Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"ECW" Report

Oh My God!: Paul Heyman pinned Sabu in the main event, with copious amounts of interference of course.

You Fucked Up: This was an unobjectionable show on most every level.

He’s Hardcore: Matt Striker hit Sandman with a stapler, but didn’t staple anything to his head.

The Extreme Rundown:

Paul Heyman started the show. He said ECW is his life and concept. He never wrestled in an ECW ring and never had to until this evening. He said now he has no other option, and he must destroy his disciple Sabu with his own hands. He said he would pin Sabu. The presentation of a confident, unscared Heyman made the finish of the show rather obvious.

1. Hardcore Holly beat Rob Van Dam via disqualification. They brawled early, with RVD hitting a kick and clotheslining Holly to the floor. Outside the ring, RVD dropped Holly on the barricade and hit the corkscrew leg drop. Holly went for the Alabam slam and RVD escaped, but Holly hurled him to the floor. Holly worked him over with a head lock, drop kick and chops. RVD retaliated with a kick, clotheslines, standing moonsault, windmill kick and rolling thunder. He missed the five star, and Holly brought a chair into the ring. He swung and missed, and RVD hit a kick and leg drop. He then hit Holly with the chair repeatedly for the DQ. This was a decent match with a crappy finish.

Big Show came out for an interview that was brief and to the point. The booking of Show as a monster has made him project menace more than he used to. He said he’s the most dominant champion in WWE history. He challenged DX to a handicap match next week on ECW, and said nobody can beat him. They aired yet another five second clip of Shannon Moore. I hope they continue to do these vignettes for him every week and that he never actually debuts. It’s hilarious.

2. CM Punk beat Stevie Richards. Tazz wondered what Punk was doing with his wrists, and a second later they were making references to muay thai and jiu jitsu. Joe Rogan should have speculated about what Josh Koscheck was doing when he was crotch chopping at Ultimate Fight Night. Punk used chops, a tope, drop kick, kicks, European uppercut, butterfly suplex into a back breaker and slaps. He finished Richards with the uranage into the anaconda vise.

Matt Striker came out for a classroom segment. He put down Sandman’s alcoholism, so of course Sandman came out. Striker hit Sandman with the chalkboard and then a stapler. He left Sandman bloodied in the ring. They acknowledged Kurt Angle’s departure from the company and put him over, which was a nice touch and certainly deserved. WWE deserves credit for letting him go rather than assisting in another potential tragedy.

3. Paul Heyman pinned Sabu. Security attacked Sabu to start the match with night sticks. Sabu fought them off with chairs and Heyman begged for mercy. He was about to attack Heyman when Show came out. Sabu gave Show a DDT, but the numbers game caught up with Sabu. He was worked over three on one, and bled. Heyman slapped Sabu while Show held him and gloated about it. RVD then came in and attacked Show with the Van Daminator. He took out security with a pescado.

Sabu hit Heyman with the Arabian facebuster, and they set him up on a table. Just as Sabu was going to dive on him, Show cut off Sabu with a spear. Hardcore Holly then came out and gave RVD the Alabama slam through the table. Show gave Sabu the cobra clutch back breaker and put Heyman on top of Sabu for the pin. Show then gave Sabu a choke slam through the table. The announcers did a good job selling this. It was a strong final segment to the show.

Please Don’t Go:

I can’t wait for PWG Battle of Los Angeles this weekend.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Raw Report

Date: 08/28/06 from Atlantic City, NJ.

The Big News: God willing, we’ve only got a few weeks left of this DX vs. McMahons feud.

Title Changes/Turns: None.

Match Results: John Cena b Chris Masters-DQ; Candice Michelle b Torrie Wilson; Jeff Hardy b Randy Orton; Mikey Mondo & Kenny Doane b Hacksaw Jim Duggan & Eugene Dinsmore; Lita b Mickie James; Triple H & Shawn Michaels b Ken Kennedy, William Regal & Fit Finlay.

Show Analysis:

A somber Shane McMahon started the show. He said that DX has gone too far and broke Vince’s heart. Shane said Vince was obsessed with DX, so he took the night off in his hotel room for his health. Shane was thus running the show, and announced DX against mystery opponents. Edge came out and complained about what John Cena did last week. Edge complaining is a really tired routine. After this feud with Cena they should have him playing a different role.

Edge wanted Cena fired, but Cena came out and noted that if he left he would have gotten in the last shot by throwing Edge in the river. John Cena suggested one last match for the title, and if Edge wins he will leave for Smackdown. Edge accepted provided it is at a location of his choosing in a match of his choosing. Cena accepted. Shane then said that Cena would have to wrestle next.

John Cena beat Chris Masters via disqualification. Masters came out looking less ripped. Cena hit a belly to belly suplex, vertical suplex and punches. Masters came back with a clothesline, power slam and camel clutch. Cena escaped and hit a shoulder block, Cena slam and five knuckle shuffle. He went for the FU, but Masters reversed with an inverted DDT. He went for the Masterlock, but Cena blocked and reversed into the STFU.

Edge ran in with a nasty expression on his face for the DQ. He hit Cena with a chair twice, then rammed Cena with a ladder, then threw Cena through a table. He grabbed a microphone and announced the title match would be in his hometown Toronto in a match he has never lost, TLC. This was a well laid out angle. I’m betting Edge gets a much better reaction than two years ago in Toronto when he was a face.

All the jobbers wanted to wrestle DX backstage, but Shane McMahon turned them down. He then got on the phone with Vince. Vince was in his hotel, and got room service. They delivered chickens (for choke the chicken jokes) and Vince made freaked out facial expressions. Carlito and Trish were backstage. Carlito heard Trish was retiring after Unforgiven from Lita announcing it on WWE.com. Trish didn’t deny this, but was annoyed Lita made it public. They started to make out when Orton jumped Carlito from behind and rammed him into the wall.

Candice Michelle beat Torrie Wilson in a Back to School Paddle on a Poll match. The gimmick was that the first one to the paddle won, and would get to use the paddle. They did a spot where Torrie supposedly stuck her finger up one of Candice’s orifices when Candice was climbing. Candice used chops, and Torrie gave her a power bomb for a long crotch to the face spot. Torrie used the stink face but Candice bit her ass and got the paddle. Candice and Torrie paddled each other.

Jeff Hardy beat Randy Orton in a number one contender match for the Intercontinental Title. Now they’re turning this into a comedy routine. They traded punches and kicks early. Jeff clotheslined Orton to the outside and hit a springboard corkscrew to the outside. Jeff went for a tope but crashed and burned. Orton rammed Jeff into the apron. Jeff came back with a side suplex, clotheslines, a leg drop to the groin, and a drop kick off the second rope.

Orton went to the eye and hit a neck breaker. Jeff hit a huracanrana and went for a springboard crossbody, but was caught with a drop kick. Jeff went for the swanton but Orton rolled out of the ring Carlito jumped Orton from behind and sent him into the ring. He then spit apple in Orton’s face and Jeff hit the twist of fate and swanton bomb for the pin.

Shane came up to DX backstage with security, and they exchanged quips. DX for some reason shamelessly plugged Vince McMahon’s DVD. Corporate shilling wasn’t cool even in 1982, guys. The highlight of this segment was easily Claudio Castagnoli dressed up as one of the security guards. I think he could get over better in WWE than half the roster they have signed.

Kenny and Mikey beat Jim Duggan and Eugene to retain the tag titles. Highlanders briefly did commentary and were funny, but they got ejected along with the extra members of the Spirit Squad. Responded an indignant Jim Ross: “They’ve got ring cards!” The Squad hit a double suplex on Eugene and worked him over. Eugene made the tag to Duggan who came in with clotheslines and body slams. He went for the three point stance but ran into an exposed turnbuckle and was rolled up for the pin.

After the match, Umaga came to the ring. The Squad ran away through the crowd. Umaga attacked Eugene and gave him the downward spiral. He gave Duggan the Samoan spike. He gave Eugene the butt drop and a Samoan spike of his own. Armando said he was angry at Kane for what he did at SummerSlam, so Umaga took him out. He said Kane is the only monster in the WWE.

Johnny Nitro and Melina came out for a press conference. This was a great car crash segment, as it went on and on with little in the way of purpose. The crowd chanted “boring,” booed and generally gave it go away heat. Ross remarked, “it’s only a two hour show here, folks.” Melina had her hair all done up. Nitro put himself over. He said Mick Foley can fantasize about Melina, but only he has her, and Melina wouldn’t associate herself with Foley.

Melina then made this point another 50 times. She said Foley is an ass kisser who wanted more than friendship. She called him a disgusting freak. Melina said she would never associate herself with regular people like Foley because she’s a star and out of his league. Nitro said he will do things Foley never could do and called himself the future of sports entertainment. And so, 40 minutes later, the segment ended.

Lita beat Mickie James to retain the Women’s Title. Lita rammed Mickie into the apron and threw her knee into the mat. Mickie did a really good job selling the knee. Mickie came back with punches, kicks, an enzuigiri, a drop kick, a monkey flip, and a fisherman suplex. Mickie went for a huracanrana but Lita gave her a power bomb and grabbed the ropes for the pin. It is unclear exactly where Mickie now is on the face/heel spectrum.

DX beat William Regal, Finlay and Kennedy in a handicap match. I guess these guys just aren’t as much of a threat as the McMahons are. The Smackdown heels worked over Shawn. Little Bastard even came from under the ring to get in on the action. Shawn tagged HHH, who hit a spine buster on Finlay and went for the pedigree. Kennedy broke that up, but missed the Kenton bomb. Regal tried to hit HHH with a chair but hit Finlay and HHH hit Regal with the pedigree for the pin.

Shane then brought out Big Show. Show went for a double choke slam but they used a double low blow. Finlay hit HHH with the shillelagh, and the heels worked over DX. An angry Vince came out with a pipe. Vince hit HHH repeatedly with the pipe and bloodied him. He choked him and choked Shawn. Vince hit Shawn with a video camera and Shawn bled as well. Vince choked Shawn with wire. Shane hit HHH with a pipe. Vince announced DX vs. Big Show and McMahons in Hell in a Cell. I think it’s silly to waste this kind of angle on such a tired feud, let alone to waste one of their two biggest stipulation matches on it. Vince McMahon has always claimed he does what is best for business. It seems to me ego is winning out over business these days.

Final Thoughts:

I liked this much of this show by 2006 Raw standards. It was a straight forward show with solid build for the PPV. They do need to get out of the rut of every match having a disputed finish where nothing is proved. They clearly are uncomfortable with putting anyone over. That has two huge negative repercussions. First, it makes it really hard to create stars. Second, match results mean nothing and it’s a lot harder to get people to pay to see who will win on PPVs. This second point is a large reason why UFC is whooping up on WWE this year. They make the PPV main events feel important, while in WWE no matter who wins things will be pretty much the same the next day.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Kurt Angle Released

Good for WWE. I applaud WWE for this move. Kurt Angle, with all of his physical problems, should simply not be wrestling. He's setting himself up for a very sad end of his story if he continues to wrestle. WWE can't stop him altogether from going elsewhere, but they can at least not lead him down a very bad path themselves. I have tremendous admiration for Angle, and I want to see him live to an old age and maintain good health. That's the most important thing for him, and continuing wrestling is not helping. I'm glad WWE was looking out for Kurt, even if having him around is probably better for their thin roster.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"ECW" Report

Oh My God!: Big Show beat Sabu via disqualification in the main event, but Sabu left his mark.

You Fucked Up: Matt Striker has joined the tribe of the extreme. Next week, Tatanka.

He’s Hardcore: Hardcore Holly is also in ECW, and in a feud with Rob Van Dam to boot.

The Extreme Rundown:

1. Tommy Dreamer, Sandman and Torrie Wilson beat Mike Knox, Test and Kelly Kelly. This started as a bikini contest between Kelly and Torrie. Knox and Test stopped Kelly from stripping, at which point Sandman and Dreamer came in and made the challenge. Torrie attacked Kelly, and gave her the stink face. Knox and Test worked over Dreamer. Knox got more “you can’t wrestle” chants, and did nothing to dissuade that notion with punches and kicks. Dreamer hit a neck breaker on Test and tagged Sandman. Sandman came in with punches, a side Russian leg sweep and somersault senton off the top on Knox. Test broke up the cover, so Sandman threw him into the post. Sandman tagged Dreamer, who hit Knox with a DDT for the pin.

Paul Heyman tried to talk the Big Show out of his match with Sabu, but Show was very calm. They then did a vignette with Matt Striker, who is coming to ECW. Just when you thought the roster couldn’t get any worse. Filling the ECW roster with the bottom of the barrel of WWE’s lower card might be justifiable, if only they picked guys down there that actually had talent. Striker has nothing.

2. Kevin Thorn beat Balls Mahoney in an extreme rules match. Balls dominated early with punches and kicks, and rammed Thorn into the announcers’ table. Thorn came back with a clothesline, and repeatedly attacked Balls with his staff. Balls responded with punches and a sit down power bomb, but Thorn kicked out. Balls brought a chair into the ring but Ariel bit his leg and Thorn kicked the chair into Balls’ head. He hit the stunner for the pin.

3. CM Punk beat Christopher W. Anderson. It was nice to see Anderson again. Styles described Anderson as having a “cup of coffee” in ECW, and Tazz rightfully took him to task for that one. Anderson went after Punk’s arm and shoulder briefly. Punk came back with a knee, bulldog, and kick. Anderson hit a spine buster for a two count, and went for another. Punk avoided that, and hit some slaps and a kick. He hit the uranage, and applied the anaconda vise for the submission.

4. Rob Van Dam beat Danny Doring. He dominated basically the entire match with a drop toe hold, spin kick, clotheslines, a monkey flip, a kick off the top, rolling thunder and the five star. Prior to this match, Paul Heyman had met with Hardcore Holly. He talked about Holly letting out his anger. He said nobody wants him in ECW, so he has to make an impact. Holly did this by hitting RVD with a chair from behind after the match, and hit Doring ridiculously hard in the head with the chair. He gave RVD the Alabama slam. Holly is yet another guy with the WWE reject feel, but I actually think he’s a good fit for ECW because of his style and demeanor.

5. Big Show beat Sabu via extreme disqualification. Show hit some chops early, as well as a press slam where he dropped Sabu on the ropes. He followed that with a body slam, clothesline and bear hug. After a ref bump, he hit a fall away slam. Sabu took advantage of the opportunity to throw two chairs at Show, and hit him with a chair off the top rope. He hit the triple jump moonsault and Arabian face buster. Another referee came in to count, but Show kicked out.

Sabu then hit Show repeatedly with a ring bell in front of the second referee for the disqualification. He concluded by hitting him with a bell, which knocked Show over the top rope through a table. Disqualification finishes in ECW with WWE formula ref bump finishes are really lame, but the end scene made for a cool finish to the Show. Big Show would be more effective if he got in shape, but I give him credit for being willing to take a lot of punishment in ECW and for dealing with all the crap he gets as champion.

Please Don’t Go:

There wasn’t much of note on this show. It was pretty typical of what the “ECW” brand has been thus far. They need to be really careful in bringing in all these WWE rejects.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Redskins Trade for Duckett

Please say they didn't give up a first round pick...
Please say they didn't give up a first round pick...
Please say they didn't give up a first round pick...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Raw Report

Date: 08/21/06 from Bridgeport, CT.

The Big News: Vince McMahon appeared on 46 separate occasions this show, and the Kiss My Ass Club was back for the 16th time this year.

Title Changes/Turns: Melina turned twice. Mick Foley turned once.

Match Results: Eugene Dinsmore, Hacksaw Jim Duggan & Highlanders b Kenny Doane, Mikey Mondo, Nicky Nemeth and Johnny Jeter; Trish Stratus b Victoria; Jeff Hardy b Edge-DQ; Kane b Johnny Nitro-DQ; Ric Flair b Randy Orton-DQ.

Show Analysis:

Edge came out to start the show. He said that people bought tickets to the show expecting he would no longer be champion, but he emerged victorious anyway. He pointed out he didn’t have his girl or his belt, and Lita appeared on the screen with the title. Edge pointed out the title was Cena’s belt, and said he would remove the last remnants of Cena. Lita threw the belt into the water. It’s about time they got rid of the Cena title considering he is no longer champion.

Edge said there is a new era, and debuted the “new” title. Unfortunately, the new title is the same as the old title. It’s the same spinning belt that’s associated very specifically with Cena, only now it says “Rated R Superstar” on the front rather than WWE. The belt now has a split personality and looks ridiculous. They should just bring back the gold belt. Jeff Hardy came out, and said Edge talks too much. Edge remarked, “didn’t you die three years ago?” That was a good line. Edge said he ruined Matt Hardy’s career, and Jeff’s a no-talent loser just like Matt. Jeff attacked Edge, but Edge ducked out as Jeff was going for the swanton.

Highlanders, Jim Duggan and Eugene beat the Spirit Squad in an 8-man tag. Eugene used an airplane spin on Johnny and rammed him into Rory’s head. He tagged Robbie, who was worked over by a double suplex. Kenny hit a flying elbow on Robbie, and Mikey executed a moonsault. Kenny hit a swinging neck breaker, but missed a leg drop off the top on Robbie. Robbie tagged Rory, and it broke into a brawl. The Highlanders hit a springboard reverse suplex for the pin. Edge approached Coach and wanted Jeff Hardy in a non-title match. Coach granted this. Vince and Shane McMahon then arrived and told Coach to get out of his office. Vince said it isn’t over with DX. Too bad. Both acts are so stale.

Randy Orton backstage said that he beat Hulk Hogan, but was screwed by the referee when Hogan put his foot on the ropes. This is the wrong argument. He should be arguing that Hogan took the cheap way out, because it’s not exactly some new rule that getting your foot on the ropes breaks the count. He said he would take out his aggressions on Ric Flair. Carlito approached Orton, and said Hogan getting his hand raised was cool. Orton said Carlito wasn’t even on the card, and that he’s just a character and a t-shirt and should pay more respect to Orton. This was quite the delivery by Orton, and hopefully it is leading to additional character development and an accompanying push for Carlito.

HHH appeared on video. DX was in an air terminal, to pay a visit to Vince’s plane. Shawn ran around acting like a mentally handicapped child. They went to the plane and spray painted DX on it. Vince made angry faces at this. This was supposed to be funny, but it wasn’t funny at all.

Trish beat Victoria. Presumably this sets up Trish vs. Lita for the women’s title. They traded punches. Trish hit an avalanche into the corner, a drop kick, a Thesz press off the apron to the floor and rammed Victoria into the post. Back in the ring she followed up with a clothesline and victory roll, but Victoria reversed Stratusfaction into a back breaker. Victoria threw Trish around by her hair, but Trish reversed with a whirly bird and clothesline. Victoria came back with a knee, but again Trish responded with a huracanrana off the top and punches. Victoria went for the Widow’s Peak, but Trish escaped and hit the Stratusfaction for the pin. This was a good match, as one would expect from these two.

Vince and Shane came to the ring after the match. Vince was furious about the plane, and said he called the cops and they would show DX being arrested. DX, however, was no longer at the airport. Rather, they were at WWE headquarters. HHH delivered a line from Animal House (1978). They said they would leave their mark, and showed the DX spray paint job on WWE headquarters that they publicized on WWE.com a month ago. Vince acted all upset. They cut to Vince and Shane backstage yet again, and this time Mick Foley approached Vince. Vince was mad at Foley for saying nasty things about him last week. He said he wanted Foley to join the Kiss My Ass Club, and said that if Foley didn’t kiss his ass, somebody would get fired.

Jeff Hardy beat Edge via disqualification. Hardy went after Edge quickly with a baseball slide, and there were chants for him. Edge responded by throwing Hardy under the bottom rope and working him over with punches. He wrapped him around the post, but Hardy came back with a DDT. Hardy went for the twist of fate, but Edge reversed with an inverted DDT. Jim Ross explicitly predicted during this match that Jeff Hardy would die at a young age. Jeff came back and did hit the twist of fate. He followed that with the swanton, but they screwed up the finishing pin sequence. Lita pulled Edge’s leg to the rope, but the referee said Edge got his shoulder up. A DQ was called at this point, I believe for Lita pulling Edge out of the ring.
Immediately at this point, Cena attacked Edge. He brawled with Edge backstage. Edge rammed Cena into a garage door and ran away, but Cena caught up with him outside. Cena said he isn’t going anywhere. He rammed Edge into a tree and choked him with a hose. Edge responded by hitting Cena with a life preserver. Cena kept coming and threw Edge into the water. This was good stuff.

Melina thanked Mick Foley for protecting her from a crazed Ric Flair. Foley said it was no problem. He said he was thinking about whether he would join the Kiss My Ass Club. Melina said Foley is her mentor and best friend and she wouldn’t know what to do without him around. That’s carnie for “I’m about to screw you over.” She said she will support him either way.

Kane beat Johnny Nitro via disqualification. Nitro ran away trying to avoid Kane, but caught a big boot. He kept dodging, and snapped Kane’s neck over the top rope. He went for a springboard drop kick that was brushed aside. Kane went for the clothesline off the top, but Umaga ran in and attacked Kane. Umaga gave him the STO and Samoan spike. Kane sat up, so Umaga kicked him, dropped two head butts and hit the Samoan spike off the second rope. Kane bled from the mouth to sell this.

Ric Flair beat Randy Orton via disqualification. Flair looked really beat up, and Orton beat him up some more here. Orton sent Flair over the top rope with a clothesline. He drop kicked him off the apron, and hit a suplex on the floor. He beat down Flair, and threw Flair into the ring steps. Flair bled. Flair hit a couple chops but Orton came back with punches and hit the RKO for the pin. Orton kept beating up Flair after the match, so they reversed the decision. Carlito came in for the save.

Mick Foley and Melina came out for another Vince McMahon segment. Foley said he wouldn’t kiss Vince’s ass, and doesn’t need the job. He said he has saved his money and Vince can’t threaten him. Vince said that he would fire someone, but didn’t say that he would fire Foley. Instead, he would fire Melina. Foley said nobody is worth kissing Vince’s ass for, except Melina. Melina broke down and didn’t want him to. Foley said there’s something special about her and she’ll be a big star.

He added that this will be the low point of his career but it will be a small price to pay for her friendship. Foley then yelled at Vince to pull his pants down and kissed Vince’s ass. Melina gave Foley a low blow from behind. Vince then had Melina say Foley is fired. The McMahons went to leave, but as they drove off there was a chain hooked to the axel of their car, and it destroyed the car. DX had spray painted on the other side of the limo and Vince played it up going out.

Final Thoughts:I never want to see Vince McMahon perform his lame, tired act on my television ever again. It’s as stale as any pro wrestling act I can ever recall. Moreover, the Kiss My Ass Club is a pathetic testament to Vince’s own insecurities, with obvious homoerotic undertones. How can he be surprised when nobody wants to advertise on his product when he thinks his audience wants to see angles involving him pulling down his pants and getting his ass kissed by other men, or him impregnating his own daughter?

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Descent

I saw it today. Very good little horror film strong on scares but not too disgusting and not focused on humor. I recommend it. One thing that really bugged me though was that they were supposed to be in West Virginia, and they had MONTANA PLATES. There's probably one car with Montana plates that passes through West Virginia a year, and they were supposed to be from Britain anyway. Very silly.

Ultimate Fight Night

Really good show, I thought. It felt more focused on fighting than commercials or other Spike programming, which was a refreshing change. I was worried about the decision to put Koscheck first (hell, I outright thought it was a bad idea), but it obviously worked out well. Koscheck is a victim of sorts from the reality show, as it gave him a national audience before he was a complete fighter, and people think of him as more one dimensional than they ever thought a guy like Matt Hughes, because the latter had much more training and experience before he was exposed to the masses. Dean Lister was ridiculously overrated going into his fight, and all his weaknesses were exposed again for those who have seen him outside his one UFC fight with Alessio Sakara. The guy's got world class submissions, but questionable wrestling, standup and stamina. And he very well might be 0-2 in UFC had his two opponents not willingly dropped down into his guard for no apparent reason. Chris Leben rebounded, although his back tattoo looks awful. And the main event was really good. This was easily Diego's most impressive performance to me. He's been more dominant before, but I've always viewed him as a guy that was only comfortable on top of his opponent with a position where he wasn't vulnerable to submissions. In other words, he sprinted towards a position where there was no danger of the other guy's game. To me, that reflected a real one dimensional aspect to his game, because you can't always impose your game on the other guy and you have to be training in other things. Well, this time he did exactly that. He stood with Karo. He worked from the bottom. He scrambled. He showed a lot of guts and courage even when it looked like Karo was taking over. I gave the fight to Diego 29-28, and I was hoping Karo would win. I still don't like Diego all that much because he comes across as an arrogant weirdo, but I have to give him his credit. Well, I don't have to, but I will.

Great Story

Really amusing little story here on Maurice Clarett's crime connections. Three things in particular:

1. People shouldn't have been so surprised about the guns. The guy clearly thought he was going to be making tens of millions of dollars, and clearly had people behind him for him to be so eager to get out of college. And he didn't make much money at all in the NFL, so one would think people would be angry with him. Obviously, he picked even shadier sources than one would have hoped.

2. The attorney of the mobster is David Kenner, the infamous lawyer for Death Row Records, which also provided great amusement. It's good to know Kenner's still doing okay even after all of Suge's problems. He's moved onto new mobsters and thugs.

3. The explanation at the end by Clarett's attorney of how it was hard to track this postcard sent to Clarett was probably the best part. He describes it as "extreme and multiple steps to keep their identity sealed." And he then walks through step by step, as if printing out a little bit of info and sticking it on a postcard was some sort of elaborate and fiendish criminal scheme. This is contrasted in his mind by other notes, where the diabolical perpetrators "sign it, even an address. In this case, none of that. There's no way to trace that one." It kind of reminds me of Chief Wiggum from the Simpsons.

Officer: "Uhhh, Chief, we got an anonymous threat."

Wiggum: "Oh, did they leave a return address or phone number?"

Officer: "No, Chief."

Wiggum: "Well, guess there's nothing that can be done then."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"ECW" Report

Oh My God!: Sabu and Rob Van Dam had one car crash of a main event ladder match.

You Fucked Up: Sabu, my friend, I’m not sure it’s physically possible to leap on a ladder turned on its side in a wrestling ring and use that as a springboard. That was not a good idea.

He’s Hardcore: You have to give Sabu and RVD props for their effort even if it didn’t produce a good match.

The Extreme Rundown:

Paul Heyman and Big Show started the show. Heyman announced that Kurt Angle suffered an injury, and needs to be protected from himself. Thus he was medically suspended and removed from the ladder match main event. That’s a smart move to me, as Angle shouldn’t have been involved with that in the first place. Oddly, the joint Smackdown/ECW audience is actually starting to work, with the ECW fans getting the Smackdown audience into the ECW characters.

A scowling Mick Foley came out, and said Ric Flair wouldn’t be there because he is recovering for his match Sunday. Foley contested Flair’s description of Undertaker vs. Mankind Hell in a Cell. He recounted the horrors, and said he kept getting up out of pride in himself. He said Flair can’t win the war on Sunday, because the words “I quit” aren’t in his vocabulary. They could always play the clip from Royal Rumble 1999. He said he promised something extreme, and brought out Kelly Kelly and Melina. They had a three way dance literally, as they danced together. Flair then ran in and attacked Foley. He gave Foley two low blows, threw him into the steps, and choked him until he bled from the mouth. Flair showed great intensity here.

1. CM Punk beat Justin Credible. Punk got a surprisingly good reaction, and the people who were into him were really into him. They had Credible pre-recorded comments in the corner of the screen, which was a nice old school touch. He said his loss to Punk two weeks ago was a fluke. Punk hit some low kicks, a high knee, a high kick, and a uranage into the anaconda vice for the tap out. Punk looked good again.

Rob Van Dam on a ladder said that in his last ladder match he won Money in the Bank and eventually the ECW Title. Now he wants it back. He said this wouldn’t be easy, but he would beat Sabu and Big Show to win the title. There was no explanation as to why he attacked Angle and Sabu last week but left Big Show alone. I guess he just didn’t want to see a number one contender crowned other than him. Rene Dupree backstage was doing a photo shoot. He said he is the most beautiful man in sports entertainment and also the most hardcore wrestler in ECW.

2. Test and Mike Knox beat the FBI. Knox and Test used back breakers on Little Guido. He tagged Tony Mamaluke, but Test gave him a press slam and Guido a big boot. He finished off Mamaluke with the TKO. This was a total squash, as the inexplicable push of Test and Knox continues. The irony is Kelly Kelly may have even less talent than either of them. Tommy Dreamer and Sandman ran in after the match.

Sabu said he will do anything to win the ladder match and beat Big Show for the ECW Title. Elsewhere, an infuriated Kurt Angle jumped security and attacked Big Show. Joey Styles in the midst of this scoffed at the idea Angle would be suspended for medical concerns. Angle was pulled off by police officers, and it seems the story is that Angle was swindled out of his title opportunity by Heyman. Why he now prefers the prospect of Sabu getting the title shot I’m not sure.

3. Sabu beat Rob Van Dam in a ladder match to win a title shot. This was a total clusterfuck. It was like a comeuppance for all the luck Sabu has had pulling off wild moves during his WWE tenure. It was vintage bad ECW, with two guys working their asses off but blowing spots left and right. It also had some of the most blatant spot calling you’re ever going to see. I feel bad for these guys, because they worked hard, but they are likely to be buried for this one. But mostly, I thank God they decided not to involve Angle in this.

Sabu threw a chair at RVD immediately, but missed. RVD botched a springboard kick, at which point Tazz observed the two wrestlers have similar styles, which was funny. Sabu went for something but crotched himself on the top rope accidentally instead. RVD then dove off the top rope towards the contract, which was really silly. Sabu sent him over the top rope with a clothesline and hit a springboard DDT. RVD kicked a ladder into Sabu and hit a pescado onto Sabu and the ladder.

RVD hit a leg drop on the barrier onto Sabu. Sabu botched an Arabian facebuster on a ladder onto RVD. Sabu applied the camel clutch on a ladder on RVD. Sabu climbed the ladder but RVD pushed it over. Sabu went for a springboard on a ladder but again tripped on it in embarrassing fashion. Sabu was thrown into the ladder and RVD monkey flipped the ladder into Sabu. That was a cool spot. RVD then missed rolling thunder and landed right on the ladder.

Sabu hit the triple jump moonsault, but missed the atomic Arabian facebuster, landing on a ladder. Styles said that’s why Sabu is labeled the modern day Kamikaze. Vince had to have fed him that line because that was Jinsei Shinzaki’s moniker when he was Hakushi in the WWF. RVD hit the five star and was going for the contract when Big Show came out. RVD dove onto Show, but Show caught him and threw him over the top rope through a table on the floor. Show called for the contract to be lowered, but Sabu then dove off the top onto Show. Show caught him, but Sabu used the leverage to get the contract. I didn’t think much of this finish as a concept. Show gave Sabu and RVD choke slams after the match.

Please Don’t Go:

I actually really liked the booking of this show. I don’t really have any complaints aside from the continued push of Test and Knox. The main event was a situation where everything that could go wrong did, but that will happen sometimes.

Blue Collar

If you're a hip-hop fan you should definitely pick up Rhymefest's album Blue Collar. It's easily one of the best two albums of the year along with Ghostface's Fishscale. Just a wonderful debut album full of fun songs with hot beats (Dynomite, Brand New), poignant themes (Bullet) and even humor (Build Me Up). The lyrics are consistently strong, and it's another testament to the fine company that Kanye West keeps.

Freddie Blassie and the Sheik

Professional wrestling has always been inhabited by a host of the most villainous characters you are ever going to see. The maniacal heel that promises to inflict ungodly punishment on the fans’ noble heroes has been a staple of pro wrestling for decades. This week, as Inside the Squared Circle re-opens its Hall of Fame, it recognizes two of the very best, or worst, bad guys in pro wrestling history: The Sheik and Freddie Blassie.

Freddie Blassie and the Sheik lived parallel lives. Both served in World War II as youths, and first rose to stardom in the 50s. They achieved their greatest fame in the 60s and early 70s, by dominating their respective regions. They used their local success to become international stars, and feuded with many of the same wrestlers. They continued to stay involved in the business until very late in life, and had lasting impacts on professional wrestling. They ended up dying within six months of each other in 2003. But their greatest link was the images they projected, which allowed them to become arguably the two most feared wrestlers in history.

Before there was Ed Farhat, there were Sheiks. But before there was The Sheik, there was Ed Farhat. Sheiks had existed in wrestling long before Farhat broke into the business, but it was Farhat that came to embody the role of the crazy middle eastern evil doer. While he was announced as being from Syria, he was actually born in Lansing, Michigan in 1926, of Lebanese parents. He played football at Michigan State and served for the United States in World War II. However, this past would quickly become forgotten as the notorious Sheik rose to prominence.

The Sheik first became a major national figure while wrestling for the Dumont Network out of Chicago in the 1950s. Known as the Sheik of Araby, he was not yet at his most wild. After purchasing the rights to be the NWA promoter for Detroit, Sheik quickly turned the area into one of wrestling’s hotbeds, and himself into one of wrestling’s biggest stars.

Sheik’s stomping grounds in the mid 60s to mid 70s were Detroit and Toronto. He ran the shows at Cobo Hall in Detroit while Frank Tunney promoted the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Sheik’s reign of terror began in 1965 when he defeated Johnny Valentine for the NWA United States Title. For over a decade fans would come to shows hoping to see one of wrestling’s top good guys stop the evil Sheik. They were usually disappointed. Sheik’s style was completely out of control, and his hardcore matches were unique to their time. His matches would be short, and bloody. He would use pencils, throw fireballs, and perpetrate all sorts of heinous acts of violence against his opponents. Increasing his heat was the presence of Abdullah Farouk as his first manager. Farouk’s real name as Ernie Roth, and he went on to greater fame as the Grand Wizard of wrestling. The crowds despised the Sheik to the brink of riot. He was in no way a cool figure like today’s heels.

Year after year, every major good guy in pro wrestling would come to Detroit and Toronto to try to stop the Sheik. The best would come close, but he would always find a way to escape his comeuppance. After Sheik would cheat his way out of one predicament, a rematch would be booked with stipulations that seemed to guarantee a fair fight. Sheik would still find a dastardly way out. Sheik feuded with a who’s who of professional wrestling, and won most of the time. His opponents included Andre the Giant, Giant Baba, Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, Dory Funk, Jr., Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, Jack Brisco, Buddy Rogers, Antonino Rocca, Dick the Bruiser and Johnny Valentine. At one point he had a feud with Jewish wrestler Mark Lewin playing off the Six Day War in the Middle East. At his peak Sheik would almost always draw over 10,000 fans, and business would drop off when Sheik wasn’t there. Sheik actually went unbeaten in 109 straight matches in Toronto, an amazing record for a bad guy.

Unfortunately, the fans eventually realized that nobody was going to stop the evil Sheik, and the crowds started going down in the mid 70s. Sheik was older, he had survived every conceivable challenge, and fans were frustrated. The Sheik’s rare losses, like those to long time rival Bobo Brazil at Cobo Hall in 1971 and Maple Leaf Gardens in 1977, were major events but did got give way to major changes. Sheik’s promotion eventually closed on a larger scale, and Sheik traveled more frequently into other territories, where people came to see Sheik based on reputation alone.

Sheik became particularly famous in Japan, where he was initially brought in as a featured attraction in the dying days of the JWA promotion. He did good business but the promotion was on its last legs. He would end up wrestling for both All Japan and New Japan in the 70s and 80s. He even wrestled regularly for Atsushi Onita’s ultra-violent FMW promotion in the 90s. In 1995 he had a heart attack after a match, bringing to an end his wrestling career.

Sheik was a wrestler that stuck to the rules of kayfabe very closely. Since he was portraying a villain from far away but was actually a local football and war hero, it was important to separate fiction from reality. He was a private man, but was well liked by those who knew him. He was a family man, and helped to train a number of wrestlers including Rob Van Dam, Scott Steiner and his nephew Sabu. He had the respect of his contemporaries, such as Lou Thesz, who labeled him “a great guy.” Rob Van Dam told the Ottawa Sun of his experiences with the Sheik, “I got to see his soft side, but he’s still very intimidating. He would tell stories and teach me. It was an honor and a privilege very few have.” Ed “The Sheik” Farhat passed away January 19, 2003.

While Freddie Blassie was as hated as the Sheik, he was hated for different reasons. Like the Sheik, Blassie was known for his violent tendencies and even nicknamed the Vampire. However, unlike the silent Sheik, Blassie was also a great talker. It was Blassie’s ability to talk that made him a cocky bad guy, and even brought him success as a babyface. While the Sheik died a mythical and feared unknown, Blassie passed away a beloved symbol of what makes professional wrestling great.

Fred Blassie was born in St. Louis on February 8, 1918. He played sports at a young age, and did some professional wrestling prior to World War II. After serving for the United States in World War II, he returned to wrestling billed as Sailor Fred Blassie. He traveled to a number of territories and learned about the business. The biggest match of his early career was a world title loss to Lou Thesz in Louisville on August 29, 1950.

Blassie wrestled primarily in the south in the early 50s. He held the Southern Title 14 times, and was a prominent regional babyface. That all changed in 1956, when he turned into an over the top villain. He died his hair blond, started biting opponents, filing his teeth, and became known as the Vampire. This was when he really started to gain recognition, and he was given a very strong push when he went to the southern California based WWA promotion in the early 1960s.

Freddie Blassie won the WWA Title shortly after joining the promotion, defeating Edouard Carpentier on June 12, 1961. The next month he defeated the legendary Lou Thesz. He would continue to rack up major wins, defeating Gorgeous George, Nick Bockwinkel, Giant Baba, Antonino Rocca and others. He quickly became the biggest and most hated star in Los Angeles, and business was booming.

Blassie’s profile would rise in his feud with Japan’s most legendary wrestler, Rikidozan. Blassie lost the WWA Title in 1962 to Rikidozan, and he lost a rematch for the belt in Japan. People had never seen anyone like Blassie in Japan, and his Vampire persona made him Japan’s greatest villain almost instantaneously. Legend has it that people had heart attacks watching Blassie bite a bloodied Rikidozan on national television. Blassie ended up marrying a Japanese woman named Miyako, who recalled her mother’s reaction upon finding out she was to wed Blassie: “my mother started to cry. “Freddie Blassie? What the matter with you? He’s very, very bad.” Along with Lou Thesz and the Destroyer, Blassie was one of the only people to ever defeat the beloved Rikidozan when he regained his WWA Title.

Done with Rikidozan, Blassie feuded with all of the territory’s biggest stars. He had a major feud with the Destroyer, who told John Molinaro, Blassie “could get more heat than anybody without doing anything.” In May of 1964, Blassie lost a loser leaves town match to Dick the Bruiser, and went to the WWWF. Just like Sheik, Blassie drew big crowds feuding with WWWF Champion Bruno Sammartino. They drew sellout crowds to shows at Madison Square Garden on July 11, 1964 and August 1, 1964. However, after a trip to Japan, Blassie was diagnosed with hepatitis and needed a blood transfusion. He had one of his kidneys removed, and was told his career was over. Little did doctors know that Blassie’s wrestling peak was still yet to come.

Following a several year retirement, Blassie decided he was healthy enough to make a comeback and returned to Los Angeles in 1967. He feuded with old Sheik nemeses Bobo Brazil and Mark Lewin, as well as some of the biggest Hispanic stars of the day: Mil Mascaras, Pedro Morales and Pepper Gomez. In 1969, the promotion decided to turn Blassie into a good guy. As an anti-hero he had begun to receive cheers, like Superstar Billy Graham or Stone Cold Steve Austin. Blassie’s babyface turn did not mark a pronounced change in personality, rather he simply starting feuding with bad guys rather than good guys.

Blassie had two major feuds as a babyface. His first was against the Sheik, with Blassie using Sheik’s underhanded tactics against him. The feud culminated in the Blassie cage match, a predecessor to the WWF style cage match. In 1971, Blassie reached his greatest peak in a feud with John Tolos. They ran an angle where Tolos used Monsel powder to blind Blassie in May of 1971. They teased a Blassie retirement, and his return against Tolos on August 27, 1971 drew a California record crowd of 25,847 and record gate of $142,000. This was perhaps the most famous match in the history of the region, but Blassie was past his physical peak and couldn’t continue much longer.

Blassie traveled to the WWWF for a brief feud with WWWF champion Pedro Morales that did good business. In 1973 he announced his retirement from the ring and began managing. He managed Muhammad Ali in his famous match with Antonio Inoki and managed Iron Sheik to his WWF Title win over Bob Backlund. “Classy” Freddie Blassie became the heel nemesis of many of the WWF’s top stars, managing Hulk Hogan and Jesse Ventura among others. He had the right philosophy towards managing, noting in his book, “my goal was never adding to Freddie Blassie’s notoriety-I had plenty of that already-it was making someone else into a superstar.”

Blassie was always very loyal to the WWF, and he worked for them in a variety of capacities over the years. He was very close to both Vince McMahon, Sr. and Vince McMahon, Jr. The younger McMahon showed more of his real self in the introduction to Blassie’s book “Listen You Pencil Neck Geeks” than he has in years, saying “this book is very special to me because Freddie Blassie is very special to me,” “to a certain extent, Freddie represents my father to me,” “I love Freddie very much and it touches me to think now millions of readers will know him the way I have.” “Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks” is one of the very best books on wrestling, and Blassie passed away shortly after its publication on June 2, 2003 at the age of 85. Inside the Squared Circle is proud to induct The Sheik and Fred Blassie into its Hall of Fame.

Still to Come: Verne Gagne, Giant Baba, Antonio Inoki, Gorgeous George.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Raw Report

Date: 08/14/06 from Charlottesville, VA.

The Big News: Raw was in full build mode for SummerSlam, with a focus on the Edge vs. John Cena and Randy Orton vs. Hulk Hogan matches.

Title Changes/Turns: Lita won the Women’s Title from Mickie James.

Match Results: Lita b Mickie James; Umaga b Alex Sage; Ric Flair b Johnny Nitro-DQ; Eugene Dinsmore & Hacksaw Jim Duggan b Mikey Mondo & Kenny Doane; Edge b Carlito Caribbean Cool-DQ.

Show Analysis:

Edge came out to start the show, and said John Cena wasn’t there. Edge said that he has been stressed out, so he took a trip to Cena’s hometown of West Newbury. They showed Edge going through the Cena childhood Thug’z Mansion. Edge didn’t run into Tupac or Nas, but he did run into Cena’s father. They got into an argument, and Edge smacked the elder Cena and left the house. Edge then recounted his long feud with Cena and said he would win at SummerSlam. I really liked this angle. It was a strong angle to build interest in the card, but they also didn’t go over the top to where it wouldn’t have felt as real. It was just right in tone and intensity.

Lita defeated Mickie James to win the Women’s Title. It was odd to see them take the title off Mickie so abruptly, particularly in her hometown to someone who is presumably still leaving. In any event, this was a fun match with Mickie playing hometown face. Lita hit a flying head scissors and kicks. Mickie responded with punches and a drop kick, but Lita threw her off the second rope by the hair.

Lita hit a side Russian leg sweep, but Mickie came back with elbows, punches and a huracanrana. Lita went for the DDT, but Mickie held onto the ropes and went for the cover with her feet on the ropes. Edge pushed the feet off, and Lita went for the cover with her feet on the ropes. The referee caught her and stopped the count. Mickie went for another rollup for a near fall. Mickie went for the DDT, but it was countered and Lita hit Mickie with the belt for the pin.

Mick Foley cut a backstage promo, and played off the feeling that last week his acceptance of the match with Ric Flair felt too abrupt. He said he was upset with himself for accepting the match. He slipped in that the reason was Flair said he had been in the greatest hardcore match ever, and Foley couldn’t accept that. Foley said that in all his hardcore matches, he has only bled four times, while Flair always bleeds. Thus, he concluded, if someone bleeds to death at SummerSlam it will be Flair. That pretty much guarantees Foley is blading. Foley invited Flair to come to ECW for some sort of hardcore event Foley has never done before.

A pair of matches followed. Umaga beat Alex Sage with the press into the Samoan drop, butt drop and a botched Samoan spike. Ric Flair then defeated Johnny Nitro via disqualification. Flair used chops, Nitro came back with the neck breaker, and Flair came back with chops. Nitro hit an elbow, body slam and then missed a sky twister press out of nowhere. Flair hit a chop block, but Foley ran out and attacked Flair. Melina gave Flair a low blow from behind and Foley threw Flair into the steps. He tried to throw steps into Flair’s head, but Flair moved. Foley gave Flair some more punches and left.

They eliminated another diva, and followed that with a water fight between the diva search contestants and Candice, Victoria & Torrie. It wasn’t erotic at all, as they just threw water at each other and had bikini tops under their white t-shirts. They all doused Miz with water at the end. Jim Ross, who was really on tonight in building SummerSlam, plugged 24/7 on Comcast and even made it a point to say he could call old promotions pro wrestling.

DX came out and got a fantastic reaction. Shawn Michaels said he wasn’t pleased with what happened last week. They told a couple “Vince is gay” jokes, and Shane and Vince interrupted. Shane pointed out they have taken DX out the past couple of weeks. Vince vowed to bring the wrath of Satan upon DX. HHH responded that DX would win no matter who Vince brings. This was a rather dull segment because nobody had anything to say. They are teasing interference at SummerSlam.

Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Eugene beat the Spirit Squad. Duggan was in control early with a body slam and punches but he was rammed into the apron by a non-legal Squad member. The Highlanders came out to even the odds. Kenny worked over Duggan with punches, but Duggan hit a clothesline and made the tag. Eugene hit the Rock Bottom on Mikey and an airplane spin on Kenny. Jim Ross referenced Chief Jay Strongbow. I thought he might reference Bryan Danielson. Maybe next week.

Come on, J.R. They’ll think you’re talking about some turn of the century wrestler and won’t know the difference. Johnny interfered, but the Highlanders then came in and hit the Scot Drop on Mikey. Eugene covered for the pin. Armando backstage offered Umaga’s help to Vince and Shane McMahon. Elsewhere, Trish said she would take care of Lita while Carlito took care of Edge. He kissed her.

Edge beat Carlito via DQ. Carlito hit punches, a suplex, an Irish whip, a leg drop and a springboard somersault senton, but Lita put Edge’s foot on the ropes. Edge gained control and worked on Carlito’s back, but Carlito still came back with a knee lift, clothesline, springboard elbow and huracanrana. Edge missed the spear and Carlito went for the back cracker, but he was sent into the turnbuckle. Edge did hit the spear, at which point Cena ran in and attacked Edge. This got a big reaction and there was a great wild brawl with Cena going after Edge. Edge ran out through the crowd.

Randy Orton came out for the final segment. They ran a video package on Orton, and he said Hogan’s act is tired. He said he wants to be the one to destroy Hulkamania. Real American played, but it was the Hulk Hogan impersonator rather than Hogan. They made fun of Hogan until the real Hogan came out. He gave Orton the big boot and cleared him from the ring.

The impersonator attacked Hogan from behind. This guy didn’t know how to run the ropes, so this was an unmitigated disaster. They badly botched a boot and a visibly frustrated Hogan needed to use a body slam and two elbow drops. He said he would be at SummerSlam and Hulkamania would run wild. I liked the way they built towards Hogan’s entrance, and this was an effective segment save for the Hogan impersonator, which was a strong negative.

Final Thoughts:

This show featured very solid build heading into SummerSlam. It could have used more wrestling content, but the talking was overall quite good and it was effective in its primary goal of getting people interested in SummerSlam. John Cena vs. Edge in particular may have stolen back some last minute interest from Mick Foley vs. Ric Flair.

Books on Tape

I listened to a pair of books to and from the Bay. Neither gets a recommendation from me. On the way I listened to the Scott Smith book, The Ruins. It's about a killer vine. That should tell you a lot right there. The premise is never really explained, nor is the setup plausible even within the context. The characters just seem to wait around to die and bicker among themselves, making them very unlikable. There are ultimately unnecessary allusions to cannibalism and drinking urine, which was disgusting. And just using my imagination during the early part of the book produced more interesting scenarios than the author came up with. I was exceedingly disappointed and strongly suggest not reading the book. The other book that I listened to on the way back wasn't as bad, but it doesn't get a recommendation either. It's John W. Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience. While I certainly don't sympathize with the group he was going after, he didn't have a terribly persuasive argument. Essentially, he just branded all the people he doesn't like as a certain type of conservative, and then attached all sorts of scary traits to them. Some of these observations make sense. Others seemed really off the mark. His ultimate thesis, that today's American conservatism has been taken over by a dangerous authoritarianism seems relatively sound. However he ultimately isn't that persuasive in explaining why, and there is a lot of silly mud slinging that makes it more your garden variety demagoguery than a work with serious social science backing as it purports to be.


I’ve been out of town the past few days, as I took a trip up to the Bay. It was a nice trip. I caught the Redskins game last night against the Bengals, and I actually thought it went pretty well even though it seemed many were down on the Redskins’ performance in a 19-3 loss. To me, the Redskins’ starters looked better than the Bengals’ starters, and that’s the most important thing to evaluate in the pre-season. They played very well early, apart from an interception by Mark Brunell and a flea flicker by the Bengals. Trick plays and bad breaks are the exception, not the rule to NFL football, and scores don’t matter in the preseason. There were, however, four points of concern. Two were the injuries to Clinton Portis and Chris Clemons. The Portis injury got more discussion, but the Clemons injury seems more serious, and he’s an important defensive backup. As for Portis, it sounds like he will be fine. He’s a phenomenal player, but the Redskins should be fine anyway with Ladell Betts, who is a quality running back. I’m not too worried about that, although obviously I hope Clinton is fine and is healthy for the entire season. I would feel differently were I worried about that. The third point of concern was Todd Collins, who looked awful. He doesn’t look like he can be relied upon at quarterback, so the Redskins better hope Jason Campbell is ready if Mark Brunell goes down. Otherwise they may regret trading away Patrick Ramsey for pennies on the dollar. On the plus side, I thought Campbell looked good, so it was an encouraging showing from him. There is potential there. The fourth concern was nickel cornerback Kenny Wright, who did not look good. A bad cornerback doesn’t have to play much for you to notice, because he will get burned the few times he is in. I hope Wright turns out to be better than he looked, and he does have experience that would suggest he’s not that bad. But he has to play much better.

Simple Solutions to Simple (But Glaring) Problems

Over the past five years, World Wrestling Entertainment has gone through serious business travails. A company that was at that point clicking on all cylinders has seen its pay-per-view buys, TV ratings and house show business collapse. This has not been an accident, nor has it been a cyclical decline. Rather, it has been the result of poor booking, creative direction and decision-making. WWE is not yet at a point of no return, but there may come a time when financial rearranging can no longer compensate for consistently declining revenue streams. Thus it is imperative that WWE sooner rather than later address the structural problems in the creative branch of the promotion. Here are some simple keys to an improved product.

1. Rather than a team of writers with a head, there needs to be a head booker with a number of assistants. In the former system, which is what the WWE does presently, there is a large group of people throwing in ideas. The product that comes in is not the product of one primary vision, but rather a blend. One person is responsible for approving the ultimate decisions, but that is not the same. What WWE needs instead is one person who tells everyone else the direction of the promotion, and the assistants are responsible for seeing this direction through, and for coming up with ideas to advance that direction. That way there is one person guiding the ship.

2. There needs to be long-term booking. Week to week booking has been the norm for WWE in recent years, and it makes it harder to accomplish goals. Rather than booking week to week, there needs to be a basic long-term vision. It isn’t coincidental that WrestleMania in recent years has produced some of the best promotion of the year. It’s because that is typically the point with the most long term planning. Batista was one of the last wrestlers to get over in WWE, and it was a result of a long-term story. Obviously, injuries will happen. There doesn’t need to be a really specific week-by-week plan. There just needs to be a blueprint. Decide who will be tentatively headlining over the next year. Future headliners need to be protected going into title programs. That way the title programs seem like a culmination designed to determine the best wrestler in the promotion rather than just a match thrown together to sell a pay-per-view.

3. Young wrestlers with talent need to be protected. WWE has had a major problem creating stars in recent years, and a lot of this has to do with the way they have handled young wrestlers with talent. The first key is not to call them up until they are ready. It’s befuddling why WWE wouldn’t listen to someone with as much experience and wisdom as Jim Cornette when he says who is ready and who isn’t ready for WWE. The old cliche rings true: there is no second chance to make a first impression. Fans will view wrestlers brought up before they are ready negatively, and it will make it much harder for them to get over. The other key is that the wrestlers with potential need to be protected coming up through the card. WWE understands this concept, because Vince McMahon has done it for a long time. This is a point where long-term booking can help. When a new wrestler comes in who they know they want to push to the top, they should have a few feuds planned where the new wrestler will consistently win and move up the card. If the push isn’t taking, then you reevaluate. But going week to week and having the wrestler accrue a bunch of losses cuts off their development.

4. Main event talent needs to be protected. It seems the trend on Smackdown this year has been that the champion loses constantly, and anyone being groomed to be champion likewise loses constantly. This makes it exceedingly hard to sell pay-per-views, because fans have already seen the main eventers lose. Part of the reason the PPV with Great Khali vs. Undertaker did surprisingly strong numbers was because viewers couldn’t imagine either man losing. Thus they wanted to see where things were going to go. It isn’t that hard to enact that model for most PPV main events. You just protect the guys who are in the main event, or the people who are going to be in the next couple main events. If both main event wrestlers have won eight straight television matches, viewers will be compelled to order the PPV to see who is going to emerge victorious. If they are both 5-3 over that period, the intrigue is gone.

5. Physiques and size need to be de-emphasized. WWE continually grew in popularity during the 1997-2001 period when they pushed smaller and smaller performers. With serious competition gone after that, WWE stopped taking seriously rising young talent that doesn’t have size. Instead, WWE has been bringing in lots of big guys with physiques who have little charisma, talking ability or wrestling ability. Physique can help a wrestler, but in 2006 it is a distant fourth in significance to the other three. It would be one thing if WWE needed wrestlers to have three of the four, or if physique and size made a difference with close cases. However, size appears to be a cutoff point for the most part as far as talent that will be brought in with any real push. The result is a talent roster that in no way resembles the best collection of talent in the United States. There is no excuse for that given the WWE’s resources.

6. Scripted promos have to go. The Mick Foley vs. Ric Flair program has been a refreshing switch from most WWE programming, and has produced a much more compelling program than one would expect from a pair of aging stars who have seen better days. Almost all of that has to do with the interviews, which have been sharp, strong and real. Too many promos these days feature wrestlers saying things that you just don’t buy that they would say. Delivery suffers, and wrestlers don’t improve on the mic. Vince McMahon and Jim Ross realized in the nineties that the best wrestlers are extensions of their real personalities. Wrestlers need to be allowed to show their real personalities, and that will come from giving them a set of points to hit rather than a set of lines to deliver. It also helps that wrestlers for the most part understand how to sell a program, while a lot of the writers putting together promos are not long-term fans and don’t have a feel for how to talk people into the seats.

7. Results need to matter. The majority of WWE matches don’t establish that one wrestler is better than the other. It’s very hard to get people to pay to see wrestling matches if the results feel unimportant. Yet WWE undermines the significance of results every show many times. It’s fine to have contested finishes, run-ins, flukes and screw-jobs. However, these have to be the exception, not the rule. If a wrestler will be in the same position after a match regardless of whether they win or lose, why should fans care about the result? The general rule for PPV matches should be that wrestler A says he will beat wrestler B, and wrestler B says he will beat wrestler A. One of them proves he is right by winning the match, and that win allows him to keep his title or sets him up for a future match against a bigger star or champion. There is a world of variation that can be had in that most basic of outlines, but the bottom line is there need to be stakes involved.

8. Less is more. This is the most important point of all. As WWE PPV buys and TV ratings have declined, the WWE has needed to take steps to compensate. The best route would be to address the creative problems that have led to that decline. Instead, WWE has increased its output. WWE has taken on more television, and runs more PPVs. This provides a short term boost while doing long term damage. It is the equivalent of a developing nation getting rid of its debt by simply printing more currency. WWE has way too much television right now, and it will be exceedingly hard to increase interest in the product with resources spread so thin and individual hours of television feeling so insignificant. It is much more likely that there will be a burnout effect. PPV buys are in an even more precarious situation. There are too many WWE PPVs, and they don’t feel special. UFC went in less than a year from consistently losing to WWE on US PPV to consistently beating them. WCW saw its PPV buys collapse from the beginning of 1998 to the beginning of 1999. If fans decide WWE PPVs are no longer worse buying, it will be very hard to change their opinions on this. Short term, cutting back on PPVs and TV will hurt the bottom line. But WWE is driving towards a brick wall, and pushing down harder on the gas pedal is not the solution.

Nothing here is revolutionary. It’s just common sense, and most of these philosophies have been followed by successful wrestling promotions. Most of these points shouldn’t even need to be made because they are so obvious, but WWE isn’t following simple maxims such as the importance of matches and protecting stars these days. With these corrections would not necessarily come PPV, TV and house show improvement. WWE still needs to present compelling characters in compelling storylines. However, these are important and common sense changes that have needed to be made for a long time. It’s hard to get the little things right when you have lost sight of the big things.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

"ECW" Report

Oh My God!: Rob Van Dam returned to “ECW,” and none too soon.

You Fucked Up: We got a double dose of Mike Knox.

He’s Hardcore: Rene Dupree has joined the tribe of extreme. He fits in great with the likes of Mike Knox, Test, Big Show, and Kevin Thorn.

The Extreme Rundown:

The crowd at the open of the show seemed more into ECW than at other recent Smackdown shows. That’s a good sign that the show is getting over on television or maybe just that last week went well.

1. Mike Knox beat Tommy Dreamer. Dreamer came in limping, but gained the advantage with a swinging neck breaker and clothesline over the top. He threw Knox into the steps, and hit an elbow off the second rope. Paul Heyman and the Riot Squad came in as Dreamer hit the DDT. The Riot Squad pulled Dreamer out of the ring and beat him with nightsticks. They threw him back in the ring and Knox hit his corkscrew downward spiral for the pin. This booking is backwards. There is no sympathy for Dreamer as a face because he always loses. Thus it doesn’t help the heels when they beat him.

2. Mike Knox and Test beat Sandman in a handicap match via disqualification. Yes, we got two Knox matches in a row, which has to be some sort of cruel joke given Knox is among the most boring wrestlers I have ever seen. The setup here was total Heyman, with one match running into another. Sandman made the save for Dreamer in the first match. Heyman sent Dreamer to the back for medical attention and made this handicap match in a non-extreme rules match. Test and Knox dominated with punches and elbows until Test missed an elbow off the top. Sandman caned both men and cleared the ring for the disqualification.

3. Kevin Thorn beat Al Snow in a total squash. He used a bunch of punches and kicks, along with the stunner and razor’s edge for the pin. This was boring. Rene Dupree backstage did his ECW introduction. That’s another awful choice for ECW. Big Show came out in a suit. He said nothing and took forever to say it. Basically, he’ll bring class and dignity to ECW and beat either Sabu or Kurt Angle. This was very boring. After CM Punk tore it up on last week, they would surely follow up on that momentum, right? Wrong. He did a 30 second promo backstage, and said he will be back next week.

4. Sabu and Kurt Angle went to a no contest in a number one contender’s match. Angle got the double leg takedown early but Sabu got to the ropes. Angle accidentally ran into the post and Sabu hit a springboard tornado DDT. Angle responded with a belly to belly, but Sabu came back with a somersault senton. Angle hit a rolling German and release German and went for the Angle slam. Sabu escaped and hit a springboard leg drop. Sabu went for the camel clutch, but Angle reversed into the ankle lock.

Sabu sent Angle to the floor and hit a somersault plancha. Sabu hit a splash off the top and went for an arm bar, but Angle reversed into the ankle lock. Rob Van Dam then returned with an awful looking Van Daminator to Angle. He acted like he was on Sabu’s side but then drop kicked a chair into Sabu’s head. I hope they have a good explanation for this, because presumably RVD’s still the top face and he came across like a total goof here. Paul Heyman and Big Show screw him out of the ECW Title, and he returns to attack Sabu and Kurt Angle instead.

Please Don’t Go:

Aside from the main event, this show was ungodly boring. The problem remains the “talent” being used, most of whom can’t wrestle, can’t talk, and have no charisma.







Monday, August 07, 2006

Raw Report

Date: 08/07/06 from Memphis, TN.

The Big News: Umaga made it a sweep against the members of DX, defeating HHH a week after downing Shawn Michaels. But it was Ric Flair and Mick Foley that again stole the show.

Title Changes/Turns: None.

Match Results: Trish Stratus NC Mickie James; Kane b Shelton Benjamin; John Cena b Viscera; Edge & Lita b Carlito Caribbean Cool & Trish Stratus; Randy Orton b Jerry Lawler; Umaga b Triple H.

Show Analysis:

The show began with Vince and Shane McMahon. Maybe Vince Russo is in fact booking WWE again, because they were doing the Flying Elvises gimmick that worked so well in the early days of TNA. Vince and Shane basically recounted their feud with DX while doing Elvis songs and mannerisms. This was the epitome of uncool. I felt sorry for the writers and the McMahons because of just how lame they came across in this segment.

Trish Stratus and Mickie James were going to have a women’s title match, but all we got was a replay of the badly botched Stratusfaction from last week. Yes, they actually showed that again. As soon as they locked up, Edge came out. He said the match was over, and Mickie left. Edge then whined about not getting respect, and pointed out the SummerSlam poster was built around everyone but him and Trish Stratus is on the cover of the new WWE Magazine. Lita called Trish a slut and threatened her, so Trish fought back. Edge pulled Trish off and gave Lita the chance to hit Trish with a spear.

Edge was going to spear her as well, but Carlito made the save. Edge speared Carlito anyway. This was just a disaster of a segment. They completely and totally buried the Women’s Title to an unbelievable extent for absolutely no reason. I wouldn’t treat any title like this unless it was going to be dropped the next week. Moreover, it buried the WWE Title as well to have Edge pointing out rightly that he is a total afterthought as champion. That’s fine for the heel to say if it isn’t true, but it has been true and was certainly true on this show, so you shouldn’t be pointing this out to the fans.

The “bury the titles” edition of Raw continued, as Kane defeated Shelton Benjamin to become the number one contender for the Intercontinental Title. The problem? Kane hasn’t won a match on Raw since May 23. Well, he’s the number one contender anyway. Benjamin came in with an impressive springboard bulldog at the beginning of the match. Kane came back with a clothesline, side slam, and clothesline off the top. He went for the choke slam but Benjamin kind of reversed into what was supposed to be a DDT. He went for the T-Bone but Kane escaped, and Benjamin leaped off the top into a choke slam.

John Cena came out to boos. He did a comedy promo making fun of Edge and Lita. The material was awful, but Cena’s delivery saved it. He wanted Edge, but Coach said that Edge was already booked and he would wrestle Viscera. Cena then defeated Viscera. Viscera hit a Samoan drop, spinning heel kick, avalanche, and power slam. He applied the camel clutch as well, but missed a splash. At that point Cena hit the FU for the pin. The move was very impressive, and looked even better than when he did it to Big Show to me. This match accomplished what it sought to do perfectly.

They did this week in WWE history. Usually these little vignettes are great, but this week was an exception. They referenced the August 9, 1980 Shea Stadium show. I bet many of you already know where this is going. They brought up Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan and Bob Backlund & Pedro Morales vs. Wild Samoans, but not Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbyszko. That’s kind of like bringing up UFC 60, and acting like Diego Sanchez vs. John Alessio and Brandon Vera vs. Assuerio Silva were the top bouts. Maybe if they are on bad terms with Steve Austin and the Rock next year they can act like Vince McMahon vs. Shane McMahon was the top match at WrestleMania X7.

Backstage, Trish was angry at Lita. She vowed to “whoop that trick,” which was just great and the clear highlight of the show up to this point. She paced back and forth in anger and then grabbed Carlito and kissed him. Elsewhere, Shane McMahon was looking for Shawn Michaels. It was a setup, as when Michaels jumped Shane, security pulled Michaels off and took him to jail for striking an officer in the skirmish.

Edge and Lita defeated Carlito and Trish in a mixed tag match. Carlito dominated Edge early with a knee lift and clothesline. Edge tagged Lita, and Trish went after Lita with the Charlie Thesz press, strikes and a whirly bird. Carlito and Trish hit drop kicks to clear the ring. Carlito went for a springboard elbow, but Lita interfered and Edge gained control. Carlito came back by hitting the move and tagging Trish. Trish came in with the drop kick, a chop, a spine buster, and the Stratusphere. Edge went to spear Carlito, but speared Trish accidentally. Lita covered Trish for the pin. This was a very well laid out match with a nice finish.

The commentators went after the 1999 study about violence in wrestling fans. They really showed their insecurities here. WWE should spend less time whining about such findings and spend more time putting together a product that isn’t consistently insulting to anyone with a brain. Randy Orton backstage was asked about Hulk Hogan’s knee problems. He said that Hogan knows he will be in trouble if he faces Orton at SummerSlam.

Next came this week’s show stealing performance from Ric Flair and Mick Foley. Flair brought out Foley Is Good. He said he wanted to know what makes Foley tick so he can get Foley to accept his challenge for SummerSlam. He proceeded to attack Foley’s book with knees, elbows and punches, and threw it into the crowd. He then kept one page, which he said proves Foley is a fan of Flair. He noted Foley’s top ten wrestling matches of all time, and Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk at New York Knockout was number one. He didn’t point this out, but Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat from Music City Showdown was also on the list at number four. Flair said Foley is afraid of him and knows he can’t beat him.

Mick Foley came out and admitted he is a Flair fan. He said Flair was a better wrestler than Foley ever was. He said he hates Flair more than anyone else he has met in wrestling. He added that Foley vs. Flair would be the real main event of SummerSlam and would put Flair’s name right back at the top, and he can’t let that happen. He said Flair kept him from his dreams in WCW, so now he will use his creative control to keep Flair from his.

Flair said that Foley can’t walk away from the glory of wrestling Flair in the greatest hardcore match of all time. Foley said he would accept the challenge for an I Quit match. Foley said this may be Flair’s greatest match, but it also may be his last. Flair said may one of them bleed to death in Boston. It wasn’t completely clear to me why after all this time Foley accepted the match, but other than that this was another fantastic segment from Foley and Flair. This also was probably the first week where Flair outshined Foley. Foley-Flair is easily the best pro wrestling hype job of the year.

Randy Orton beat Jerry Lawler. There wasn’t much to this. Lawler was really over. He slapped Orton twice and hit a body slam. He missed a fist drop off the second rope. Orton went for the RKO, but Lawler got out and almost sent Orton into the referee, PWG favorite Marty (who I was sitting next to and chatting with just a couple weeks ago). Orton used the opportunity to hit a low blow, execute the RKO, and score the pin. This was a bit of a disappointment, as it just came across as a throwaway match and they didn’t give it any time.

They ran a vignette for the returning Jeff Hardy. His appearance alone may violate the wellness policy. They then went to the diva search segment. They eliminated the particularly vacant looking woman. They decided to play a game of “dis the diva” where they got to talk about why they are better than the others. They were all booed. They should do a spelling bee as one of the competitions. Now that would be entertainment.

Umaga beat Triple H. Umaga was accompanied by Vince, Shane and Armando. Umaga hit a kick, head butt and butt drop. He missed a head butt off the ropes, and HHH came back with a face buster and clothesline. He went for the pedigree but Umaga reversed. HHH still hit a spine buster and covered, but Vince pulled the referee out of the ring. Shane jumped HHH from behind. HHH gave Shane a belly to belly suplex and went for the pedigree on Vince. Umaga hit him with the Samoan spike for the pin. Vince gave HHH the pedigree after the match.

Final Thoughts:

The last couple weeks I said I was happy with Raw overall because there was nothing counterproductive. This show was pretty similar to those overall, but there was a lot more stupid, counterproductive nonsense that never should have aired, particularly in the first hour. Still, it gets a mild thumbs up for solid build going into SummerSlam and another great segment from Mick Foley and Ric Flair.

AFC East

Patriots 11-5
There have been stories for many years about how people are ready to give up on the Patriots, and for the most part that hasn’t been true. People have believed in the Patriots’ system. However, that tide is ready to turn, and people will be declaring the Patriots’ “dynasty” over if they get off to a bad start this season. They have lost a lot of personnel on the field, and brainpower off the field. The much ballyhooed departure of Adam Vinatieri will to me end up being pretty much meaningless, but there are bigger problems than the kicker. On offense Tom Brady is running out of people to throw to. That makes the drafting of Laurence Maroney key, to provide relief for Corey Dillon. The defense will have to be strong, but I expect that to be the case. In fact, I expect a different sort of Patriots team this year: one built more on defense and running and with a lessened focus on the passing game. That was the case a few years ago, but Tom Brady has been given more reign throwing the ball in recent years. This year they’re going to need to turn to the defense out of necessity, because it has been their focus for a long time now. They have a nice mix of solid veterans (Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Rosevelt Colvin, Rodney Harrison) and young stars (Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Asante Samuel, Ty Warren). Seymour in particular is due for a monster season, and the defense will carry them to the postseason.

Dolphins 9-7
A lot of people seem sold on the Dolphins as a team on the rise. They finished last season well and Nick Saban gets a lot of credit as a coach. However, while I like their offseason moves, I think those moves are offset by the fact they weren’t as good as their record indicated last year. The big problem is their defense, where just about every impact player without exception is on the downside of his career. Injuries are inevitable, and there are few young players with motors to wreak havoc on the other team. On offense they should be in better shape. I love the acquisition of Daunte Culpepper, a quarterback of a caliber that shouldn’t be available for a second round pick, particularly under the age of 30. Ronnie Brown is poised for a breakthrough season. Chris Chambers finally had the breakthrough season that I had pretty much given up on after waiting forever. They have added solid minds in Mularkey and Capers to coordinate on O and D. They also will benefit from division rivals Jets and Bills being in bad shape. All that adds up to a solid season, but not the enormous rise many are hoping for. Unfortunately for Saban, this also doesn’t look like a team built for the long haul.

Jets 6-10
It’s going to be a dogfight for the cellar of the AFC East, with the Bills and Jets both not heading in the right direction. I like the Jets to do slightly better simply because they had been a good team pretty consistently prior to last year, and last year was very much a worse case scenario. With Chad Pennington, Patrick Ramsey and Kellen Clemens all strong motivated, I think one will emerge to have a solid year. I wouldn’t bet on any of them individually, but you’ve got three shots there, and this is an important battle for three guys that all seem in my mind to have the potential to lead an NFL team. They badly needed to get someone as an insurance policy for Curtis Martin, and not having that is going to hurt them. Someone will need to step up, with Derrick Blaylock making the most sense to me. On the plus side, Laveranues Coles and Justin McCareins are a solid pair of wideouts, but not terribly exciting. Their defense is young and talented. Pressure will be on Dewayne Robertson to justify what the Jets gave up to acquire him, and on Shaun Ellis to produce with John Abraham gone. This could be the year Jonathan Vilma becomes a superstar, and if he sets the tone the Jets could do a little better than people expect. Still, it’s hard to envision them moving the ball all that well, and there will be growing pains on D.

Bills 4-12
Add me to the list of people that don’t like the direction of the Bills. On offense, they are a very oddly built team. You would think they would try to run the ball with Willis McGahee, but their line didn’t seem up for that last year. They brought back Peerless Price for some reason, but let Eric Moulds go when Price’s success came when he was paired with Moulds. I’m not sold on J.P. Losman at all, and Kelly Holcomb isn’t much better. They were a disaster on defense last year, and I’m not convinced they will be any better this year. The return of Takeo Spikes could potentially be a big help, and I do like their secondary. Still, it’s hard to expect much out of this team.

"Wrestling" Naughty Word

Check out this article on WWE.com, notable for Jeff saying that Matt and him share Pearl Jam and wrestling in common, and WWE.com actually editing the word out and instead using [sports entertainment]. How sad.

Friday, August 04, 2006

More NFL predictions: NFC West

Seahawks 12-4

I’m not as sold on the Seahawks as a lot of people. I view last year as a year where pretty much everything went right for them, and I still see the team that went 8-8 and 9-7 for so many years. Still, I think they have improved this offseason on paper, so I only see a nominal drop-off from the tremendous success they had last year. I think they’re going to be in more close games. The Seattle offense is going to miss Steve Hutchinson, and that line is really important to setting up the entire offense. Their wide receiving corps has a lot of question marks, and without a consistent running game the whole thing would shut down. I don’t think that’s going to happen thanks to the excellence of Shaun Alexander and a still strong line led by Walter Jones. Matt Hasselbeck is an underrated quarterback, as I think he’s one of the best in the game but doesn’t really get that credit. On defense, I think their defensive line overachieved last year, but as long as they can continue to be strong on that front, they’ll be fine. Their secondary is strong and I like the addition of Julian Peterson assuming he can stay healthy. So I guess I’m in the odd position of knocking a team I think will do well, because while I think they are better than the pack, I don’t think they’re that much better than the pack.

Rams 10-6

I’ve decided the Rams are my surprise team this year. Every year in the NFL I try to pick a surprise team that finished under .500 the year before and nobody is predicting much from as a team that will be much better. And I’ve been doing pretty well at it, picking the Steelers two years ago (people forget that nobody was giving them credit then after a 6-10 season) and the Bucs last year. I hadn’t even settled on my surprise team until I was thinking about the NFC West over the past few days. Here’s my thinking. This team has all the tools on offense you could want. Marc Bulger is an excellent quarterback. Steven Jackson is a tough, big halfback. Torry Holt is an elite receiver, and Isaac Bruce and Kevin Curtis are nice complements. The offensive line is strong as well. Basically the problem has been that Mike Martz has been too pass happy and that imbalance has created turnovers and too much pressure on the defense. The new philosophy seems to be to concentrate more on running, and I don’t see why that won’t work. Then on defense they have a renewed focus under Jim Haslett, a strong defensive mind. They have a very good front seven led by Leonard Little and Pisa Tinoisamoa and the addition of Will Witherspoon. If they can control the ball on offense with more running and take the pressure off the defense, this will be a much improved team and their confidence will increase rapidly. So what the hell, I’m predicting good things from the Rams in 2006.

Cardinals 7-9

The Cardinals are a chic upset pick this year, and for that matter, they have been a chic upset pick for a number of years. I think there is definite merit to the notion that the Cardinals are a team to be afraid of, but I don’t think they’re there yet. The reason is pretty simple. I don’t trust Kurt Warner to make it through the season, and while I think Matt Leinart will be an excellent NFL QB, he isn’t ready yet. This team is going to be dangerous in a couple years when Leinart is developed with all the weapons around him. But this year they are going to have growing pains in trying to find the right balance between passing and rushing, and the transition towards Leinart as the leader of the football team. I love the Cardinals receivers. Anquan Boldin has been a monster in his early career, and I think Larry Fitzgerald has even more upside than him. But they have not been able to establish a running game at all in recent years, and I think that is as much on the offensive line as it is on the running backs. Edgerrin James unquestionably upgrades that, and I think the offense will show sparks of greatness but also be inconsistent. The defense has been quietly improving, but don’t have as much raw talent as a lot of teams. It’s good enough to keep them in games, but not good enough to dominate, so I think the impetus for improvement is going to be on the offense. Bertrand Berry’s health will be key for the defense, as will be the development of their younger players. They have kind of neglected the defensive side of the ball in recent drafts, which leaves them with a dearth of young developing defensive talent, not unlike the Redskins.

49ers 2-14

What is there to like about the San Francisco 49ers in 2006? The only hope for this season is to start Trent Dilfer, but that might get them to 4-12 rather than 2-14, and only make it harder for a potential larger turnaround in future years. Alex Smith looked amazingly bad last year, and you can count me among those ready to already give up on him. He has next to nothing at WR either, and I’m not sold on Frank Gore at HB. Vernon Davis and Eric Johnson are a good pair of TEs, but that’s about it. On defense, they managed to lose the guy who could have offered the most immediate help in Julian Peterson, and lack talent at most every position. This team is going to have an ugly, ugly year.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Jumbo Tsuruta and Riki Choshu

This week Inside the Squared Circle inducts into its Hall of Fame arguably the two most significant and influential Japanese wrestlers of the past twenty five years. Riki Choshu and Jumbo Tsuruta had great success during the peak periods of their careers, doing strong business and being involved in some of wrestling’s most important matches and feuds. Perhaps even more importantly, after their peak years were completed, they were the two most important wrestlers in creating the next generation of wrestling stars. Born the same year, parallel figures in many ways, they enter the ITSC Hall of Fame together.

Riki Choshu was born Mitsuo Kwak December 3, 1951 in South Korea. He represented South Korea in freestyle wrestling in the 1972 Olympics before immigrating to Japan. He changed his name to Mitsuo Yoshida, and took the wrestling name Riki Choshu, which meant King of Choshu, the town where he lived. He began training for New Japan in 1973, and made his debut in 1974. He wrestled preliminary bouts for a while, and was sent to Mexico to learn the sport. Upon his return he became one of Japan’s biggest stars.

Choshu put himself on the map by turning heel on Tatsumi Fujinami in October of 1982. Over the next two years they would have one of the most important feuds in Japanese wrestling history. It did big business, selling out almost all New Japan events and doing huge prime time ratings. It was also one of the very first feuds between Japanese. The success of Choshu as a heel led Japanese wrestling to move beyond Japanese vs. foreigner feuds, setting up the most successful programs of the 1990s. Most importantly, it led to the first great promotion vs. promotion feud. Choshu formed his own group of young wrestlers, named Ishingun, to feud with the established group, Seikigun. This promotion vs. promotion angle was the predecessor of New Japan vs. UWFI, WCW vs. NWO and similar angles that did monster business. Much like the NWO over a decade later, Choshu became more popular as a charismatic rebel than he was as a good guy.

In 1984, Antonio Inoki was in the midst of an embezzlement scandal, and Choshu, along with a number of wrestlers primarily from his Ishingun group, jumped to Giant Baba’s All Japan Pro Wrestling. To that point, it was the biggest jump of a group of wrestlers in the history of the business. This put New Japan on the verge of collapse, while All Japan did huge business with Choshu’s army against All Japan’s top stars Jumbo Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu. In 1987, Inoki had once again weathered the storm, and he used a big money offer to entice Choshu and his group of wrestlers to jump back to New Japan.

Choshu’s return to New Japan had a major impact on the business. Choshu’s return essentially took Akira Maeda’s spot in the promotion. This led to serious resentment from Maeda, and one of the most infamous moments in pro wrestling history. In a six man tag team match, as Choshu applied his sharpshooter finisher, Maeda came in and kicked him as hard as he could in the head. This “shoot kick” broke Choshu’s orbital bone and knocked him unconscious. It also made Maeda the hottest star in Japan, although Maeda would never do the money feud with Choshu. Choshu was so important in 1987 that he broke Ric Flair’s streak of six straight Wrestling Observer Wrestler of the Year awards.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Choshu occupied a top spot in New Japan. He feuded over the IWGP Title with Tatsumi Fujinami, Big Van Vader and the invading Russian wrestlers. He also took over control of the business, and helped lead New Japan into another very successful financial period. In 1991 he put over Shinya Hashimoto and Masahiro Chono in the G1 Climax tournament. They along with Keiji Muto became the Three Musketeers, selling out the Tokyo Dome over and over again throughout the decade of the 90s. Choshu was voted the Wrestling Observer Best Booker of 1992, and Best Promoter from 1995 to 1997. Choshu had his retirement ceremony January 4, 1998 in front of a sellout at the Tokyo Dome. He wrestled five matches, beating Kazuyuki Fujita, Yutaka Yoshie, Tatsuhito Takaiwa and Jushin Liger while losing to Takashi Iizuka. He came out of retirement in 2000 to have a death match with Atushi Onita. New Japan’s struggles led to Choshu being fired as booker, and he left the company in 2002. He formed the ill fated WJ promotion, which folded last year. Choshu, one of the most influential wrestlers of all time, still takes independent wrestling dates.

Few wrestlers have represented the sport as well as Tomomi “Jumbo” Tsuruta. Born March 25, 1951, Tsuruta excelled in numerous sports as a child. He took up amateur wrestling at a late age, and quickly became a world class wrestler. He won Japanese amateur wrestling championships in 1971 and 1972 while studying law. Like Choshu, he wrestled in the 1972 Olympics. He was heavily recruited by all the major Japanese pro wrestling organizations, and his signing with Giant Baba was greeted with major fanfare. He signed in 1972, the first major signing of All Japan just ten days after the promotion was formed. Very loyal to the revered Baba San, Tsuruta would wrestle for the promotion until his health made it no longer possible.

Tsuruta was sent to train with Dory Funk, Jr. in the United States. Tsuruta was a natural in the ring, and he quickly became one of wrestling’s greatest in-ring performers. He commanded such respect that he was the first major Japanese wrestler to ever be accepted by American fans as a clean, technical good guy. Tsuruta was placed in a high profile position immediately upon his return to Japan, becoming the regular tag team partner of Giant Baba. Together, they won the Real World Tag League tournaments in 1978 and 1980 by defeating the Funks. They also defeated such teams such as the Bruiser and the Crusher, Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody and Killer Kowalski and Bruno Sammartino. In the late 1970s, Baba stepped back, and let Tsuruta carry the reigns as All Japan’s top star.

In the 1980s, Tsuruta was All Japan’s greatest star, and he defined the promotion as the home of the world’s greatest wrestling matches. He feuded with Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody, Ric Flair, Harley Race, Genichiro Tenryu, Riki Choshu and others. In the late 80s, All Japan had a falling out with the NWA, and Tsuruta won the first All Japan Triple Crown World Championship by defeating Stan Hansen. In 1990, it was decided All Japan would create the next generation of stars. Tsuruta played the biggest role, putting over Mitsuharu Misawa clean in what is perhaps the model example of wrestler elevation.

In 1992, Tsuruta was diagnosed with Hepatitis B, ending his tenure as All Japan’s flag bearer. He gradually reduced his schedule over time until he ultimately retired on March 6, 1999. He became a professor in Japan, and then moved to the United States to teach. He taught at the University of Portland and was contemplating a move to the fine institution of UCLA before his health deteriorated. Sadly, the classy Tsuruta passed away on May 13, 2000 of kidney cancer at the young age of 49. He was a fantastic wrestler, a main event star for two decades, one of the most famous cultural figures in Japanese wrestling, and one of the finest representatives pro wrestling will ever have. Inside the Squared Circle is proud to induct into its Hall of Fame Riki Choshu and Jumbo Tsuruta.

Fun Times

I'm looking forward to the next month, as I've got all sorts of fun little things planned. I'm going up to the Bay next weekend, then going to Vegas the weekend after for UFC, then the next weekend is Battle of Los Angeles and I've got a good friend coming in to see that, and then the weekend after that I'm going to NYC for the best kind of wedding: the Jewish wedding. Mazel Tov! Of course the problem with this whole thing is school is starting up, and I'm likely to be very distracted and unproductive. Oh well. Productivity is overrated. I'm registering for classes now and will have my schedule set at the end of the day. I'm taking what should be a fun (albeit time-consuming) trial advocacy clinical course that will lead into some actual trial advocacy in the spring, and a seminar on criminal law. I get to add two more courses this afternoon, and it will depend on what is left. I'm thinking of taking an Islamic Law course with one of the preeminent scholars on the subject, and then maybe Wills and Trusts (a bar course).