot feud which it will be interesting to see how it develops. I would think that surely one will eliminate another in the Rumble. Miz getting rid of MVP adds more heat on him, but on the flipside of that MVP throwing Miz out would make for a big pop if done correctly.


I think that there is a strong chance that Sheamus will beat Randy Orton and it will be due to the interference of Legacy in some fashion. I can see a Cody distraction while Ted runs around the back, but misses hitting Sheamus and hits Orton instead, possibly leading to Randy v Ted at Mania.

Both Cody and Ted are in the Rumble, and have at times threatened that they will step up and go solo, so there is a chance that these two will fight, or at least have a moment where they let each other down.

John Morrison, Dolph Ziggler, Drew McIntyre

The three above names, all Smackdown guys, have had a good 2009, and 2010 could well be a time for them to step up and look even stronger. Morrison is definitely an outside chance for a surprise title run at some stage, and the other two have done enough with IC title efforts to suggest they are upper midcarders with bright futures. I’d like to see all of these guys have a reasonable showing.

So, Rob, who is going to win?

I’m glad you asked.

I think the winner, really, will come from a select group of three – John Cena, Triple H and Shawn Michaels. I don’t anticipate Undertaker or Sheamus losing the title before Wrestlemania.

It makes more sense for a babyface to win that a heel. A heel winning sets up either heel v heel against Sheamus, which I don’t see them doing after doing it at the Rumble with Orton. I don’t think any of the top heels in the Rumble (Punk, Batista and Chris Jericho) make any sense in a match with the Undertaker.

It leaves just the trio mentioned above. I’m going to plump for Triple H. I think that it is time for him to get serious and go after a title again, and him winning the Rumble not only signals that but can set wheels in motion for a DX break-up, and perhaps a possible match at Summerslam, which ironically was where HBK and HHH had a brutal Streetfight to mark Shawn’s first match back after his extended layoff.

Who would you book to win?

I think I’d have to say Cena. I’m a big fan of storylines overlapping, and I think if you give the Rumble to Cena, you can have him stall as to which champion he chooses to face. You then have a touch of Cena v Sheamus and Cena v Undertaker, as well as tension between Cena and Michaels, as HBK tries to convince Cena to wrestle Sheamus so that HBK can continue to chase Undertaker. Triple H then comes into play, as someone who’d like a title shot against Sheamus. So then whomever Cena chooses, it would benefit one member of DX but not the other.

The beauty of booking Cena to win the Rumble is that you can take your time in deciding where you are going to take the story.

There are so many possibilities – maybe you have your own theory. I’d love to hear it.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

TNA thoughts after lacklustre big Impact follow-up

Jeff Jarrett walked into Hulk Hogan’s office on TNA Impact this week. During their chat, which I will talk more about, Eric Bischoff interjected, and said that without Dixie Carter, TNA would have been a ‘blip’. Whether that sentiment is correct or not, I have to say that on the subject of blips, I have to hope that this week’s Impact was a ‘blip’.

Sorry, but I didn’t care for at all.

No, that’s not quite true. There were elements I liked.

I liked when Flair and Angle shook hands during the main event. I liked the Young Bucks v Motor City Machine Guns. I like Daniels better as heel (Huge “but” on this one, more later). I liked the intrigue about Mick Foley’s whereabouts. I liked the fact that AJ ignored the Kurt Angle handshake to lead to some actual bitterness before their world title match. I liked the Angelina face turn and how it was received. I liked Krystal Lashley on the mic again. I like Wolfe getting a win, finally. (Another huge “but” attached. I’ll elaborate, stick with me). I thought Jarrett was good in his segment with Hogan. I liked Flair on commentary.

But there was so, so much I didn’t like. These are in no particular order, they are just as they come to me, but they are things that chronically annoyed me about the booking and make-up of a follow-up edition of a show which got it’s highest ever rating last week, and is promoting a PPV this week.

“Can you hear the band, Fernando?”

The show was called “The Band”. This was a reference to Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Sean Waltman’s group now being referred to by that epithet, because they obviously can’t be the nWo any more.

I thought there were several things wrong with their portrayal. I didn’t care for the fact that Christy Hemme referred to “Syxx-Pac”. Is he “Syxx Pac” or is he Sean Waltman?

I didn’t like how Bubba the Love Sponge was dressed, since it was just like The Band. So is he a Band member? No, because he was asking them challenging questions. A petty thing, but it was unnecessary.

Mainly, though, I didn’t like a) why they are there, and b) their association with Eric Bischoff. I ought to elaborate more on Bischoff right now.

I thought Eric, in standalone segments, was great. He is a superb on-air character, and pretty much always has been so. The problem here is that we don’t know what to think of him. He has pretty much always been a heel, so anyone who is educated to know his existence is inclined to think of him as a heel. Hogan, meanwhile, is a de facto babyface, and has been since his match with The Rock, so his association with Bischoff blurs the picture.

Jeff Jarrett, possibly making up for January 4, cut a very good heel promo in my opinion. He also had a lawyer with him, which is a dead giveaway. Therefore, when Hogan and Bischoff responded to him, they were babyface. I have no problem with that.

Switch, for a second, to Beer Money. Beer Money are Over, folks. Very over. They shift more merchandise than anyone else in TNA. The fans LOVE them. They are babyfaces, and they made babyface sense when pleading their case to management for a match with Hall and Nash, who they believed attacked them last week. That’s all fine.

But Eric was seemingly opposed to them. Again, that’s fine, but it was slightly at odds with his portrayal during the Jarrett segment.

Next, you have Beer Money in a match which gets called off due to outside interference, and then The Band come down to take down Beer Money. After a beatdown, Eric Bischoff told Beer Money to be careful what they wish for, and went on to book Hall and Nash v Beer Money, but seemed to be pally with The Band.

So is Eric is a babyface or a heel? All this would actually an intriguing aspect of the storylines, but it isn’t mentioned at all. You don’t hear Tenay and Taz wondering about Eric’s status, you just hear buttlicking about how Bischoff will change the company – which makes him a babyface, surely. It’s too confusing.

On another note involving The Band and Beer Money, it was suggested by Storm and Roode that Hall, Nash and Waltman were responsible for laying out everyone backstage on Jan 4 (I thought it was Lashley, but that’s my speculation rather than TV exposition). This wasn’t confirmed, so may be twisted later on, but that was the strong inference.

So, then, it makes sense that Beer Money would demand a match. Good booking.

But why didn’t the Machine Guns demand a match? Or Rhino? They were laid out too. You’d think Rhino, being a fiery character, would at least. Why didn’t anyone come to help Beer Money when they were down 3 to 2 in the beatdown?

Finally on this, Beer Money v nash and Hall makes sense if Beer Money win. And I’m talking ultimately, not necessarily this Sunday. That said, they can’t lose clean to two old dudes, or it kills them totally.

Who’s being a chump as Champion? I am, I am!

I’m ok with Kurt Angle v AJ Styles for the World Title at Genesis. That’s fine. Some might argue that they gave the match away last week for free, but last week was a big match on a big night, to my mind the equivalent of a PPV. TNA have to maintain their recent standard of quality wrestling at PPVs, so this is a good addition. I don’t believe this is the key selling point of a PPV that promises action from Hogan and a mystery marquee debut.

I didn’t care for a lot of how AJ v Tomko was handled. I am happy with Tomko being the masked man, and I don’t even mind his reasoning. I had a problem with the booking for that night, mainly because it made AJ look like an idiot. Eric Bischoff asked him if he was aware he had a match in a few days for the World Title, and said it didn’t matter, basically. It makes him seem daft, although I’m sure it is supposed to be an attempt to make him seem like a valiant hero. It didn’t.

And then there are the segments with Tomko explaining his dislike for AJ. I’m cool with that, but when did they do the interviews? After Tomko attacked AJ? So they did the interview, cut it, edited it together, spliced in some action shots and put in a music bed? In about twenty minutes? Wow, that’s some amazing producers TNA have.

Oh, and didn’t Kurt and AJ hate each other a short while ago. That didn’t take long to evaporate, did it? I guess they are united in dislike for Jarrett and his relationship with Karen......

Heeellllllloooooooo, Jobber!

I want to point something out – I like Sean Morley. I have long thought he is a solid, sound wrestler with a reasonable gimmick. The thing is, he has never drawn money. It might be because he wasn’t given the chance, but I suspect he wasn’t given the chance because no-one believed he’d be able to do it.

He has come into TNA basically as Val Venis, but under his own name. Even his music and entrance video sound and look like Venis. Has that been a formula for success? Not for ten years, if ever. He is known to all and sundry as a jobber, frankly.

Now I’m not opposed to them changing that status in TNA, but change the character. Hell, make him Right to Censor Val, and have him condemn TNA’s debauchery, then get his ass kicked.

Trying to make him a babyface that can hang with Daniels just feels wrong. Daniels could be used as a strong X-Div champion to raise that division’s status once again, and while I like his return to being a heel, it doesn’t seem right that he has to be on a par with Venis/Morley.

Why would the fans cheer him over Daniels? Why would the loyal fans in the Impact Zone who chant “TNA! TNA!” and then hope the blow-in Morley bests Daniels? Why should we believe he can hang with Daniels?

And the last point is the worst. I think Val Venis standing toe to toe with Daniels says “even the guys who suck in WWE are as good as some of the top guys in TNA” and that is terrifically worrying.

Joe’s gonna.......get killed?

I believe that if you polled everybody in the Impact Zone on a random week and asked for their favourite wrestlers in the company, you’d find the top three being Kurt Angle, AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. That’s pure speculation, but I don’t think it’s wildly out there.

If Kurt and AJ are main eventing and fighting for the title, what is happening to Samoa Joe? I tell you what is happening – he is losing matches with no fanfare in five minutes. That’s very worrying.

The thing is with issues like this is that we don’t know what happens backstage. There may have been major political reasons for this, and it may be Joe’s fault. My experience with him suggests otherwise, but I don’t know the man as well as I know other wrestlers in the company. But the Joe I have been around backstage at TNA is a laid-back sort of guy, albeit one that wouldn’t take any you-know-what.

So, taking to one side the fact that it may be slightly deserved (we don’t know), it cannot be right that Joe is receiving such a de-push. Admittedly his title run didn’t take off like some may have thought, but he is a highly-skilled wrestler and among the best the company has.

I don’t have an issue with him losing to Desmond Wolfe, by the way. But in a fifteen minute match, at least as a TV main event and maybe on PPV. Not without hype, in a throwaway segment used simply for Wolfe to shout at D’Angelo Dinero.

I wouldn’t mind if the show was jam packed with great stuff, but we probably spent ten minutes with Team 3D and the Nasty Boys.

This is, and I apologise for the near-profanity, SAMOA.......F’N........JOE!!

Eighteen months ago this was the TNA champion v the ROH champion. That could have been a big deal. Neither man is anywhere near washed up, so although they don’t have gold, it ought to be something meaningful. If they are doing a Pope v Wolfe feud, why aren’t they simply having a Joe v Wolfe feud? Both Pope and Wolfe are (relatively) new to TNA, and I don’t see the benefit with them feuding with each other.

On this subject, I just don’t get the Pope character at all. For one, I think he’s a natural heel, not a babyface. Two, I hate the third person “faux-Rock” shtick. Three, it’s a ludicrous, borderline offensive name, and I am in no way a religious person.

Random Annoyances

Amazing Red v a mystery opponent at Genesis - ok, but that was the first time the X-Division champion (who should be the second most important champion in the company) was mentioned in the whole show. That’s poor, and there has been zero hype for a mystery opponent. I can only assume it’s Shannon Moore and the reasoning for the surprise that no-one will buy the PPV to see Shannon Moore, but might for a surprise. Or at least another surprise.

Why wasn’t Flair’s involvement on Impact hyped way before he actually appeared?

Please tell me it was just my ears playing tricks with me when I thought I heard piped cheers during Impact. Please.

I don’t like the idea that all and sundry are publicly saying “we’re going to be really good now” which actually implies that you sucked before. That’s a bit WCW-like. Scarily WCW-like.

If you are not going to mention Jeff Hardy by name, why put him in the promo videos?

Some other points – not necessarily negative. It’s not all bad!

These are mainly questions and pieces of speculation.

Firstly, we have to look at who the big surprise is this Sunday, and how they will be involved. Will they simply turn up and wave, perhaps cut a promo, or will they appear in the main event to get involved.

If the decision is the latter, then I think that’s wrong. If everybody knows that a big star is debuting, but he hasn’t appeared before the main event, then we know he is going to interfere.

That hypothesis would also point to a heel, but all the leading names seem to be a babyface......except one.

The main three candidates are surely Goldberg, Ken Anderson and Rob Van Dam. I really hope it isn’t Goldberg. That doesn’t make fiscal sense, because the money they would need to tempt him out of retirement will be big, and they won’t make that money back in the amount of people switching their TV on, buying house tickets and ordering PPVs.

That isn’t to say that the other two won’t come cheap, but they would bring different fan bases. I think Goldberg fans are watching TNA already, or they have, in their eyes, grown out of wrestling and moved into MMA. RVD fans might be more hardcore who sniff at TNA but might be attracted now their hero is there, while Kennedy/Anderson marks might be more traditionally WWE who wonder over to TNA to see what’s going on.

I think the best would be RVD, but of those three the most likely is Anderson. I thin RVD v Styles is a big draw, and that RVD v Angle, RVD v Wolfe and RVD v Joe are very interesting. I’m sure he could have fun bouts with Lethal, Daniels and others given the chance. I’m not sure Anderson has quite the same cache or quality in the ring. Plus he brings a lot of baggage.

One more shout, though – I think it could be Sid. Hogan would think he’s a major star because he headlines Wrestlemania against him. I am perfectly aware that it was 18 years ago, but that might not matter to Hogan. He has apparently been talked up by Scott Hall of late, and fits the recent trend of bringing in older talent from another era.


After seeing Jarrett and Hogan/Bischoff have a set tout, does that mean there will be a battle down the line for control of the company?

Foley was built strongly the Impact prior to this as someone who seriously hated Bischoff and didn’t care for Hogan. Now Jarrett is in the opposite corner. Eric told both men to get in line with everyone else. Jarrett could easily enlist Foley and have the two of them versus Hogan plus one for control of TNA. I’m saying would be great, but it’s possible. It happened in WCW all the time.


Does Tomko figure into the Genesis main event? I can see him attacking AJ to hand the title to Kurt. I hope not, really, because I don’t think Kurt ought to turn again so quickly.

Another suggestion is that Flair might help AJ cheat and they both turn heel, but again I don’t care for that. Ditto Flair doing the same with Angle.

I definitely think Kurt will win, since the “no more title shots” claim is ludicrous. I would like to see Kurt win, whether by fair means or foul, and then for he and AJ to have a best of (x amount) series, with a variety of different matches. Not Russo specialty “on a pole” matches, but a submission match, a No DQ bout, maybe Falls Count Anywhere, a cage, a ladder match. That would be great fun to watch, and hasn’t been done for a major belt for a long time.


Who was Bischoff on the phone to? “I’ll see you next week” – does he mean the PPV or Impact? Not being hyped so much, will it mean a lesser star debuting? You could start thinking back to his WCW days and note DDP or Bagwell or some such name turning up, but it ought to be remembered that he was in WWE for over nearly four years, so feasibly anybody that was on Raw during his tenure (2002-2006) could have been on the other end of the phone.

How about Nick Dinsmore? He was on the Hulkamania tour, and it would follow storylines where he was Eric’s nephew. Just throwing it out there.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Monday Night War reactions: 2 - the Impact negatives

Yesterday I addressed a great many of the things that I liked about the Impact from Monday night.

In the interests of fairness I ought to take a lot at some of things I didn’t think worked at all, and a bunch of other things which I didn’t think work on the night, but I’m willing to sit back and watch to see how it comes together over several weeks.

I thought the biggest problem TNA had all night was that there were a lot of major errors of judgement or elements that made the hour hard to watch. I watched Raw live then Impact later so I can’t be a proper judge, and I am a Bret Hart fan so that would cloud me more, but I’m fairly sure that after the first hour of Impact I would have switched to Raw.

Obviously, as many have already said, the X-Division match was a bit of a disaster. If the whole point was to have Hardy start a programme with Homicide, surely they could simply have had a three way with Homicide, Red and Sabin, for example, and when Red retained Homicide goes crazy with the baton, with Jeff making a save. I guess the point was to have the visual of Jeff Hardy sitting on the cage, but to have an eight man match go to a DQ after four minutes was ludicrous, then there was the very dull bit where Homicide climbed anyway – badly. To round all this off Jeff Hardy landed a clean chair shot to Homicide’s head, and that wasn’t the only time that would happen during the night.

Off on a tangent before I come back to the dodgy first hour, I think the Jeff Hardy acquisition is a very odd decision. I know the guy is a major star, but I think it sends a bad message that this guy with many, many obvious problems and a possible custodial sentence hanging over him can walk into a job. I would be delighted, to tell you the truth, if that was a one night deal for now while Hardy sorts out his legal issues. Let Shannon Moore on Impact and have him talk about Jeff every week. Have Moore wrestle Homicide and have the Notorious 187 pick on Shannon, but then Hardy comes back to make the save at some point, should he be free from any major legal issues.

Also, if you are going to have a major star like Jeff Hardy, I’d make more of him than what they did. He was lost in a bit of a sprawl, and frankly both his and Flair’s appearance would have been bigger had the other one not happened. I think there was enough going on in the three hours to suggest that it would have been plenty of a success without Flair or Hardy, and that either of their returns could have been held back a couple of weeks to make the ongoing Impacts interesting.

Back to the problems with the opening hour, and I’d suggest that there were two other major problems with the opening match, aside from the four minute nonsense and the fans’ distain. One was that the red structure of the Steel Asylum looked awful. It shook when people climbed it and one section looked like it may fall down.

Also, and I’m not sure how they rectify this problem apart from moving to a much later timeslot, but the crowd’s “bullshit” chant had to be partially bleeped out, and it was embarrassingly hard to watch. I guess the first thing is that they need to not produce segments that make the crowd chant “Bullshit” (they did it again when Hogan dissed Jeff) and then it isn’t a problem. Going forward, I’d be interested to find out where they can take this, because if they were to end up going head-to-head against Raw, it would be odd to see a kid-friendly wrestling and a teen/18-40 wrestling show going out at the same time.

I didn’t at all care for the section of the fans saying “TNA is better than WWE” and “I want to watch wrestling, not kiddie comedy”. That to me was self-defeatist, because anyone agreeing knows that anyway, and anyone partially DISagreeing may well have just been reminded that WWE was on later that night.

Leaving the first hour aside for now, I’d say that the element of the show which I disliked the most was the talk of “the format”. Eric and Hulk ripping up “the format sheet” and then later Eric telling a runner to cut down a segment because it was running too long. I hated that. Wrestling (or Sports Entertainment) is a unique type of television show, I realise, but basically it is an amalgam of Sport and Soap Opera. You don’t watch a major sporting event – an NFL game, a Champions League football (Soccer) game, anything – and see them talk about ratings. Neither would you watch Eastenders or ER or CSI or any drama and have a character talk about doing something for ratings or to change the product. It’s ridiculous. How can you have a format for a sporting event full of a series of matches? You don’t know if that match will last twenty minutes or two minutes. How can you schedule that?

The biggest thing that has ever happened in wrestling was Scott Hall showing up on Nitro and the nWo beginning. They played that as “is it real, is it not real?” but they didn’t talk about a script or a schedule or a format. They let people’s imagination run wild and played it as though it was real. Austin was a wildman running roughshod over Raw and terrorising his boss. If he had stopped to say he was only doing it for ratings it would have bombed. If TNA never mention ratings again I’ll be delighted.

I’d also be happy if they didn’t use so many insider terms. I didn’t like Christy telling JB that if he let Foley in the building he’d “get heat”. I didn’t care for Hogan explaining that wrestlers would “get the push”. I hate that. If it’s a sport, then no-one “gets a push”. The guys that win more often get successful. They don’t get a push from management. Or at least they shouldn’t.

Some other minor points from the opening hour – I thought the Tara v ODB match was poor considering both girls are reasonably strong wrestlers. I thought neither of them had any character developed or explained, considering there may well have been new viewers. I didn’t like that AJ Styles, Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe were barely mentioned, if at all, in the first hour. I didn’t like that basically no big matches were announced. Two of the matches that were announced didn’t even happen (Rhino v Abyss and Beer Money v British Invasion).

A criticism I had early on in the show which was addressed as it progressed was “who is in charge?” It was very confusing in the opening ninety minutes or so as to who had any power. I understand that Hogan would be in a position to be an authority, but for quite a while Bischoff was spouting off without any real reason to. Then there was Foley and Jarrett. At least they addressed it all eventually.

I’m not crazy about TNA announcing “First evers”. They said it was the first ever Joe v Abyss. Hmm, I wonder who those two people I saw wrestle in Liverpool in June 2008 were. Looked like Joey and Abby to me.

The Nasty Boys. Hmmm. I actually thought that they were a fun addition to the show, and would although it wouldn’t be my type of wrestling, I think Team 3D v the Nasty Boys might be interesting to section of TNA’s audience.

Orlando Jordan? That is ridiculous. There is a point where more returns actually make things worse and not better, especially if they are wrestlers who haven’t been seen for a couple of years and made absolutely no impression when they were around. Perhaps they have signed him because of his first name, considering where Impact is filmed.

Considering they had three hours, there was not nearly enough wrestling for my liking, but to be fair they a lot of plot to fit in.

I didn’t care for Dinero beating Wolfe. The former Nigel McGuiness is a very talented wrestler who put on two awesome matches with Kurt Angle but jobbing to Elijah Burke? I don’t know, I thought that was poor. I’ll be honest, I have no love for the “Pope” character. I’m not offended by it, personally, but I couldn’t see why people might be. I just think it’s a bit over-the-top and doesn’t really work. Plus Wolfe is way to talented to be losing in three minutes.

Finally, I have one other point to make. The character blurring was an interesting aspect to the show, but there was probably a few too many “tweeners” (I hate that word, but I can’t think of anything better) all over the show. Foley, Jarrett, Hogan, Bischoff, Hall, Waltman and Nash were all played as tweeners. So was Flair, come to think of it. And maybe Sting.

Fans like people to cheer for. I know it is a Russo thing that characters ought to be grey rather than black or white, but you can’t have too many of them because the fans will be struck dumb. This is not a soap opera which you watch in a armchair. At least, you don’t watch others watching it from an armchair. As much as the wrestling, the atmosphere is generated by people watching a live spectacle, and for that to be effective, as it often is in the Impact Zone, people need to be booed and cheered.

I’m sure, though, this will be rectified. Actually no I’m not, but I’m sure they’ll try to rectify it. The hope is just that they do it right.

Good luck, TNA.

Monday Night War reactions: 1 - the Impact positives

Wow. Quite a day.

It’s taken me until now to get a look at both Raw and Impact, and its fair to say the combination of both shows being on at the same time has led to probably the biggest day in wrestling since Vince bought WCW back in 2001. Make no mistake, this is momentous. Not necessarily notice given that TNA will take over, but enough to suggest to me that they can be, and indeed perhaps already are, a player.

My thoughts, initially, soon after digesting both the shows and the fallout are that there is no clear winner here. I would think both sies are happy with their output. TNA debuted a raft of new stars – maybe too many – and got a great deal of people talking about their product. From what I hear of their rating – a rumoured 1.5 – they must be ecstatic about that too. They were never going to beat WWE on Monday, but they have drawn bigger than any point in their history. They now know that they CAN go on a Monday night.

WWE produced one of their best shows in a while as competition. Not just the Bret Hart stuff, mind. Bret’s exchanges with Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon were captivating, but you can’t base a whole show on that. DX had a great match with JeriShow (anyone else see Hunter give something to a front row fan? Possibly a cheeky dig at Bret?) and Orton continued his character development, first with a great exchange with Vince, before his Legacy brethren put him in his place. The wheels are really in motion for DiBiase v Randy again.

I’ve talked about WWE aplenty in my review at The Sun – CLICK HERE - so I’ll get down to a much more detailed appraisal of Impact in this blog. Stay tuned – there a lot of things to get through.

I’ll start with the positives, because there were many, and although numerically the negatives are going to probably win the day, I’d say a great many of these positives re more important.

I’ll start with what I felt was the most important thing of all, and suggest to me that Eric Bischoff had a HUGE amount to do with the TV show, and that is that the show felt chaotic. That is absolutely not a criticism, and is a huge piece of praise. I loved that old-school Nitro (and I mean early, successful Nitro) feel for the show. It felt live (well it was live, but Raw doesn’t even feel live any more, it is so sterile) and it felt as though anything could happen. That is why Nitro took over Raw because the WWE’s offering was taped at the time and the hook of Nitro was shocking happenings.

I particularly liked the cut during a match to the backstage area to show that the Motor City Machine Guns had been laid out. It showed that things could happen at any point. That a potential assailant was not pausing for the end of a match before attacking was great.

The show had Bischoff fingerprints all over the thing, and that’s great. Here’s the thing that is never said about WCW – what if Bischoff had more power? What if he hadn’t been shackled so much by the corporate environment? Admittedly he wouldn’t have been able to spend so freely, but that now doesn’t become a factor, since they have the talent they need available. I think Bischoff is a very intelligent man who will have learned about everything that ahs happened to him over the years. I’d reign back his on air performance as much as I can, but encourage him to get involved backstage as much as humanly possible.

Let’s note a couple of other things I really loved. Obviously the main event has to be respected. A fantastic match between two brilliant wrestlers with top notch quality. It was a good decision to have a seriously good match to close the show. No-one really knows how many typical Raw fans saw it, but that was probably better than any match which took place on Raw in 2009. It would help cement TNA as wrestling, not sports entertainment.

I liked the Sting cameos. I know it is old, but as long as he doesn’t stalk Hogan for a year and attack him like he did in WCW, then its fine by me. Sting can’t be expected to be one of the guys or to wrestle every week. Everyone knows his rafters gimmick, so can buy into it quickly. Do this for a month or so and then have him rappel at some point for a big angle, whatever it may be. Sting is talented enough on the mic to be babyface or heel – I’d make him a heel. Has Sting ever really been a heel? Not often, if ever. If there is going to be a Foley/Jarrett stable of sorts to fight Hogan and co. then I’d side Sting with them. Have him call the people idiots for cheering Hogan and saying people like him come to TNA, give them blood sweat and tears and then get kicked to the curb.

I loved Flair getting out of the limo. That felt major. In fact I liked the intrigue surrounding Flair full stop. Ric Flair is a promo guy par excellence who should be allowed sufficient time and focus to make his first verbal gambit. Not lost amongst a sprawl of tons of stuff. I have no idea how Ric Flair will be used, but I hope they find something useful for him, because he will be earning plenty of dollars.

I also liked Flair taking a look at the main event and nothing more being made. I like that kind of segment which isn’t explained. It suggests that things are in the pipeline.

I liked the initial comment by Nash that Hulk Hogan was coming “but not alone”. There was then someone switching limos to join Hogan. I assume that was meant to be Bischoff. It wasn’t clearly explained, but I really liked the build that Hogan’s arrival was a big deal. He made it look stupid by saying “I’ve been in the back all day” when he was supposed to be arriving by limo, but I guess you could explain that away by saying that he was, then disappeared to pick Bischoff up.

I am keen on the fact that there were plenty of questions to be answered throughout the show and indeed plenty still remain. I might have liked my announcers to play them up a little more, but think of: Who is the guy in black that attacked AJ? Is Hogan siding with the (former) nWo? What will happen with Foley and Jarrett? What are Sting’s intentions? Will Jeff Hardy stick about? Lots to think about, and more besides these points mentioned.

I liked Foley trying to get in and being thwarted. In fact more than anything else I liked that they had a spot with Christy Hemme as an interviewer talking to a generic fan but interrupted it so she could, run and talk to Mick. I’m sorry that Christy’s body is in a bad way, but I think she’ll be a very, VERY good backstage interviewer. Back on track, I felt that Mick’s spots throughout the show build nicely from a polite wish to get in the building to a furious drive to see Hogan. I especially liked parts of the last segment where Mick talked to Sean Morley (more on that later) and (gasp) logic came to the fore. Morley mentioned an office “down the hall on the left” and Mick commented that there was only one office “down the hall on the left”. The underlying meaning here was that Morley didn’t know whose office that was, and Foley knew that he meant the office that he (Foley) once occupied.

I liked Hogan being on the show at the top of the hour. It made great sense, and showed me that TNA understand the scheduling of a head-to-head show. That may sound obvious, but it was a boneheaded mistake WCW used to make.

As long as they don’t hang about for three years and take up loads of TV time, I liked the Nasty Boys’s involvement. Ignore the fact that they are Hogan’s buddies, they are interesting, they have character, and a tease for a brutal match with Team 3D is exciting.

I really enjoyed the Girls tag match. The initial Tara v ODB match where a title changed watered down the tag title switch, but the match itself was very good.

I know it was a bit derivative, but I liked the Beautiful People segment. Look, WWE is going PG, so it behoves TNA to go down the opposite path. Therefore, if you have three hot women whose gimmick is being beautiful, and at least one of them (Lacey) can’t really wrestle, it makes sense to me to have them strip down a bit. The show will lose credibility quickly if there is nothing but scantily clad girls dancing about, but if this supposed to be an adult show it doesn’t hurt to have to sexual content. And actually this isn’t even sexual content, it was just slightly titillating.

The former Val Venis, Sean Morley, is a solid hand, and it really would not surprise me that his return is as much as an agent as a wrestler. Either way, it’s a solid acquisition.

Krystal did a great job on Bobby Lashley’s behalf. I have met Bobby Lashley and Krystal, and they are genuinely nice people. Bobby is a hell of a guy and I hope he does fantastically well in MMA. That said, I always thought he was overpushed in WWE and that his TNA run has been poorly received, at least compared to the hype. I was in California for Bound for Glory, and Lashley got booed out of the building trying to play babyface against Samoa Joe.

I’ve now seen the ratings – I’m not going back and editing, because I can’t be bothered. I like the fact that this is stream of consciousness, and it gives you a flavour of how long this blog post has taken me so far.

In fact, I’ve gone on for plenty enough time. That’s pretty much it for the positives aspects of TNA. I have plenty of negative points which I’ll come back to in a post very, very soon.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

January 4th - MNW2?

January 4th has the potential to be one of the bigger days in modern wrestling history.

At some point in the future, near or distant, we’ll be able to assess just how important TNA’s Monday Night Experiment has been.

I think it is important for fans – and for TNA – to not expect too much. This is a one off, at an odd time of the year, with neither company coming off any particularly interesting, earthmoving angles. TNA possibly have a little more in the way of momentum, thanks to a sterling set of PPV efforts at the back end of 2009, but they were more about talented wrestlers coming to the fore for individual matches than great payoffs to amazing angles.

From a WWE perspective it is a major coup to have Bret Hart on their side. If rumours of his contract are true, then he ought to be around until Wrestlemania. I am very interested to see what plans WWE have for him, although I doubt any plans are set in stone right now.

An interesting aspect to the Hitman’s return is the little group of people WWE are setting up around him, at least for now. Obviously Vince has been heavily involved on TV when Hart’s name has come up. Then SSM (Serious Shawn Michaels – as opposed to WSM, or Wacky Shawn Michaels) had one of the most interesting talking segments in ages alongside Mr McMahon on Raw this week. Factor in the association with The Undertaker and what you have are possibly WWE’s most reliable hands surrounding the Bret hart story. Whichever way they go with it, they have options, and good ones.

(Incidentally, I personally think it’s a mistake to do Shawn v Taker II, because they will struggle to top their original effort. If they were to go at it again, I’d have them do it at a Summerslam. Also, I think it ought to be an up and comer who breaks Taker’s streak. Mr Wrestlemania does not need the rub. Finally, on this topic, I think that Cena v Taker is begging to be done, while Shawn has potential marquee, quality matches with Hunter, Rey Mysterio, John Morrison, even a returning Jeff Hardy. Neither Shawn or Taker will be around for four more years, why waste time in making these new matches by rehashing an old, albeit great match)

Back on topic, and I thought we’d take a look a few key areas we need to keep an eye on this Monday.

1 Bret Hart

Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the whole January 4th scenario is that WWE felt sufficiently nervous about the face-off as to sort out Bret Hart as guest host. They would likely claim that they were planning it anyway, but I think it’s fair to assume that it’s a direct piece of opposition.

But how much of an effect will Bret have? That is a big question to be answered, and we’ll find out to an extent very soon. If I were TNA, a big worry I would have is that TNA’s is a knowledgeable wrestling audience, who will have seen Hogan come and go in WWE but haven’t seen Bret in twelve years. Hogan has no loose ends to tie up, Bret does. I can see Bret being a bigger draw to the TNA audience than Hogan would be to WWE fans.

There are very few things in wrestling that gets one excited, but I am very excited to see what happens with Bret on Raw. Admittedly I am a huge Bret fan, but I still think it’s a pretty much unmissable event. The bigger worry is that WWE will somehow miss the boat, jump the shark or any other synonym for buggering it up.

2 Hulk Hogan

It has often been said that TNA need just one big name to tip them over the edge to the big time. That may true, but it was said before they took Christian. And Kurt Angle. And Mick Foley.

The big news with Hogan, I think, is not that he will be a TV draw necessarily, or that he will have matches with anybody. It’s the fact that he is supposedly in charge. It’s like Liverpool deciding they need a new manager and hiring Pele. No-one really knows whether he’ll be a good manager, but people will be interested to find out.

There are a lot of good things about TNA, many more than most give credit, but there a lot of shoddy aspects too. There needs to be a careful straining of the dross and retention of the qualities that could make them a hot commodity.

The big problem is the writing. The Impact shows are often very hard to watch. They need to be a WWE-alternative, and to me that means doing different things to the competition. But it means I’d have a different format to the show, more focus on wrestling and things like that. Not more outlandish matches, equally daft comedy and a reliance on older stars.

Hogan has mentioned that he wants look at everything from the logo to the shape of the ring. I wholly endorse that. Something WWE has right, and wrestling has done forever, is a square ring. Have Hogan stand in a ring and say “we are going back to wrestling, and that means a wrestling ring.” Heck, they could even debut a new name, because TNA doesn’t really trip off the tongue. Total Nonstop Action certainly doesn’t.

For this Monday, will Hogan affect TNA that much? Not on his own, I don’t think so. I think it’s more the switch to Monday that will be the big thing, but it has undoubtedly got more publicity because of Hogan being on board, so I think it’s a symbiotic thing.

3 Returns and Surprises

This is more of a TNA point than a WWE one. TNA have an unopposed hour before Raw goes on air. I fully expect that to be their highest rated hour, since surely most wrestling fans that are aware of the battle would flick it on to at least what is going on.

TNA, therefore, have to load that hour and try to retain that audience. Matches, promos, returns, surprises, announcements – whatever they have to do. Don’t forget that the first ever episode of Nitro was unopposed, and they created a fresh look, marquee matches like Sting v Flair, great matches like Pillman v Liger, and the shocking defection Lex Luger.

TNA can lock in a marquee match or two thanks to their line up. They can certainly liberally sprinkle the show with quality, entertaining matches. A fresh look is possible too. They cannot have a big name defection, however, unless someone has duped WWE’s lawyers into giving them an awesome contract!

What they can do, though, is debut a big name or two.....or three. Or more. How about this for a potential first hour........

Show opens with Hogan cutting a short promo about changing the face of TNA. Interruption by Nash, who tells Hogan he was the driving force behind the nWo, and Hogan is nobody. Nash vows to not let Hogan get his way. Interruption by Foley, who tells Hogan that while Hulk and Goldberg were doing their thing, he was winning the WWE title and people cared. Foley was brought into TNA and told he would have creative input. He vows not to let Hogan’s circus come in and ruin TNA. Setting up a nice power struggle, potentially, with logical reasons for guys not liking Hogan because of past issues.

Next, we have an X-Division number one contender’s match between four guys who go nuts for ten minutes. Maybe Shelley, Lethal, Creed and Suicide. Suicide wins.

Backstage to JB with Hogan who announces Samoa Joe v Desmond Wolfe and Kurt Angle v Daniels for later in the show.

Knockouts match with Tara defending and winning against Sarita. Let them have a cool match and shake hands afterwards. Perhaps ODB appears and threatens Tara.

Go then to an Amazing Red v Chris Cabin X Division title match. Let them pull out everything they can before lights go out. People assume a Suicide run-in, the lights come back on RVD is in the ring. He lays out both Sabin and Red with a chair and says that’s how you make an extreme Impact. Hogan emerges and says “you want to make an Impact? Styles v RVD, tonight.” Make Hogan the guest referee and we’re in business.

I don’t know about you, but Bret Hart or no Bret Hart, I wouldn’t switch that off.

Keep the other couple of hours flowing, put some decent focus on some names you want to push – Morgan, Beer Money – and let Joe/Wolfe/Angle/Daniels express themselves.

Then close the show with Hogan screwing AJ and aligning himself with Van Dam. Might as switch the title too. I’d then roll Dixie out for a live Impact zone appearance and declare that Hogan doesn’t have it all his own way. She books RVD v Styles for the next PPV, and she’ll pick the ref. End show.

Of course, that’s fantasy booking, and I’m assuming that RVD has signed, which is guesswork. It strikes me he would sooner or later, but I really don’t know that. I don’t think it’s a stretch, though, that Van Dam, Flair and Kennedy/Anderson would be likely to be seen in TNA sooner or later. I also know that TNA are very good at keeping big signings under their hat (See Angle, McGuiness) so may well have something up their sleeve.

I would implore them, though, to produce those things in the first hour. Don’t hold things back and say “Coming up, a big announcement.” Wrestling fans are programmed to not believe that anymore, because it’s usually a bogus bait-and-switch which lets us down.

Making a three-hour show captivating is now easy, but TNA have done it with their last few PPVs. Make this into a PPV, basically, and load it with moments to make the fans – even those familiar with the product – go “wow”.

My proposed first hour has star power; exposition about Hogan’s position; the promise of great matches to come; innovative X-Div action; the showing off of two of their USPs - the girls and the X-ers; and a shocking comeback which also offers promise of a massive main event. Then the rest of the show delivers big time.

Of course it would be a gamble to throw away a lot of stuff for free like that, but the agenda has to be show that Raw is stale and TNA is fresh. Or at least the new TNA is fresh.

4 Ongoing Storylines

An area WWE perhaps have a small advantage on, because it looks like the culmination of JeriShow v DX as well as the Bret Hart return, and I really wouldn’t be surprised to see a cross over there. TNA only really have the Hogan buzz without any massive set of storylines to surround. However, it’s a good time to start building stuff, and again they ought to load that first hour with a couple of blinding opening chapters.

5 John Cena

I think it’s a big thing that WWE don’t have their main guy on the show this week. I know he isn’t loved by all, but he deserves his spot and if some know he is not involved, it might be more cause to flip over the channel. Perhaps not the major reason, but many minors make a major.

6 TNA’s size and reputation

I keep trying to ask myself whether TNA now is as big a name in wrestling as WCW was when it moved to Mondays. There are a lot of similarities, but surely the ultimate answer is “No.” WCW had true NWA heritage, unlike TNA’s which is barely concocted. Yes TNA probably have bigger name wrestlers, but WCW circa 1995/6 was on a bigger network and doing vastly better PPV numbers. Hogan v Flair on their first PPV in 1994 did a massive PPV rating, and this was way before Nitro. WCW had a core audience, and it was bigger than TNA’s.

Look at Bound for Glory. It is billed as the biggest show in their calendar, but even papering barely filled a small arena in California. I know you can say this is not one of their bigger markets, but on Monday night they go on TV coast-to-coast. Market or no market in the south west of the US, this show is on all over the country. TNA might have a big following here in the UK, but we don’t get the show live.

I fear that people may be aware of Hogan, but not enough of TNA that it will get them to watch the show. And when I say people, I don’t mean current wrestling fans, I mean former fans that might be attracted back. After all, those are the people that made the initial difference in the first Monday night War.

7 The Future

As much hype as this is getting, it is only one day. One show. Whatever both companies produce after this is the real key. Not just the next month, but beyond.

WWE have no real pressure. Raw has been largely awful for six months but ratings don’t drop below 3.0. I know that is small fry considering what they drew ten years ago, but it’s still out of the realms of anything TNA has come close to by a million miles. TNA have to be consistently good for many months, to the extent where people reading spoilers think “I should start watching this show” and their buddies who do tell them “watch TNA, it is great”. That is how they are going to grow, not thanks to a show this Monday, whatever rating it does.

A small rating for TNA on Monday is not a failure, in the same way that a huge one is not necessarily a success. Change will take time, as will increase in viewership, should it ever happen. A large rating will show interest is there, but if in a months, two months, six months time it is 1.0 again, then it was worthless.


Good luck to all parties Monday night. If you are a wrestling fan in the US, I implore you to watch TNA’s first hour, then vote with your remote. If you liked it, give them a chance and record Raw. If not, then they had a shot, blew it, and you can see what Bret is up to.

Either way, have fun. After all, that is what wrestling ought to be about.