Tuesday, April 29, 2014

WWE Extreme Rules Preview

Extreme Rules is Sunday.  We got seven matches, including three title matches. There's also a new development on the media front as a few cable/satellite providers (Dish Network and DirecTV) are not carrying the event.  This is undoubtedly a result of the WWE Network launch; for those who don't know, the WWE Network is an all-internet streaming service that offers all the pay per view events as part of the $10 monthly fee.  It's not crazy for cable providers to see this as a slap in the face.  It's hard for them to sell pay per view events for $50-plus a pop when people can stream them for $10 a month.  As somebody who prefers watching things on television to smaller screen PCs, tablets, etc. this will be interesting to watch unfold.  Will more providers bolt or will they hang in there?  I think there has to be some percentage of people like me, enough to make it worthwhile for some cable/satellite providers to keep offering pay per view events.  But they may have to come down off of the price now, which of course they don't want to do.  But anyway, on to the show.  Here's the card:

  • Six Man Tag Match: Evolution vs. The Shield
  • Extreme Rules WWE World Championship Match: Daniel Bryan vs. Kane
  • Steel Cage Match: John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt
  • Intercontinental Championship Match: Big E Langston vs. Bad News Barrett
  • Divas Title Match: Paige vs. Tamina Sunka
  • Triple Threat Match: Cesaro vs. Rob Van Dam vs. Jack Swagger
  • Handicap Match: Xavier Woods and R-Truth vs. Alexander Rusev
As far as the subplots, here are the ones I think are important:

  • Will the Yes Nation show up? - Oh, I'm sure they'll be in the building decked out in their T-Shirts, and they'll be vocal in their support.  But will the ones who aren't in the building shell out the money for the event?  Bryan is facing Kane, and I doubt anyone who's been watching for more than five minutes thinks Kane has any chance of walking out as champion.  This is exactly the kind of match that the powers that be use to judge a wrestler's drawing power.  The biggest stars have been able to bring in a good audience even when there was no doubt what was going to happen in their match that night.  Can Bryan do that, or does he only sell at WrestleMania when there's always a big number just because?  The other thing to watch is where do they place this match?  If it goes on before the Main Event, then you can rightly judge that as a sign of doubt from upstairs.  If it goes on before Cena vs. Wyatt and the six man tag team match, that's not a good sign.  And if the event doesn't do a good number in terms of buys, he will get the blame, fair or unfair.
  • Is Bray Wyatt done at the top? - I said the WrestleMania match between Wyatt and Cena could be a turning point for both men.  It turns out that the bookers decided to stay with the tired and true, and Cena went over clean.  Now they're in a cage match, where you have to win by escaping.  If Wyatt goes down decisively, then he's a high midcarder from here on out.  There will be no real recovery from back to back losses to Cena; he'll be just another victim.  Having gotten a win at WrestleMania, Cena can afford a loss here.  If I were in charge I'd give it to him.

  • Faction Wars -  The six man match has two groups that won't be together for long, the still together Shield and the reunited Evolution.   The Shield was on the road to breaking up earlier this year, but have been kept together and Evolution went from being foreshadowed in the road to WrestleMania to becoming a reality again.  This match should be excellent and will tear the house down.  But happens next?  Is this a one night, one shot deal or will this be a prolonged rivalry, lasting until perhaps Summerslam?  With the rumors of a WarGames style match in the future, I could see this lasting long enough for each group to find one or two more people to team with for that kind of match.  Adding Kane and Bryan on each side wold be real quick, clean, and easy here.
Predictions?  Here we go -

  • World Title Match: Bryan retains the title
  • Six Man Match - non-finish, setting up some future encounter
  • Cage Match -Wyatt over Cena 
  • I-C Title Match - Langston retains by DQ
  • Divas Title Match - Paige retains the title
  • Triple Threat Match - Cesaro wins
  • Handicap Match - Rusev wins

They know what they're doing

So we're gonna get the Justice League movie after the Man of Steel sequel, and all of us Comic Book fans are excited.  And as usual, way too much excitement is being expressed in the form of idiotic Nerdrage.  Most Nerdrage is inconsistent, factually dubious, and just plain dumb.  This time is no different.  I went back and forth with several people who said the following in regard to the news about the Justice League Movie:

"They're rushing it"

Uhhh......excuse me?  A Man of Steel sequel dropping in 2016, followed by a Justice League movie in 2018 (I really hope they move it up to 2017) is rushing things?  Now people were just saying that moving Man of Steel 2 to 2016 was a sign that DC/Warner didn't know what they were doing, had no plan, etc.  Now that they've announced their plans......they're rushing.  Come on, man.  If things stick to schedule, that's three movies in five years.  On the other hand, Marvel gave us the following from 2008 through 2014:
  • Three Iron Man movies
  • Two Captain America Movies
  • Two Thor movies
  • One Hulk film
  • One Avengers film
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
That's ten films in six years, and you better believe they didn't map all of that out in 2007.  They absolutely had a plan, but a lot of the latter material was dependent on the success of the earlier films.  The road to the first Avengers film was especially quick.  We went from Iron Man 2 to Captain America to Thor to the Avengers in a two year period. And since then we've gotten Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and Cap 2 within less than twelve months of each other.  And no one is complaining about things being rushed on that front.  I guess that's because Marvel has earned our trust, but I don't know.

The substance I've heard behind the 'they're rushing this' premise is flimsy as hell.  The argument is that we need solo films for several of the other characters to establish them on the big screen, then do the Justice League movie.  Uhh.....no.  DC looks like they're going to give us cameos for Cyborg and Wonder Woman in the next film and a heavy supporting role for Batman.  That's the right way to do it. The idea that DC should do solo films for Wonder Woman, Batman (to establish Affleck), Green Lantern (to reboot after the previous Ryan Reynolds flop), Aquaman, Cyborg, etc. is just crazy.   DC has three insanely popular and well known characters - Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  After that......there aren't many who are known to non comic book readers.  If you don't believe ask a laymen if they know who Cyborg or Martian Manhunter is.  At least not well enough to justify a near $200 million budget and the risk that comes with it.  Remember, these movies are not just for comic book heads.  Nobody went to see the Avengers for Hawkeye, or to Cap 2 for Falcon.  Cyborg and the Flash are not going to sell the Justice League movie.  A successful, kickass Justice League movie can, however, result in interest for solo films for those guys afterward.  The movie business is a business first, and for the DC the guaranteed money is in the Big 3 - Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  Just let them do their thing, support the product, and you can get what you want.

Don't tell people how to protest

This is a departure from my usual lighthearted material; I'll get back to that in my next post.  This is about the Donald Sterling situation with the LA Clippers and what he got caught saying on tape.  Actually, it's more about the reactions his players have had so far and the absolute stupidity that has articulated been by so many other people about those reactions.  These are just my opinions, and stupid might be a bit harsh, but....whatever.  In case you haven't been following it, the Clipper players tossed their warmup jackets on the floor at midcourt and wore their Clipper T-shirts inside out so that the Clipper logo wasn't showing.  They also wore black socks, armbands, and wristbands.  Players from some other teams have followed suit. Several current and former players have spoken out against Sterling and have gone as far as to say that Sterling should no longer be an owner, including Lebron James.  And apparently that isn't a sufficient display of outrage for some people.  The only true form of protest is for the players to stop playing, to shut down the playoffs until Sterling is bounced.  Please......just stop already.  In just three days, we've had the following:

  • Several owners have already spoken out against Sterling including Dan GIlbert, he of the comic sans email rant the night of Lebron's Decision to go to Miami, and Michael Jordan, who notriously never speaks up about anything.
  • The President of the United States has weighed in on the issue.
  • Several sponsors have already bailed on the Clippers
The wheels are already turning here.  Sterling won't be around long, one way or the other.  The only question is how he will exit.  And yet, some people want the players to walk off the job as if that's going to expedite things.  Please understand that if they just walk off, they will be in breach of contract.  Sterling will sue them for breach of contract, and will tie them up in court for God knows how long.  Their current contract will likely be voided.  And you better believe that he will file some kind of injunction that prevents them from playing for another team until the matter is settled.  So they will have no income AND be saddled with all kinds of court costs, lawyer fees, etc.  They could lose at least a season of their career dealing with all of that; they could end up bankrupt as a result.  So you want them to take that kind of risk so you can good and say 'yeah, they stuck it to that racist Sterling!'.

That has got to be one of the stupidest things I ever heard.

This is not Ali protesting Vietnam, or Jim Brown, Bill Russell and those guys making the stands that they took back in the 1950s and 1960s.  This isn't a stand for people to have basic rights in society.  This isn't a fight to get these players the right to play in the league, or to get paid what what players at their level are making, or to have opportunities in coaching and management when they are no longer playing.  This is a protest about who should be allowed to own a team and get to pay Chris Paul over $10 million a year.  That's it.  To ask any of these players to take the risks that I mentioned above over that is ludicrous. Especially since this is nowhere near the worst thing Sterling has said or done.  Sterling's history as a racist slumlord is documented, and nobody asked for the players to walk out on their games over that.  So please, just stop it already.

This is the age of the Keyboard Revolutionary, the moron who pontificates from their iPad or iPhone or PC about what somebody else should do in response to some issue.  They want whoever the President is at the time to just do stuff without any regard for Congress.  They want every celebrity they pay attention to make public proclamations on every issue they deem important in a way that they approve of.  Even with the normal things I blog about, comics and wrestling, there's a segment of people watching who are constantly demanding that the writers make stories that they approve of.  To ask someone to walk into a bonfire for your satisfaction, when you have no means or intent of helping them when they get burned, is the height of stupidity and selfishness.  It's not their responsibility to make a point the way you want them to.  And for those who mention John Carlos and Tommie Smith as examples of dissent and protest.....they protested from the medal stand after participating, not from the locker room.  Get your story straight, will you?

Monday, April 21, 2014

What's next for Arrow and Agents of SHIELD?

Warning: Spoilers below!

We have only a few episodes left in each show, as the season is wrapping up.  What's going to happen?  Who's making it to next season (assuming Agents get one), and which actors/actresses will be moving on to other projects now that their services are no longer needed on their respective shows?  Events are literally unfolding at a breakneck pace for both shows, and the tables have been overturned, broken in half, and scattered all over the room to such an extent that we'll still be looking for the pieces after the season finales.  What do I think could be in store?  Let's see:

As of right now, we have Deathstroke ready to manufacture an army of super soldiers pumped up on Mirakuru to wreak havoc all over the place.  Isabella, who just got capped by Diggle, was given a dosage herself so we're going to have a female version of Slade Wilson to contend with alongside the original.  Roy Harper is going to be on a rampage next week; he's still pumped full of Mirakuru and is pissed off over how Oliie has 'advised' him the past few weeks.  Laurel figured out the Sarah is Black Canary after Slade told her about Ollie being the Arrow.  And the Queen family is in danger of going broke, unless Thea gets over being mad at Ollie and Moira and goes along with the agreement to move the family assets where Isabella can't get to them.  The one bright spot, is that Ollie and the gang have the means to come up with a cure for the Mirakuru that will enable them to hopefully stop Slade and whoever rises to fight alongside him.  What's ahead?

  • RIP Sarah - Until a couple of weeks ago, Laurel was annoying as hell and couldn't get her stuff together; now she's righted herself quite nicely and is getting elevated in the storyline, while Sarah....is slowly fading to the background.  It's not obvious yet, but if you pay close attention to this week's episode, you'll notice that she didn't have a whole lot to say, even though she was there on the island when Dr. Ivo mentioned the cure and knew exactly what Ollie was talking about he brought it up.  In the comics, Laurel was Black Canary and there was no Sarah Lance.  It looks like that may be the case on the show after this season.
  • Broke Ollie? - They're doing this in the comic book now so it wouldn't be a stretch to do it on the show.  The only problem is that Diggle and Felicity are key parts of the team and they can't work for free.  That and any enemies they face after they're done with Slade are going to require some high tech weaponry and intel that will be hard to come by if Ollie's broke.  In the comic they get around this by having Ollie call in favors from ARGUS; he's not an ARGUS guy on the show so that isn't feasible here.
  • Nightwing? - The name Bludhaven was dropped in this week's episode.  Readers of the comics will remember Bludhaven as the city Nightwing operated out of once Dick Grayson left Gotham behind to strike out on his own.   With Batman villain Ra's Al Ghul being name dropped (I think he's the ultimate Big Bad for the series) it's not out of the question for a member of the Bat family to show up to lend a hand later on in the series.
  • Does Slade survive? - I vote maybe.  They've spent two years building him up, so killing him off altogether in a series that is still going on is a little disjointed.  At the same time he's a big enough threat to warrant Ollie and Co. having no choice but to end him when the chance presents itself.  He's been such a great villain that anyone who shows up between him and eventually Ra's will be a major letdown.  Green Arrow doesn't have any real epic enemies in the comic, and they've already eliminated a few of the ones he does have by killing off Count Vertigo and sending Malcolm Merlyn running scared.
Agents of SHIELD

Things are in shambles for our Agents right now; the events of the Captain America film with the Hydra infiltration of SHIELD have spilled over into the series, so SHIELD is labeled a terrorist agency while the men and women who have joined Hydra try to capture as much weaponry and tech they can to further their agenda while Coulson and co. try to piece together the few things they have left to work with and save the day.  And one of their own, Agent Ward is (unknown to them) a Hydra agent.  Ward has played off the kinship he and Skye were developing to sucker her into telling him Coulson's plans and the team's whereabouts while they've been on the run. And at episode's end, Ward had talked his way into the secret base where the team is hiding from Hydra and preparing their next move.  Even though (thanks, movie, tie-in) Capt America and Co. have taken down the main threat from Hydra, the remnants of the organization are still functioning and looking to take over the world.  So what has to be settled in the next few weeks?

  • (Double or Triple?) Agent Ward - For now, Ward is a plant inside of Coulson's team that is really working for Hydra.  He's killed a bunch of SHIELD agents, and has been dispatched by his new boss Agent Garrett (who has been revealed as the Clairvoyant) to take out Skye.  Garrett has put him on the clock before he sends in her version of the Wolf from Pulp Fiction to do the job, because Ward has shown some reticence in taking out Skye.  I don't expect him to take Skye out, but the real question is whether it's because he gets stopped by the good guys or he stops himself.  Let me say that Ward being a triple agent would be a bummer.  He was Mr. Milquetoast as a good guy, and it makes sense for that to be a cover for his real persona.  If this is one big, "I was just playing, guys!" kind of thing, I'm gonna be salty.
  • Does Garret survive? - I guess this is more of a 'Does Hydra make it to next season?' question.  Hydra is a huge organization, and as they say if you cut off one head two sprout up.  I figure if Ward stays bad and doesn't get killed Garrett will live, too.  Ward isn't convincing as the guy in charge of an organization and Garrett is.  Hydra as a whole is not going to go away so it's perfectly feasible to keep Garrett around beyond this season as he makes a great counterpoint to Coulson.
  • Deathlok? - In the comic Deathlok starts bad and turns; that will likely be repeated on film. The question is whether that turn comes before this season ends or later on.  It would be a quick and easy way to mop up the problems facing the team in the next few weeks, but having him as a looming menace for at least some of next season would be a good thing.
The next few weeks should be fun.  Enjoy, everyone!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

WWE - The Road Forward

 OK, so we're a full week removed from WrestleMania 30 and we're starting to get some semblance on where things are going to go at least in the short run.  Extreme Rules is the next big show, and we already have some matches lined up.  As of today it looks like we're going to get:

  • Daniel Bryan vs. probably Kane
  • Big E Langston vs. the winner of the Intercontinental tournament
  • The Shield vs. the reformed Evolution (Triple H, Randy Orton, Batista)
  • John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt in a steel cage match
 I'm guessing we'll get another match or two for the show, and a pre-show match to round things out. As far as how things are shaking out storyline wise, here's what we got:

  • Evolution re-formed - The end of RAW saw Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista standing over the Shield after a dozen men beat down Rollins, Reigns, and Ambrose before the three former members of Evolution came to the ring to finish the job.  In case you were wondering Hunter, Orton, and Batista once comprised three fourths of the group Evolution, a Four Horsemen-esque faction (the fourth member being former Four Horseman Ric Flair) that had a good run during the mid-2000s.  Right now we don't know if this is a short-lived reunion or one that will stick for a while.  The dynamic this time around is way different than it was the first time they were together.  In their initial run, Orton and Batista were the backup to Triple H; now they're on much more equal footing.  And seeing as how Orton and Batista are both laying claim to a world title shot it's unlikely that they will coexist for long.
  • Kane brings back the mask - Looks like we're going to get old school Kane to take on Daniel Bryan, as he responded to getting reamed out by Stephanie McMahon by reaching for the glass box that held his mask and promising to destroy Bryan.  Kane won't be winning the title but should be able to follow Bryan's lead in the ring to an entertaining match or two (if this thing lasts longer than a month).
  • Cena vs. Wyatt, part two - Their program isn't over yet.  The rematch from WrestleMania goes down at Extreme Rules and hopefully Wyatt gets a win and we don't get a burial.  The two men had a nice promo showdown on Monday, and Cena threw out an inside joke for the Cena haters about them not wanting to see him get another push.  This upcoming match is as important for Wyatt as the Extreme Rules rematch between Triple H and Brock Lesnar  from 2013 was for Lesnar.  Wyatt has to get the win here or he's just another Cena victim.
  • Intercontinental Title Tournament - Good to see them putting some attention towards the belt again, as it was in danger of becoming another prop like the U.S. title is now.  This is also a good way to continue pushing Cesaro towards bigger things.  He's over with the fans now so I think he's a no brainer to get the title shot, and maybe even the title itself on the Pay Per View. We also get a look at where some other people stand.  Dolph Ziggler is officially a guy who puts on good matches and loses to whoever the up and comer of the day is.  He went down to Wade Barrett, who is also getting another push in his Bad News Barrett persona.  Barrett faces Sheamus next, and Cesaro takes on Rob Van Dam.  My money is on a Cesaro-Sheamus final.
  • Fandango's new dance partner - Apparently Summer Rae is done and Layla has taken her place. I'd call this an upgrade, seeing as how Summer Rae was beyond awful in the ring and Layla can actually work a mixed tag match or interfere in a singles match much more effectively than Summer Rae could.

Friday, April 11, 2014

If you quit on Agents of Shield, Shame on You!

"Wow...it's gotten so much better"

"This is what I was expecting from day one"

"I gave up on it but I went back and I'm glad I did"

These are just a few of the things people are saying about Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. now.  It seems that a lot of the people who left it for dead earlier in the season have rediscovered it now.  Until a few weeks ago, this is all those people had to say:

"Man...this sucks.  Arrow is so much better."

To which I said.....stop already, you're doing it wrong.  Too many people were upset because the show wasn't not being graced with the presence of existing Marvel characters, and quit on it.  Even though the show's creator Joss Whedon made it pretty clear from day one that the show was not going to be a drop-in spot for Thor, Iron Man, etc. and that he wasn't going to do the whole "Stark was just here, you missed him' routine, either.  And even if he didn't say anything along those lines, did you really think Robert Downey, Jr. or Scarlett Johannson were going to make regular appearances on a weekly television show? The show serves as both a bridge between the Marvel movies and a standalone series of missions for its characters.  It's connected to the film world in ways that Arrow is not.  I love Arrow, but it's an entirely different animal.

Arrow is a standalone show with its own mythos, completely untethered to the movie universe that DC comics is trying to create, or the original source material. The show's creators don't have to worry about screwing up the film continuity, or anything else for that matter; they can do what they want.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has to stay on the same page with the movies, and they can't bring in any characters from the comics without being mindful about how their presence will affect future films.  And of course, all you fanboys that gave up on the show held that against them.  They spent the first half of the season introducing new characters and trying to establish their identities.  Now they get to run with them.  That's how all TV shows work, not just this one.  Go back and watch the first dozen episodes of Arrow; they were nowhere as good as the second half of the season or anything from season two.  If Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't get a second season, I will blame all of you.

To all of you who have stuck with it and are feeling vindicated, feel free to take a victory lap.  Whether we get a second season or not, you have every right to feel good for your perseverance.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

RIP Ultimate Warrior

So we all heard about the shocking death of Jim Hellwig, also known as the Ultimate Warrior, on Tuesday at age 54.  For fans in may age group, the Ultimate Warrior was one of the most exciting performers we'd ever seen.  He was also the first man to get a clean victory over Hulk Hogan during his heyday.  Warrior's heyday was brief, lasting from 1988 to until 1991, but it was memorable as hell.  The ring entrance, the way he just crushed jobbers every week, the 30 second win over the Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental Championship, the surprisingly good matches with Rick Rude, the quick victories over Andre the Giant, the WrestleMania triumph over Hulk Hogan, and the retirement match win over Randy Savage at WrestleMania VII a year later.  That was a hell of a ride.  In less than 18 months he effectively ended the singles career of all-time great Andre the Giant, scored a clean victory over the biggest star in the business at the biggest show in the business, and retired another all time great.  Has anyone done anything like that in the history of wrestling?  I doubt it.  It's one of those things you don't realize until you look back on it twenty years later.

Each milestone I mentioned was huge in its own way.  Honky Tonk Man was the longest reigning Intercontinental champion of all time and had developed into a great heel who had no business being champ of anything but managed to escape each title defense by hook or by crook.  He'd been champ for over a year, and it all came crashing to a thud that night at the first ever Summerslam when the Warrior's entrance music hit and a look of horror appeared on Honky Tonk Man's face (he played it up about as well as you cold ask for).  30 seconds later, the Warrior demolished him and became the new champion.  It was such a big moment, and was the most memorable thing about that whole show.  It meant that Vince had seen what an increasing number of fans were also seeing: a potential legend and a man who could be world champion one day.  He defended the title successfully until WrestleMania V where Rick Rude scored a tainted victory; the match was way better than it was supposed to be and the two men had pretty good chemistry together, so much that it made sense for them to work together again when Warrior was World Champion.

Before getting to that, you can't overlook the matches that took place between Warrior regaining the Intercontinental Title and challenging Hulk Hogan against Andre the Giant.  These were house show matches, completely off the grid because pay per view had come to rule the day.  But it was Andre's last real program as a singles competitor, and given Andre's history in the business it meant a lot that he would put an up and comer like the Warrior over in such decisive fashion.  This paved the way for the match with Hogan at WrestleMania VI and can't be overlooked.

And then, WrestleMania VI, the Ultimate Challenge.  The buildup for this match was like no other.  Hogan was still in his prime as a performer and the Warrior was just hitting his.  Hogan hadn't lost a match cleanly since his return to the then-WWF in late 1983, and hadn't shown any real signs of vulnerability.  He'd mowed through everyone else on the roster, and the Warrior was the last guy left who could pose a credible threat in the eyes of the fans.  And then there was the unprecedented hero vs. hero angle; more than any other organization the WWF and Vince McMahon stayed hard and fast to the good guys vs. bad guys rule of making matches.  In the past every other good guy challenger to Hogan's title had to turn bad to set up the feud and the big match.  Paul Orndorff, Andre, Savage.....but not the Warrior.  Vince rolled the dice and kept it good guy vs. good guy, letting the fans decide on their own who to stand by as the match happened.  And a great match it was, one of the best of his career.  Two guys who were known for being limited as far as wrestling skills were able to put together a match that lived up to the hype.  And the ending where Hogan went into his customary comeback flourish, only to miss his big finisher while Warrior followed up with the big splash for the 1, 2, 3.......magic.

This was one of the biggest moments of my life as a fan.  When I started watching as an 11 year old I was a big Hogan fan like most kids my age at the time.  By the time WrestleMania VI rolled around I was done with him, tired of the complete lack of suspense in his storylines, tired of him mostly mailing it in knowing that his little formula was good enough to keep the money rolling in, and tired of him getting win after win over more talented performers from Savage to Bad News Brown to Ted DiBiase.  I wanted him to lose in the worst way, and finally got my wish.  It was the first WrestleMania I watched live as it happened, and it left a lasting impression me to this day.  Unfortunately, the months that followed diminished the accomplishment.  Warrior proved to be less of a draw than Hogan as champion to the degree that Hogan's subsequent program with Earthquake, the latest in a procession of fat guys that Hogan feuded with and beat handily, got more pub and drew more money.  This led Vince to take the belt of the Warrior at the January Royal Rumble, having him lose it to a washed up Sgt. Slaughter so that Hogan could regain it at WrestleMania VII the following March.  It looked like the party was over.

But not before one last hurrah. Warrior's title loss was caused by interference from Savage, setting up a program between the two of them.  It culminated in an excellent match at WrestleMania VII, with the stipulation that the loser had to retire.  It was the last truly great match of his career, and from that point he was a sporadic performer who didn't stick around for more than a few months at a time.  His big 1998 comeback attempt in WCW to face Hogan again was a major dud.  He went to become the star of his own obscure, rambling video rants where he pontificated about God knows what.  He'd also fallen out with Vince over everything from his unreliability as a performer to steroid use.  It wasn't until a few weeks ago, when his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame was announced, that he appeared to be back in the good graces of the business.  And just like that, it's all over just a day after his final, chilling address to the fans on Monday Night RAW. As fans we mourn his passing but we cherish the excitement he gave us for those three years he was at the top of his game.

Rest in Peace, Ultimate Warrior, and thanks for the memories.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Your move, Yes Nation

Well, you got what you want Yes Nation.  Your man is finally the WWE World Champion, after seven-plus months of chasing the title and getting screwed out of it repeatedly.  He was derisively called a B-plus player on camera by Triple H and Stephanie (and probably off camera by them and others) and was cast out of the main event of WrestleMania only to be reinserted when you guys voiced your displeasure with being force fed a main event of Batista vs. Randy Orton.  And for once, you got your wish.  The man you championed is your champion.  And now comes the hard part: keeping him there.  You see, in the eyes of WWE management he's still a B-plus player.  He's not a guy to cross over into mainstream entertainment media like the Mount Rushmore of modern day WWE superstars (Hogan, Austin, Rock, and yes, John Cena), not a guy who will move the needle in terms of television ratings, pay per view buyrates (and WWE network subscriptions), and house show ticket sales.  So far, he gets the crowd to cheer loudly for him and he sells a good bit of t-shirts.  That's a good start, but if that's all he does from a business standpoint then his run at the top won't be a long one.  What Triple H has been saying during this whole storyline is true.  They have to do what's best for business and if Daniel Bryan as champion does not improve or at least maintain the level of revenue that came in before he got his big main event push he will correctly be labeled not a big enough draw and sent back to the high midcard.

Now if you want to avoid that, if you don't want Daniel Bryan to go the way of say, Alberto Del Rio, then it's up to you.  You have to tune in whenever he's on RAW or Smackdown. You have to buy the pay per views when he's defending the title, even if it's a forgone conclusion match against an opponent he has no chance of losing to.  And finally, most importantly, you have to buy some tickets and go to house shows where he's on top of the card.  You may not like John Cena, but his fans show up for him.  Don't let the vocal crowds at RAW and Pay Per Views fool you; those fans are the ones who will show up regardless.  But a house show where nothing newsworthy is going to happen, where you are just going to see these guys work in the ring and nothing else, is a true test of a star's drawing power.  House shows don't the business they once did, largely because most people know that nothing major is going to happen there, but they still draw five to ten thousand people on a good day. Those crowd are largely pro-Cena; you can chalk it up to it being kids and their dads if you want to, but at the end of the day a purchased ticket is a purchased ticket.  Those same kids may not as eager to go see Bryan if their hero Cena is not there; if the slack isn't picked up somewhere then Vince and Triple H are going to look out at the stands and see a house with three thousand fans for Daniel Bryan that had five thousand when Cena was in the main event.  That's real money, and at the end of the day the WWE is a business.  They don't exist just for you to watch when you feel like it; they exist to make money.

So the ball is in your court, Yes Nation.  You have the chance to make Daniel Bryan the next big thing.  Don't do like my generation of fans did in 1990 when the Ultimate Warrior was given a chance to run with the title after beating Hulk Hogan.  Those of us who were pulling for the Warrior rejoiced at his WrestleMania VI victory and then we.....did nothing.  We didn't support him, and less than a year later the belt was taken off of him and put on Sgt. Slaughter in order to set up another Hogan title reign.  The Warrior was never a serious title threat again.  The same thing happened with Bret Hart, and Diesel, and Shawn Michaels, before Stone Cold Steve Austin finally secured the position at the top in 1998.  If Cena's star is on the wane, and CM Punk doesn't come back, then someone has to carry the torch as either the new standard bearer or the man to keep the ship afloat until the next icon emerges.  Bryan can do it, but not without your support and more importantly, your money.  It's up to you make the dream continue to be a reality.  Put up or shut up time, folks.  What's it gonna be?

WrestleMania Recap

OK, show's over and it's time to move on to the new WWE year.  Daniel Bryan is the WWE World Champion, the Undertaker's streak is over, and Antonio Cesaro looks like he's about to get a big push.  Bray Wyatt's (and John Cena's, for that  matter) future is unsettled, the Shield is intact for a little while longer, and AJ Lee survived as Diva's champ (at least until Monday Night RAW).  And last but not least, my predictions got shot to hell.  I went a whopping 3 for 8, getting everything wrong except the Bryan-Triple H match, the Shield's six man tag match, and the main event.  For that, I give all props to the booking committee and the Undertaker, who reportedly picked Brock Lesnar to end the streak.  I've been nailing these pay per view predictions for over a year now, largely due to the fact that I've been watching since 1985 and have seen damn near everything there is to see from a booking and storyline standpoint.  And they got over on me this year.  Kudos to you guys.  So what are my takeaways from the show?

  • Common sense prevailed - Bryan beating Triple H, and then winning the main event, were the outcomes that the fans most wanted to see.  The only threats to those things actually happening were the real belief among the WWE braintrust that Bryan is not championship material, and Triple H's tendency to do the Triple H thing and put himself over at the expense of others.  Neither threat came to bear, as Hunter jobbed clean in his match with Bryan and Bryan went on to win the main event and walk out as champion.

  • The Streak Ends -  NOBODY saw this coming.  I had my hunch that it could happen, but I didn't have the guts to put in writing and went with the safe pick.  But it did, at the hands of Brock Lesnar.  The crowd reaction shots were priceless, and more than told the story of just how shocking it was.  That was followed by an outpouring of disgust by a lot of fans.  It seems people were pissed that: (a) the streak ended at all and (b) Lesnar was the one who ended it.  To both of those I say......really?  I explained before why it was time to end the streak.  The man is 49 years old, and flat out cannot do what he could do just three years ago.  He reportedly chose to end the streak here and chose Lesnar as the guy to do it; this is not some Vince McMahon machination at work.  'Taker respects the business as it is supposed to work; guys at the end of the line with some cache are supposed to put the younger guys over on their way out.  That's what he did; as much as we rip guys like Triple H, Hulk Hogan, etc. we need to give the folks who do it right by choice their props.

  •  Not sure about Wyatt (and Cena) - I predicted Wyatt to win that match, figuring that the need to give a rising star another leg up would win out over the need to protect Cena's star status.  I was wrong.  It wasn't a demoralizing Cena squash finish that so many hate; Wyatt more than held his own and did not come out looking too weak.  But he was a bit sloppy in his big showcase match, and that may affect how he's treated in the future.  Cena is in a real limbo right now.  There's no room for him in the title picture right now, and if he's going to continue to work with Wyatt then he should put him over at least once (Extreme Rules would be a good place).    And then what?  If he's not in the title picture then he only serves as someone for an up and comer to try and knock off, but he hasn't slipped enough to start putting guys in that position over regularly.  Wyatt, on the other hand, seems to be ok even with the loss, as long as he doesn't start losing more.  But as I said, he was a bit sloppy in the match and that could hurt his long term chances because nobody wants him messing around and injuring the champion in a title match, whoever he may be at the time. We'll see what happens.  Wyatt is way over with the crowd and that should not be squandered.  

  • The awesome opener -  I can't go without praising the segment that opened the show.  Seeing the three biggest stars of the Vince McMahon, Jr. ownership era - if not the history of the business - together in one ring, even if it was just to talk, was a thrill for everyone like me who'd seen all three of them at their best.  I'm not a big Hogan fan by any stretch but even I respect what he was able to do in the ring and at the box office.  And Austin and Rock, of course, followed in his footsteps in a major way and revived the business when it most needed it.  Paying homage to the work all three did to start off the 30th anniversary of the biggest show of the year was the best possible way to kick things off and set the tone for the night.

  • Cesaro's big shot -The other big winner of the night was, of course, Antonio Cesaro.  He won the big 30 man battle royal and got himself a new manager in Paul Heyman the night after on RAW.  It looks like he's going to get a chance to make some noise this year; will he capitalize on it?  Dolph Ziggler was in this position last year and didn't come through; he's been relegated to a Kofi Kingston like role of putting on exciting performances in a loss to someone the front office is giving a boost.  We will likely see him losing such a match to Cesaro pretty soon.  Cesaro's main weakness remains is inability to talk; Heyman will help tremendously here but he will still have to string together a least a few sentences in order to move to the next level.  He has championship ability but so does Ziggler; that alone won't cut it.
All in all, I thought it was a good show.  30 years of Wrestlemania was celebrated with some history and a genuine feel good moment to close the show.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Will there be a game changer at WrestleMania?

That's we hope for every year, isn't it?  Some 'WrestleMania Moment' that we will remember for years afterward; something that signals the dawn of a new era (or the end of an existing one), or serves as breakout moment for an up and coming star, or introduces us to a new kind of match.  Will we get one of those at WrestleMania 30?  Are there even any candidates?  Or will this be one of those shows that is good for what it is on that day, and then is easily forgotten by the time Extreme Rules rolls around?  And what have been the biggest game changers to date (in my opinion, of course)?  Well, to answer the first two questions.....maybe, and yes.The last one is going to take some time to answer, so let's look at this year's possibilities first.  In my book, here are the candidates:

  • Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena - Wyatt is hot right now; fans have eaten up his character and he gets the most out of a limited moveset with great personality and psychology in his matches.  At 26 years old, he's at a point where a big win at WrestleMania could make him a permanent fixture at the top of the card for years to come.  At the same time Cena is not in either the main event or a WWE/World Title match for the first time since WrestleMania 20.  A loss here coupled with a Daniel Bryan coronation in the main event could signal the beginning of the end of his run at the top.  On the flip side a pinfall victory for Cena in his customary fashion could kill Wyatt's momentum and get him branded a B-level talent in perpetuity.
  • Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar - If the streak ends, we'll remember it forever.  End of story.
  •  The Main Event - Assuming Daniel Bryan gets there and wins, this would mark a rare time that the fans turned the bookers in their direction by force of will.  It could also lead to a sea change where 'Big Men' are not the default choice as champion if the crowd wants something different.  OK, not really on the latter.  There's no way Bryan is getting a long run with the title.  This storyline is a reflection of the real feelings of the booking committee.  They believe Bryan is indeed the B+ player that Triple H calls him on RAW.  Should he come out with the title, he won't have it past Summerslam if that long.  But him winning still marks a triumph of fans over bookers, even if briefly.
Now as far as what I think are the biggest game changing matches in WrestleMania history...Here's my top five:
  • Fifth Place: Undertaker vs. Jimmy Snuka, WrestleMania 7 - What, am I crazy?  Hear me out.  Undertaker debuted at the 1990 Survivor Series, and getting a push as a big monster heel.  Now given WWE (then WWF) history, this meant he was on his way to a eventual showdown with Hulk Hogan and an inevitable defeat.  But something different happened.  'Taker came out to face Jimmy Snuka, a WWE legend, and.....got cheered.  Big.  And the cheers didn't stop.  The reaction he got that night was similar to how the fans refused to keep booing the Road Warriors, because they were just too damn awesome.  'Taker got his title match against Hogan later that year, and the crowd was largely cheering him instead of the now passe Hulkster.  By the time WrestleMania 8 rolled around he was a face and the rest is history. If he'd gotten the expect heel response at WM7 he' may have been the next Earthquake or King Kong Bundy, and back in WCW a few years later.
  • Fourth Place:  Money In the Bank, WrestleMania 21 -  This was the first Money in the Bank Match, and since then it's become a big enough deal to warrant it's own Pay Per View event.  The winner almost always capitalizes on cashing in by winning the championship the match it's tied, so it's proven to be an effective predictor of future titleholders as well.
  • Third Place: Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff - This was the match that was trusted as the draw for what was hoped would be the biggest event on the wrestling calendar.  If it failed, then the last thirty years of wrestling history may have gone differently.  Depending on who you believe, there was enough money at stake to sink the company had this match not attracted the audience it did, and delivered enough to keep most of it around. The match itself was serviceable; Mr. T didn't embarrass himself and the other three guys were able to protect him so he could do his part.   But all in all, it delivered and set the path to get us where we are today.
  • Second Place: Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon (Ladder Match), WrestleMania X -This match is at the top of lot people's 'Best WrestleMania match ever' list.  It's not for me, but obviously I consider it to be super important.  The ladder match had been around for years in other organizations, but it was never had been done in the WWF before and never done like this.  Shawn Michaels added an extra dimension to the match by using the ladder as a prop for his aerial maneuvers.  This may seem like no big deal in 2014, but before this one ladder matches involved the likes of Dusty Rhodes and Tully Blanchard, guys who weren't climbing any ladder except to win the match.  Michaels performance was so spectacular that he and Ramon did it again a few months later.  And it paved the way for what would become the TLC match, now a Pay Per View staple that has it's own event as its namesake, and the previously mentioned Money in the Bank match.  Michaels theatrics in this match led to the Hardys, and Rob Van Dam, and everyone who's taken a dive off a ladder in a WWE ring for our entertainment. And last but definitely not least.....
  • First Place: Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin, WrestleMania 13 - This match is remembered for the image of Steve Austin, face covered in blood, locked in Hart's sharpshooter and refusing to tap out, and the double turn that happened immediately after.  It locked Austin in place among the top faces for the company, and gave him the momentum that would lead to his coronation as champion a year later.  It was also he harbinger of the Attitude Era that would redefine wrestling and turn around the Monday Night Wars in favor of the WWE once and for all.  The match featured a level of sheer brutality that had been foreign to WWE, and was the first sign that things had changed from the black and white, good guys and bad guys era to a new one where blood was spilled in buckets and no holds were barred.  It was from this point that we would get to Hell in the Cell, Hardcore matches, and so on, where the ECW style would become mainstream.  No other match changed the way things we done more than this one.
So that's it.  We'll see if anything on Sunday lives up to these.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What's going to happen at WrestleMania?

We're less than a week away from WrestleMania 30, and it looks like things could go any kind of way with all of the matches.  That's a good thing, actually.  If you're totally sure what's going to happen, then they didn't do a good job of marketing.  Last year's card suffered because of that; anyone who's been watching for more than five minutes knew that John Cena was going to win the main event, Undertaker would keep the streak going over CM Punk, and Triple H would get his revenge on Brock Lesnar.  This year, not so much.  Sure, there are people who are going to make some really bold predictions over the next few days as if they have inside information, but this time around they really don't know, either.  No matter how things go, you have to give the booking committee credit for making changes to reflect the sentiment from the fans.  From the time Batista won the Royal Rumble, they voiced their strong disapproval at the prospect of a Batista vs. Randy Orton main event and their demand for Daniel Bryan to be put in the title match some kind of way.  I'm guessing pay per view orders weren't at the level they'd expected so they made the change; and let's not get it twisted, that's the only thing that was going to make them do it.  They had that match locked in as soon as the ink on Batista's new contract was dry, and they weren't going to change it come hell or high water.  Well, the high water came and hell was on the horizon.  Low numbers and a live crowd booing your main event is not what you want on the 30th anniversary of your biggest show of the year.  They might be hardheaded but they aren't stupid.

We have four big matches this year:  Batista vs. Orton vs. Daniel Bryan (or Triple H), Bryan vs. Triple H (with the winner going to the main event), the Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar, and John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt.  There are other matches, of course, but these are the ones everybody's paying for.  And like I said earlier, the outcomes to all four are a lot less certain than last year.  How's that, you say?  Well, allow me to explain.  This year there is more than one plausible and/or sensible ending to each one, as opposed to last year.  No way you were going to have a part-timer like the Rock retain the WWE title at Wrestlemania and then lose it later so he could go back to Hollywood.  Also no way you have Triple H come back just to lose again to Lesnar, or have Undertaker lose to CM Punk in a thrown together match.  This year it's different. Let's break it down:

  • Cena vs. Wyatt: Wyatt is a new star and gets huge crowd reactions now; having him go over against Cena, two and a half months after beating Bryan at the Royal Rumble, would cement his place in the WWE pecking order for the time being and set him up nice for a title match later this year.  At the same time, Cena is......Cena.  He hasn't won a pay per view match since November, and is still the big merchandise seller.  At some point he'll have to beat somebody important again so stopping the rising heel who's been running roughshod over everyone is something I could see the bookers being in favor of.
  • Bryan vs. Triple H: OK, this one probably is cut and dried with Bryan winning to get to the main event.  This match may have turned around anyone who thinking of passing on buying the show but having Hunter win will ensure the boos for the main event.  There is no reason for Hunter to win this match, except for the fact that.....he's Triple H, and is notorious for getting wins over people when common sense booking would have had it go the other way.  Ask Booker T and Chris Jericho.  Anytime he's in a high profile match, that is always a possibility so you can never rule it out.  Whatever happens, Hunter will come out of it not looking like a loser.  I can guarantee you that.
  •  Undertaker vs. Lesnar: The easy pick is Taker getting the win to extend the streak.  The potential wrench in the works?  There are two of them, actually.  Age and money.  As is the case every year, the Undertaker is year closer to 50, a little slower, and a little less able to do what he used to just three years ago.  If they're going to end the streak, it better happen soon before he just can't go anymore.  And Brock Lesnar gets paid a lot for a few dates a year, so it's crucial to maintain his dominant persona.  He's already lost to Cena and Hunter since he's been back, so another loss to a top star will him look like a B+ player and put somewhat of a damper on his stated championship aspirations.  Lots of reasons to put Lesnar over here and only one, the streak, to put Undertaker over.  A Taker loss could set up a rematch next year for revenge and a final match.
  • The Main Event:  Assuming that Bryan wins his match and gets in the main event, having him go over to send the crowd home happy seems a no-brainer.  However.......there is the very real perception among the WWE brain trust that Bryan is a B+ player, and they may choose WrestleMania as the place to stick it to all the people who go on the internet and praise Bryan to the hills while bashing them.  In their eyes, Bryan is not money while big men like Cena, Batista, etc. are.  Even a cascade of boos for Batista likely has not changed their minds about his title worthiness.  I'm pretty sure that Randy Orton's days as champion are done either way, but I can see where a heel champion run by Batista (or an ill-advised attempt to turn him face immediately after 'Mania) would be something they want (he's going to get one later this year when his movie - Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy - hits in August just in time to coincide with Summerslam).  This casts a huge shadow over the main event.  This kind of thing has happened before, like at WrestleMania 2000 when we all just knew the Rock was going to come out as champion and were served up a title retention by Triple H.  So it's not out of the question now.  Never underestimate the desire of people in power to do things a certain way because, dammit, they just want to.
I think we're in for a good show and I'm glad they did what they needed to do to get people's hopes back up.  Even with no CM Punk around to give us another top shelf match, if they book the right finishes we should all be happy with it.  How would  I book it?

  • The Shield over Kane and the New Age Outlaws
  • Tamina Snuka winning the Divas Title (nobody cares about the Divas beyond a 'hey, look at the hot chicks' moment but AJ's had the title for almost a year so she should drop it to somebody since she's beaten damn near everybody in the division)
  • The Real Americans winning the pre-show Fatal Four Way tag team title match
  • Big E wins the battle royal
  • Bryan over Triple H
  • Wyatt over Cena
  • Taker over Lesnar
  • Bryan over Batista and Orton
Enjoy the show, wrestling fans!