Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"ECW" Report

Oh My God!: ECW December to Dismember will feature an Elimination Chamber main event.

You Fucked Up: Just when you thought the ECW roster couldn’t get any worse, Great Khali debuted.

He’s Hardcore: Sabu was diving all over the place this evening.

The Extreme Rundown:

At the start of the show, Paul Heyman announced that Rob Van Dam had picked the date of his title match and it will occur at ECW December to Dismember. However, Heyman noted that the stipulations weren’t decided upon, so RVD would get his title shot in a six man Elimination Chamber. I don’t like this idea at all. I prefer the build of a singles match to a match with a bunch of different people where the issue and story is confused. That isn’t a big problem if you do a 6 man match every once in a while, but ECW doesn’t run many PPVs, so it would be nice to have the culmination of a singles feud at the rare PPVs. The brand has been mostly directionless because there hasn’t been a central issue for most of the show’s existence.

Additionally, the ECW talent roster is painfully thin. Sticking six stars in one match leaves basically nothing for the undercard. That means the undercard will either be historically awful or will have to feature lots of Raw and Smackdown wrestlers and make it feel like “just another pay-per-view.” I have one more exception to this that I will write about next week, since it involves spoilers from next week’s show.

1. Sabu beat Kevin Thorn to qualify for the Elimination Chamber. Sabu dominated most of the match. He hit a somersault plancha and splash from the apron to the ring. Thorn came back briefly by catching Sabu with a sit down power bomb. Sabu retaliated with a springboard leg lariat, springboard clothesline, springboard elbow, springboard into a tornado DDT and somersault leg drop from the apron. He applied the camel clutch for the submission. The match was fine. Sandman caned a clown backstage.

2. Daivari beat Shannon Moore. As if they didn’t have enough stiffs in ECW already, Great Khali is now on the roster. Considering they have five hours of new television every week, would it kill them to send some good wrestlers they aren’t using to ECW and make it a straight wrestling show? Instead we get one tall loser after another. They booked Daivari pretty strong here, but it’s not like he’ll ever be a singles attraction. Daivari jumped Moore, threw him into the post and hit a DDT for the pin. Khali gave Moore a choke slam after the match. Backstage, RVD said he would win the title at the Elimination Chamber. Hardcore Holly alluded to the gash he suffered against RVD, but noted now they would be partners.

They had a Halloween costume contest. Poor Colt Cabana was dressed up as a fairy at ringside. Does he understand that he is allowed to say no when WWE offers him work? I can understand jobbing to Eugene, but I see no possible benefit to dressing up as a fairy on national television. Well, at least he has all his toes. Anyway, Trinity won the contest, because she exposed the most skin. She dressed in police tape, Ariel dressed as herself, and Trinity dressed as CM Punk. An angry Mike Knox came in after the contest, but CM Punk quickly disposed of him with a springboard clothesline, punches, knees and a high kick. Backstage, Knox challenged Punk for next week.

3. Test and Big Show beat Rob Van Dam and Hardcore Holly. RVD hit a crescent kick and spin kick on Test, and Holly gave Test a clothesline. RVD followed with a springboard leg drop, drop kicked Test to the floor, and then hit a crossbody sending Test to the floor. Test worked over RVD briefly, but RVD hit a windmill kick and tagged Holly. Show caught Holly with a clothesline, head butt, choke, yakuza kick and elbow drop. Test threw Holly into the post. However, Show missed the corner elbow and Holly tagged RVD.

RVD came in with punches and kicks on Show. RVD hit a somersault senton off the top and rolling thunder. After a ref bump, Holly hit the Alabama slam on Test. RVD gave Show a kick off the top and drove Show into the post on the outside. At that point a man in a gorilla suit attacked RVD with a pipe from behind. He revealed himself to be Paul Heyman. This was amusing since I saw someone in a gorilla suit this afternoon walking home from school. I presume it wasn’t Heyman, but I can’t confirm that. Show gave RVD the choke slam in the ring and covered for the pin.

Please Don’t Go:

ECW is moving in the wrong direction. We aren’t getting the quality matches any more, the feuds are mostly uninspiring, and the lack of talent becomes all the more glaring by the week. It’s also frustrating to see diva contests, elimination chambers, ref bumps and an overabundance of tall losers beating into your head that this is just another WWE television show. Wrestling can succeed in a variety of different ways. Yet WWE in 2006 insists on this really narrow and flawed vision of what pro wrestling must be. A one hour ECW show without house shows and with few PPVs is a perfect time to experiment with different ideas. Instead, we get the same old shit.

Best Picture I've Seen This Year by a Landslide...

The Departed. Fantastic film. Great acting performances, exemplary screenplay, wonderful direction. I can't imagine there will be a better film this year, and it's a worthy Best Picture winner. Better than anything last year too. See it in the theaters. I'll save too much in the way of plot analysis since people should see it with all the twists and turns for themselves, but I'll write more about it in depth later when more time has passed.

Raw Report

Date: 10/30/06 from Moline, IL.

The Big News: Don’t blame me. I voted for Kodos.

Title Changes/Turns: None

Match Results: Carlito Caribbean Cool b Johnny Nitro and Shelton Benjamin; Lita b Maria; Triple H b Randy Orton-DQ; Umaga b Eugene Dinsmore & Hacksaw Jim Duggan; Cryme Tyme b Viscera & Charlie Haas; John Cena b Jonathan Coachman.

Show Analysis:

Edge and Randy Orton started the show in the ring. Edge said it was his birthday, but he was discouraged to celebrate it in front of the fans. Orton reminded Edge of his victory over HHH last week. Edge said that made him feel better. They brought out Vince McMahon, Eric Bischoff and Jonathan Coachman. Each said why they should be the special referee at Cyber Sunday. Bischoff said he would create controversy, Coach said he would prove he’s not a joke, and Vince said he would show DX the same respect they have shown him in the past. Vince announced that Shawn Michaels wouldn’t be on Raw, and HHH would wrestle Randy Orton again with Edge as referee.

Vince asked the others to leave the ring, and asked Coach how he would prepare John Cena for Cyber Sunday. Coach said he would give Cena the night off. Vince didn’t like that, so Coach said he would put Cena in a handicap match against Big Show and King Booker. Vince didn’t like that either, so Coach just wanted to know what Vince would do. So basically, we got to see a WWE booking meeting live on national television. Vince said he would let the people vote on Cena’s Raw opponent: Big Show, King Booker or Coach.

This segment sounded interesting on paper but didn’t work at all in building the PPV. I don’t understand why anyone would care which heel referee officiates the match, and the heels didn’t even distinguish themselves as individual choices. DX vs. Randy Orton and Edge sounded like a great feud, but it has become boring quickly for two reasons. First, the focus has been on the heel referees rather than the actual issue. Second, they have already started on singles matches with meaningless interference finishes that make future matches seem completely pointless because they’ll have the same meaningless interference finishes. The lines delivered by all parties in this segment also felt totally scripted and inorganic.

They spent the rest of the show beating it into people’s heads that they need to vote. They showed various wrestlers and personalities voting. They eventually trumpeted a figure of 750,000 people voting, which they said was an amazing number. Even if that’s legitimate, it’s not impressive to me. Considering they get an audience of over four times that every week and less than a quarter could be bothered to vote even after that was the theme of the entire show, it demonstrates the interest in what they are doing. Hell, UFC has better luck getting its audience to spend 3 hours and $40 on a PPV event later that week than WWE does in getting its audience to spend 30 seconds and $0 voting on their matches the same night. Think about that for a second.

Carlito beat Johnny Nitro and Shelton Benjamin in a triple threat match. Jeff Hardy watched from ringside. Nitro and Benjamin double teamed Carlito and threw him to the floor. In the ring, Nitro hit a side Russian leg sweep and break dance leg drop on Benjamin. Carlito came back in with punches, a drop kick, a knee lift and a clothesline to take out both men. Benjamin came back in with a springboard bulldog from behind on Carlito. Benjamin came off the top on Nitro, but was caught with a drop kick. Carlito threw Nitro to the outside, gave Benjamin the back cracker, and covered for the win.

John Cena backstage said he isn’t worried about Cyber Sunday. He delivered a really lame joke about K-Fed’s album being the bomb. Cena then harassed the interviewer about who he voted for as Cena’s Raw opponent. Eventually the interviewer said he voted for Booker and hoped Booker would beat Cena. Cena wasn’t bothered by this, and vowed to present all sorts of problems for whichever opponent he was faced with. This was 2006 John Cena in a nutshell. He was given horrendous material, but almost managed to redeem it with phenomenal, off the charts delivery. Elsewhere backstage, Torrie Wilson went to Carlito and said that if he wanted to talk to her about Trish Stratus’ departure, he could. Carlito insincerely said he could use someone to talk to, and they made plans to meet up later. This was actually a hilarious little bit.

Lita beat Maria. Mickie James did commentary, and played a straight babyface out of the 70s. Maria went for rollups early. Lita cut her off with a kick, side Russian leg sweep, back breaker and kicks. Maria came back with a bulldog and bronco buster, but Lita went to the eye and hit a DDT for the pin. Lita and Mickie now meet for the women’s title at Cyber Sunday in a no-DQ match, submission match or lumberjack match.

HHH beat Randy Orton via disqualification. HHH attacked Edge before the match and gave him a pedigree. Apparently this killed Edge or something, because after they took a full commercial break he still couldn’t referee the match. So another referee worked the match. They traded punches early. HHH went after Orton’s knee with a chop block and rammed the knee into the post. Orton came back with a DDT and Garvin stomp. HHH hit a face buster and Edge ran in out of the blue and attacked HHH for a DQ.

Aside from this being an incredibly lame finish, it was pretty illogical to boot. HHH attacks the referee. The referee sells this for 15 minutes, and when he responds in kind to the guy who attacks him, it leads to a DQ. Orton and Edge attacked HHH after the match. They hit him with a chair a number of times and Edge speared HHH. Was HHH incapacitated for 15 minutes? Why, no, he left the ring immediately, got a sledgehammer, and fought off Edge and Orton on his own. This was just an atrociously booked segment on many levels.

Umaga beat Eugene and Hacksaw Jim Duggan in a handicap match. Umaga beat up Duggan with a head butt off the second rope and the Samoan spike for the pin. Eugene was still terrified of Umaga, and Jerry Lawler got mad at Eugene and called him a coward. It looks like Eugene is going heel. They really should send him to ECW. They keep giving ECW stiffs who can’t get over. Nick Dinsmore could get over in a hurry showing up in ECW, denouncing the Eugene persona and having longer wrestling matches with Rob Van Dam and CM Punk.

Coach backstage said he wasn’t afraid of Cena, and that he would beat up the next person who came through the door. It was Ron Simmons. Coach ran away. Simmons said damn. It’s still funny. Ric Flair came out and said he would beat the Spirit Squad Sunday. He introduced the choices for his partner, and Sgt. Slaughter, Roddy Piper and Dusty Rhodes all cut fun promos. Cryme Tyme beat Viscera and Charlie Haas with the Samoan drop/neck breaker combination.

John Cena beat Coach, who won voting in a landslide. Coach ran away, so Cena brought him back to the ring by the ear. Show and Booker jumped Cena. Show speared Cena and Booker threw him into the steps. They then did commentary, and talked all over Lawler and Ross doing their best JBL impersonations. Coach had the advantage briefly and choked Cena, but Cena came back and applied the STFU for the submission in quick order.

Final Thoughts:

This show was just basic build for Cyber Sunday. I thought it was flat and uninspired, and the PPV has very little interest going in. There are some very obvious reasons for that, and I’ll go into them given they reflect systemic problems with WWE.

The main event of the show is built around the idea of one of the WWE championships being up for grabs against the other champions. The problem with that scenario should be evident in just reading the description. If there are three “world champions” in the same company, none of the titles means anything. Having the champions wrestle each other makes that point all the more clear. There are no real stakes involved, because the titles don’t signify anything. That was evident tonight, where nobody voted for a dream “champion vs. champion” singles match.

Another problem is that an “interactive” show should sell itself on match-ups that are unique and you wouldn’t usually be able to see. However, because WWE doesn’t book long term and build people slowly, there are few match-ups that feel unique and exciting. It’s just the same matches as always, so it doesn’t matter which one you select.

It’s also hard to get people to care about potential matches when they don’t think they are going to get a finish no matter what they select. Seemingly every match nowadays in WWE ends with interference, referee bumps, foreign objects and the like. It’s incredibly tedious, and even if a match takes place it isn’t going to have a satisfying finish.

This builds into the final point, and I think the most fundamental problem with the “interactive” concept in WWE. The idea of interactivity is that the fans can dictate to the promotion what they want. But WWE as a company has been outright hostile to fan desires for years now. One of Vince McMahon’s greatest strengths was always that he did listen to the fans. But now WWE has an idea of what wrestling is, and if anyone has a different idea or wants something else, they are greeted with hostility and derision. Fans have picked up on this over time. It explains why they are so slow to get behind new characters and why there is so much apathy to the product.

That general attitude by WWE can’t be ignored in this “interactive” PPV. The feeling I’m sure among many fans is it doesn’t matter what they vote. WWE has its plan, and they will pretty much book however they want regardless of what fans vote. At the end of the day, everyone will end up exactly how they would have ended up regardless, so why bother caring? You’re just choosing between Kang and Kodos in the end.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bad News

Sunday, October 29, 2006

NBA Starting Up

This is a really interesting season in the NBA, because there isn't as much separation among the NBA's better teams as there usually is. This is going to be an important season I think as far as establishing which teams are going to be good over the next few. I'm not as sold on the Suns as some. I don't expect much from Stoudemire, Joe Johnson's long gone, and I think they overachieved last year. Obviously Steve Nash can make any team, and Shawn Marion's one of the very best in the game. But I don't know about the Suns from there, and the pushing style usually doesn't cut it in the playoffs. I also don't like the Nets. I don't trust Jason Kidd to stay consistently healthy, and without Kidd Vince Carter could very well become a liability rather than an asset again. Even if they have a good year this year, they are going to have real trouble going forward because they're aging and injury prone. I'm also not sold on the Cavs, who will be good but not that good. LeBron can only do so much himself. Neither Hughes nor Gooden is going to be LeBron's Pippen, and Ilgauskas always struck me as an odd fit with LeBron.

So who do I like? Four teams, no big surprises. Heat, Bulls, Mavs, Spurs. The Heat remain an odd mix of name players not playing at their peaks, but that didn't stop them last year. D-Wade may be the best player in the league, and even slightly washed up Shaq is dangerous. I believe in the two superstars mold (Bulls) of building NBA teams over the ensemble mold (Pistons), and that's still a really strong 1-2. I like Haslem and Posey the best of the supporting cast. I really do think the departure of Ben Wallace is going to shift the balance of power in the Central Division of the East. I've liked the Bulls' core for a while, and Ben Wallace fits in great with their attitude. They have a bunch of players on the rise, and don't even need all of them to fully develop. I think Ben Gordon's the real deal, I like Hinrich, and Deng and Nocioni are good pieces. I think the Bulls will challenge the Heat for the Eastern Title. The Mavs changed their identity last year, and it's for the best. Dirk is incredible, and they have quality players surrounding him. I've always liked Jason Terry and Josh Howard is really important for them. I'm not sold all the way on Devin Harris, but I guess we will see. Then we have the Spurs, who it seems everyone is overlooking. I don't buy that they are on the decline at all. Manu had an off year last year, but I think he'll step it right back up. Tim Duncan is healthy and motivated, and it's like people have forgotten how good he is. Parker, Finley and Bowen aren't bad guys to have either. So give me the Heat over the Bulls in the East, the Spurs over the Mavs in the West, and the Spurs over the Heat in the finals.

Karl Dorrell

People are up in arms around here these days over Karl Dorrell and the state of the UCLA football program. I tend to be more on the side of keeping him for time being. People don't like him primarily because of his in-game coaching, which is definitely a valid criticism. The play calling is way too conservative, and UCLA feels like it is playing not to lose rather than to win most games. The Notre Dame game was embarrassing, because UCLA should have won the game. The loss to Washington State this week was another bad loss. All that said, it doesn't make sense to dump him in the middle of the season, or even after the season, as many are calling for.

To begin with, this was necessarily a rebuilding year. This is a very young team that has played pretty well overall. Next year basically the entire team will be returning, and having the same system in place will likely result in strong results. If it doesn't, then by all means Dorrell should be in serious jeopardy. But this year wasn't the test to me in the first place. Additionally, switching coaches can screw with recruiting, and Dorrell has been doing a good job of that the past few years. Dorrell is also a class act, and doesn't deserve the sorts of malicious cheap shots that he has received nor the humiliation of being fired in the middle of a season after going 10-2 the year before. Even if he isn't winning, he instills a positive atmosphere and brings in young men with character. It's a program with class, and that is meaningful given what I consider to be the shady nature of UCLA's cross town rivals' current sports programs. Dorrell deserves a shot to prove himself further. His winning percentage as coach is pretty close to UCLA's overall football winning percentage. And he's got the added intangible of being one of the precious few black head coaches in college football. I like that fact given how ridiculous the overall makeup of college coaching is.

Obviously, this isn't the most ringing of endorsements of Dorrell. As I said at the beginning, I don't think he's a good in game coach, and that's a pretty big deal for a coach. But I think the jury is still out as far as a final conclusion in that regard, and he's got plenty of things going for him. Maybe people are spoiled by Ben Howland's success in basketball and USC's current success in football. In any event, Dorrell's still okay in my book.


Daniel Puder is rolling right now on Wrestling Observer Live. This thing is great. Mocking the hell out of Kurt Angle, challenging HHH, talking trash...classic stuff. Be sure to listen to the podcast if you get that. And WWE couldn't make use of this guy...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"ECW" Report

Oh My God!: Rob Van Dam defeated the Big Show again, this time in a ladder match, and can face Show in a title match whenever he desires.

You Fucked Up: Poor Mike Knox still can’t get the best of CM Punk, no matter how many times he jumps him from behind.

He’s Hardcore: Big Show bled, took bumps, and received hard weapons shots once again in the name of putting on quality matches.

The Extreme Rundown:

Rob Van Dam came out to start the show. He said that the seemingly impossible happened last week when he pinned the Big Show. RVD wanted to know when he would receive his title shot. Paul Heyman came out and said RVD and Show would have a ladder match for a championship match contract. If RVD got it, he could select the time and place of his title shot. However, if Show got it, he could tear it up. The Riot Squad jumped RVD but he fought them off.

1. CM Punk beat Matt Striker by disqualification. Punk hit a spine buster, knee and high kick. Striker sent him into the post and rammed his arm into the post and steps repeatedly. He applied the Fujiwara armbar, but Punk escaped and hit a forearm, knees from the clinch, a running knee, a bulldog, a springboard clothesline, slaps, a spinning back fist and a high kick. He was going for the uranage when Mike Knox interfered. Punk gave him a high kick and Knox ran away.

2. Test beat Hardcore Holly. Holly hit punches and chops, but Test came back with punches of his own and rammed Holly into the steps and post. He hit elbows and kicks, but Holly retaliated with kicks, punches and rammed Test into the steps. There were some boring chants. Holly suplexed Test to the floor, but Test seized control and rammed Holly into the post. Holly came back with kicks and a clothesline off the top. Test hit a power slam, but Holly crotched him on the top rope and hit a leg drop off the second rope.

Test went for the pump handle slam, but Holly escaped and went for the Alabama slam. Test avoided that, but Holly hit him with punches and kicks. Test rammed him into the post and rolled him up with the tights for the pin. Test hit Holly repeatedly with a chair to Holly’s injured back after the match. This was stiff and hard worked but not particularly good. The crowd wasn’t into it at all. Sandman backstage said he has beaten up plenty of Samoans and encouraged people to vote for him to take on Umaga.

3. Rob Van Dam beat Big Show in a ladder match. Show grabbed RVD by the throat, but RVD hit kicks off the ropes and hit Show with the ladder in the gut and head. Show bladed, and RVD kicked the ladder into Show’s head again. RVD hit rolling thunder on the ladder, and went to climb the ladder. Show pushed him off and threw him into a ladder. Show stood on a ladder with RVD under it and speared RVD.

Show slammed RVD on the ladder and went for the corner splash that he always misses. He missed again and landed on the ladder. Show was still able to hit RVD with the choke slam minutes later. Show went to climb the ladder, but RVD ran up the ladder and hit what was supposed to be a huracanrana to the outside. It was kind of screwed up since RVD hit the floor a lot harder and quicker than Show, and Show went over moments later. RVD ran back in and grabbed the contract. This was a good match despite the finish.

Please Don’t Go:

This was another straight-forward show. Since I know a lot of people don’t watch the show, I will close with an evaluation of how the wrestlers from this week’s show are progressing in ECW:

CM Punk – Easily the early success story from ECW, Punk is well on his way to becoming a star. His push has been so straight forward. He wins his matches decisively, and is never outsmarted by the heels. The crowd knows they can believe in him, and when he starts feuding with bigger stars he will likely move to a new level. His straight edge gimmick to me was always more of a heel gimmick, and a feud with Rob Van Dam is a natural story that would produce great matches.

Matt Striker – I just don’t get what people see in Striker. He is a sub-par wrestler and his heel personality screams lower card. Perhaps he could work better as a heel manager, but they need to ditch the teacher gimmick sooner or later. It’s just not a gimmick with upward mobility.

Hardcore Holly – A face turn seemed like a good idea based on his match with Rob Van Dam, but his personality isn’t terribly sympathetic. I think he can still work well in that capacity, but he needs to be booked strongly in order to do so. Tonight’s reaction to his match was not a positive sign. He’s a good fit for ECW, but as a tough midcarder to help get over rising heels.

Test – Test has done better in ECW than I expected. His match with Rob Van Dam the other week was a real positive for him. He is capable of having good matches with the right opponent, particularly for a man of his size. He still has his limitations, as he isn’t a good talker and doesn’t have much charisma. I don’t see him as a main event single, but I think he works well as a heel enforcer. I think they should increasingly link him with Heyman, as the guy that Heyman calls in when the Riot Squad falters.

Big Show – Show deserves major credit for working so hard as ECW champion. He didn’t need to, and he has really gone beyond the call of duty. The problem remains that he has been jobbed out for so many years that it is hard to rehabilitate him even with an extended push. ECW would also be able to differentiate itself by putting together great main events every week, and Show can only do so much in that capacity. I’m not nearly as down on Show as champion as I once was, but I do think there are better choices for the role.

Rob Van Dam –RVD is the star of the ECW show, as would have been expected going in. His chase of Big Show is working well so far. It’s too bad they had RVD win the ECW Title already with a brief run, because the story of RVD chasing his first ECW Title was something Paul Heyman built for years and now they can’t really do it. Still, RVD works naturally as champion, as evidenced by his great run as TV champion. I hope RVD’s body can hold up, because he’s a lot older now than when he was going so hard in the mid to late 90s.

Raw Report

Date: 10/23/06 from Chicago, IL.

The Big News: Kevin Federline was back, as was Ron Simmons, but the focus of the show was setting up Cyber Sunday.

Title Changes/Turns: Eugene may be turning heel.

Match Results: Mickie James b Melina; Shelton Benjamin & Chris Masters b Jeff Hardy & Shelton Benjamin; John Cena b Johnny Nitro; Cryme Tyme b Mikey Mondo & Nicky Nemeth; Kenny Doane b Ric Flair; Randy Orton b Triple H.

Show Analysis:

They started the show by hyping all the publicity they got for K-Fed’s appearance last week. K-Fed then came out to a strong heel reaction. Seriously, K-Fed is welcome any time he wants to appear on Raw in my book. If ever there were a natural heel, it’s this guy. He said he came for payback, and he had a couple people who will annihilate John Cena at Cyber Sunday. He introduced King Booker, who put over K-Fed’s album as a treasure. He said Federline is a trendsetter, and everyone will vote to put Cena’s title on the line. Booker said that he will win the title. Big Show came out and agreed Cena’s title would be on the line and Cena would lose, but said he would take the title rather than Booker. They argued about what K-Fed thought.

John Cena came out and made fun of them. This was some exceptionally lame comedy material even for WWE writers. Cena couldn’t even redeem it this week. He did get one good line in, as he said when Booker put over Federline’s album, he officially lost his status as a black man. Then Ron Simmons came out randomly, said “damn,” and left. This was absolutely hilarious, and it’s nice to know somebody finds that as funny as Mike, X and myself. This was a good enough segment, but it is counterproductive to have main event programs constantly revolve around goofy comedy.

Mickie James beat Melina in a semi-final match in the women’s title tournament. Thankfully there were no weird stipulations this week. They traded punches, and Melina hit some knees. Melina applied the dragon sleeper, but Mickie escaped and they traded forearms. Mickie went for a leaping DDT, but Melina got out and hit a swinging neck breaker. Mickie recovered with a huracanrana and DDT for the pin.

Shelton Benjamin and Chris Masters beat Jeff Hardy and Carlito. Fans can choose between the other three as Jeff Hardy’s opponent for Cyber Sunday. The heels worked over Hardy early on. Masters slammed Hardy on the floor and hit a butterfly suplex in the ring. Hardy hit the whisper in the wind on Benjamin and tagged Carlito. Carlito hit a springboard elbow and the flatliner on Benjamin. Carlito then gave both heels a springboard senton, and hit the quebrada on Masters. However, Hardy and Carlito were shoved into each other and Carlito was rolled up for the pin. After the match, all four fought with each other.

Backstage, Edge and Randy Orton said that last week was typical DX, but DX won’t pull the same antics this week or at Cyber Sunday. They debuted a new team name, Rated RKO, which is pretty lame. I really hope they come up with a different one. Edge also is really outperforming Orton right now, because he conveys so much more believability and intensity. Edge invited impartial observers to the ring: Vince McMahon, Jonathan Coachman and Eric Bischoff. Elsewhere, Johnny Nitro put over K-Fed as a better rapper and actor than Cena, and Federline said he would have Nitro’s back against Cena.

John Cena beat Johnny Nitro, who was accompanied by K-Fed. Cena hit a fisherman buster, but was distracted by K-Fed. Nitro threw him over the top and K-Fed slapped him. Cena was about to go after K-Fed when Nitro hit a pescado. Nitro slammed Cena into the announce table and applied a rear naked choke in the ring. Cena slammed him backwards and came back with the Cena slam, five knuckle shuffle and FU for the pin. Cena chased K-Fed away from the ring until of course Show and Booker jumped him. It was so obvious it made Cena look stupid. They attacked Cena while K-Fed talked trash. Show gave Cena a choke slam. Booker then gave Show the Book End, and gave Cena a scissors kick.

Cryme Tyme beat Mikey and Nicky. Mikey slammed JTG and gave him a suplex and drop kick. JTG tagged Shad, who came in with punches and clotheslines. He gave Mikey a side slam and clotheslined Nicky to the outside. Johnny came off the top but Shad caught him and threw him to the outside on Mitch. Cryme Tyme then hit their Samoan drop/neck breaker combination, called the G-9, for the pin. After the match, Kenny gave Mikey a leg drop off the top. He said he’s the youngest and best member of the Spirit Squad and he has had enough. He said he would beat Ric Flair by himself.

Eugene was shooting t-shirts to the crowd, when Umaga came out. Armando said that Umaga’s challenge had been accepted, and fans could choose Umaga’s opponent from Chris Benoit, Sandman or Kane. Eugene accidentally shot Armando in the groin with the t-shirt gun, so Umaga jumped a terrified Eugene. He gave him the Samoan drop, chops, and the butt drop. Backstage, Hacksaw Jim Duggan told Eugene he had to stop being so nice, and Eugene responded by attacking Duggan and going crazy.

After Kenny attacked his partners two weeks in a row and called them losers and inferior, they still accompanied him to his match with Ric Flair. This made no sense. I guess it was just an excuse for Flair to bring out Roddy Piper, Sgt. Slaughter and Dusty Rhodes. Flair will be teaming with one of them against the Spirit Squad for the tag titles at Cyber Sunday. That also makes no sense given Cryme Tyme has beaten them twice in non-title matches. In any event, Kenny hit a back drop, drop kick off the ropes and punches on Flair. Flair came back with punches. Flair was tripped coming off the ropes and Kenny rolled him up for the pin. The Squad went after Flair after the match. Kenny left while the legends took apart the other Squad members.

DX plugged their merchandise backstage. Shawn said that the guys who talk about being the best in the industry live up to it the least. I read that as a shot at Bret Hart. DX said they would take it to Edge and Orton, and did some weird visual gags. DX has fallen off harder than the Atlanta Braves. Vince spoke with Bischoff elsewhere. They agreed that they could help each other. Vince then received a phone call, and used this as an excuse not to come to ringside for the main event.

Randy Orton beat Triple H. HHH referred to Edge and Orton as the most dynamic duo since Siegfried and Roy. Coach and Bischoff were at ringside. HHH hit a suplex, knee drop and spine buster on Orton. Orton snapped HHH on the ropes, hit a drop kick, a DDT and a knee drop. He actually pulled out the old Garvin stomp. HHH came back with a high knee, but Lita interfered and Orton hit a back breaker. HHH went for the pedigree, but Edge came in with a spear on HHH. Michaels attacked Edge. Coach went to count the pinfall in the ring, but Michaels gave him sweet chin music. Edge went for another spear on HHH, but HHH threw him to the outside. Bischoff gave Orton a chair and Orton hit HHH with it for the pin.

Final Thoughts:

This was just a straight forward wrestling show, and that’s a good thing in my book. I don’t see Cyber Sunday drawing a good buy rate, however. There isn’t anything terribly compelling on the show to me, but there is still some time to hype it. Check out my coverage of the Pride show from Vegas elsewhere on this site or on my blog. There are a lot of important points there, as it was a very interesting night.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Vegas Weekend

Be sure to check out the Pride report below. I think there are a lot of important points there that a lot of the coverage of the show is overlooking. It was a really fun weekend in Vegas. Just to emphasize something in the report: I have been to eight live UFC events at six arenas and in four states. As far as the presentation, Pride blew them all out of the water by a wide, wide margin. I love UFC, and I will continue to support that product. But there is a legitimate challenger here if Pride can get the right TV deal.

And I made over $200 at the casino, so it was overall a great weekend!

If it weren't for the fucking Bruins...

Okay, I'm not ending this on a downer. Yay Pride.

Pride’s Real Deal Aptly Named

LAS VEGAS - In 2006, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has had a rapid, incredible ascent in which it has become synonymous with mixed martial arts in the United States. At the same time, its primary competitor for the label of top MMA promotion in the world lay mostly dormant to the American public. On Saturday, at the aptly named “Real Deal,” that giant awoke and announced its presence in a major way. The Pride Fighting Championships came to America, and it is a lot closer to challenging UFC’s U.S. market share than most of us could have imagined going in.

Pride Real Deal was the best produced MMA show to ever take place in the United States by a wide margin. The stage, lighting, video packages, music and presentation made the show feel major league to the point its competitors by extension felt minor league. Even the show’s remarkable $20 program was a cut above. Kenny Florian was in the semi-main event of UFC’s last show, while Pride had better fighters in this show’s opener.

Both fans and critics of this show are likely going to miss the significance of this show. Pride fans who expect Pride to compete with UFC in the immediate future don’t understand just how far apart the organizations still are in this country. UFC has an enormous head start, and it has almost all of the fighters that casual fight fans in this country perceive to be stars. Pride is going to need a quality television slot and backing to make stars of its own and challenge UFC. UFC’s recent success for Shamrock-Ortiz may backfire in opening more executives’ minds to running MMA. That could inadvertently get Pride a good TV deal on a major cable network. If that does not happen, Pride will not be able to challenge UFC.

On the other hand, some hardcore fight fans have criticized this show for uneven matchups, when that at this point in time is almost irrelevant. It is the presentation and production of Pride that will grab fans’ attention, not close matchups for the hardcore fan. At this point, the masses don’t even know most of the fighters in Pride and uneven matchups are a way to introduce fans to new stars in an impressive way. There is no payoff without a build, and Pride would be foolish to get too far ahead of itself this early in the game. The goal of Pride right now is star building, and they showed a tremendous ability to do so in the top matches of this show.

Pride Real Deal was close to a sellout, if not a complete sellout at the Thomas and Mack Center. There were scattered empty seats in the lower bowl of people who did not show up. There was a large contingent of Japanese fans at the show, as well as fans from Russia, Poland, Brazil and elsewhere. The media was also international in scope.

The crowd was also the most educated and respectful crowd in American MMA history. There were boos only twice once the show started: once during an extended clinch in the Nastula-Barnett fight and some scattered boos for Phil Baroni’s entrance. The latter booing was ironically likely more directed at American boorishness. The crowd reacted in a huge way to subtle movements on the ground, and cheered loudly for most every competitor on the show. There was basically nothing in the way of “U.S.A.” chants, and Nobuhiko Takada was greeted respectfully and cheered without so much as scattered catcalls as he delivered an extended speech in broken English.

The show had an authentic Pride feel, with the same Japanese ring announcer, crazy American ring announcer, and ring girls. They announced the rules prior to the fights, and the crowd lustily booed the announcement of no kicking a downed opponent or stomping. They then reacted to the members of the Nevada State Athletic Commission like El Tirantes in Mexico City or Earl Hebner in Montreal. The referees got a better reaction, including a huge pop for Pride head official Yuji Shimada. Following a great video introduction, the fighters were introduced on the stage. Fedor Emelianenko got an amazing reaction and standing ovation from the crowd.

Robbie Lawler defeated Joey Villasenor in the opener. Lawler hit a high kick that did not connect fully, but followed it with a flying knee that did. He continued with hard punches on the ground and the referee quickly stopped the fight 22 seconds in. This was an important fight for the charismatic and exciting Lawler who badly needs to string together a series of wins. He beat a high quality opponent in this one.

Kazuhiro Nakamura defeated Travis Galbraith. Galbraith was brought in to lose, but he made a good showing. In the first round, they traded early. Nakamura caught him with a punch and used some ground and pound. Galbraith went for a heel hook and took top position. Nakamura stood up, but Galbraith took him back down. They again got back to their feet, and Nakamura used a nice judo throw at the end of the round. In the second, Nakamura scored a takedown, but again they got back to their feet. Nakamura hit a knee standing, and followed that with punches until it was stopped. Nakamura got a nice ovation after the match.

Phil Baroni beat Yosuke Nishijima. Baroni got a mixed reaction. He took Nishijima down immediately. He used some ground and pound and gained side control. He then applied the kimura for a stoppage about three minutes in. Nishijima told the press after the fight that he did not tap out, and was devastated by the loss. He had trained hard on the ground and thought he would be able to defend submissions better than he did.

Dan Henderson beat Vitor Belfort in a rather dull decision. Henderson got a strong reaction coming out. He scored a takedown early, and after a scramble for position Belfort ended up on top. Belfort went for a heel hook and they stood back up. They both scored some punches and Henderson got another late takedown. This was a close round and the best of the fight. Round 2 was clearly Henderson’s. Belfort pulled guard, and Henderson used some effective ground and pound and some not so effective ground and pound. In the third round, Henderson got a takedown and there was slow ground and pound. Belfort took the top and scored some punches at the end of the round but it was too late. Henderson won a judges’ decision 30-27, 30-27, 30-26.

Butterbean beat Sean O’Haire. Luckily, this fight did not go long. A lot of people took this as an early intermission. O’Haire closed in for a takedown, but Butterbean rocked him with punches from a close distance. O’Haire dropped to one knee and Butterbean continued with punches until it was stopped. Butterbean got a big reaction to his promo after the match.

The show then had a long intermission. This was likely a bad idea for a PPV, but it worked fine live. It helped concessions and merchandise. By the end of the show merchandising was almost completely wiped out. Most of the merchandise stands were closed and the little remaining product was moved to one lone concession stand. That only had a few t-shirts, hands and other smaller items. The Pride girls were introduced in the ring, and Nobuhiko Takada came out to speak to the audience. He said Pride is here to stay, and announced a follow-up date in February. He brought out Hayato Sakurai, Hidehiko Yoshida and Kazuyuki Fujita who said hello to the American fans.

Josh Barnett defeated Pawel Nastula. Nastula looked really good in defeat, which is the story of his career. There was a long clinch in the first round, and Nastula eventually got the takedown. Barnett was able to stand, but Nastula got another takedown. Barnett caught Nastula in an ankle lock at the end of the first round. Nastula was saved by the end of the round, but Barnett apparently found a weakness in Nastula’s game. In the second round there was another clinch. They exchanged on their feet, where Nastula surprisingly caught Barnett with a hard punch. He then took Barnett down. Nastula went for an arm bar, but Barnett escaped and Nastula caught him with the ankle lock a second time for the tap. Nastula got a nice reaction after the crowd, and Barnett put him over in his post fight comments. Barnett has real potential to get over in the United States.

Wanderlei Silva was introduced, and got a superstar reaction. He called out Chuck Liddell. He said Liddell doesn’t want to fight him. This was your typical grandstand pro wrestling challenge. The story of this was the crowd reaction. Just a few months ago in the same city at UFC 61 when this fight was announced it got very little reaction. But on this show, the crowd reacted really big to this.

Mauricio Shogun beat Kevin Randleman. Shogun was also really popular with the crowd. Randleman had his typical intensity. He scored a takedown immediately. Shogun got the heel hook and Randleman didn’t defend it properly. Shogun cranked it and probably did major damage to Randleman. However, Randleman just lay there, screaming in pain and refusing to submit. Shogun transitioned into a knee bar and had that at a nasty angle, and finally Randleman submitted. This was an unbelievably gutsy performance by Randleman, who even limped out in the main event to second Mark Coleman.

Fedor Emelianenko beat Mark Coleman. They ran a really good video package prior to the match, that portrayed Coleman as this family man underdog going against the Soviet menace Fedor. It didn’t work entirely, as the crowd loved Fedor and preferred him to Coleman. Fedor got another standing ovation. In the first round, Fedor blocked Coleman’s takedowns and punished him standing. Fedor went for a guillotine choke but Coleman got out. Coleman finally got a takedown but Fedor stood right back up. Fedor hit some nasty punches, but Coleman kept going for the takedowns. Coleman’s face was badly busted up, but they let him continue.

In the second round Coleman went for the takedown again and got it, but Fedor quickly caught him with an arm bar just like in the first fight. After the fight Coleman was in tears and tried to tell his young daughters that he was okay. These poor traumatized girls came in the ring and hugged him. He brought them over to Fedor, but they seemed scared of him in spite of his friendly smile.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Heading to Vegas Tomorrow

My anticipation for this Pride card really snuck up on me. I was looking forward to it for a while, but my anticipation level now is sky high. I've been to a lot of live UFCs, and it's reached the point where I'm used to it and only the big fights get me really excited. But Pride is a different story. Partly it's the novelty. I've watched Pride for years and the idea of watching a Pride event live is very exciting and almost surreal. Part of it is unquestionably Fedor. This guy is the toughest human being on the planet. Put him in no-rules hand to hand combat, and he will beat any human being on the face of the Earth. And he's coming to America to fight. There's almost a comical amount of hyperbole here, but I really am going to enjoy this one.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tiki Barber Underrated?

Give me a break. There is no such thing as an underrated NFL running back, much less one in New York. They're all either overrated or get the respect they deserve, because it's a glamour position. Every running back who is any good gets tons of credit at some point when they have a big couple games. Tiki Barber is a good running back. He's nothing special in the big picture. On NFL Live they were comparing him in his prime to Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander or LaDainian Tomlinson in theirs, and to me the comparison is almost laughable. He's never been a gamebreaker at that level. For most of his career he hasn't even been a primary option, because the Giants have been a passing team. I respect Tiki, but wow is he being overrated today as he teases retirement.

Giant Baba

As a wrestler, he was one of Japan’s biggest stars. As a trainer, he groomed multiple generations of the world’s best wrestlers. As a promoter, few were more successful and none were more respected. Today Inside the Squared Circle inducts a man who was a giant literally and figuratively in the world of professional wrestling, Shohei “Giant” Baba into its Hall of Fame.

Shohei Baba was born on January 23, 1938. He became a successful pitcher in his youth, and at 16 signed with Japan’s best major league team, the Tokyo Giants. He had the notoriety of being the tallest man ever to play major league baseball in Japan. After his career in baseball did not work out, he went to the legendary Rikidozan, who groomed him to be the next big wrestling star for the future. He trained with Antonio Inoki, and they both debuted on September 30, 1960.

Shortly after his Japanese debut, Baba was sent to the United States to get ring experience. He was immediately a big attraction in the United States because of his incredible 6’10” frame. He toured the United States as a top heel against the biggest American fan favorites, such as Bruno Sammartino, Johnny Valentine, Antonino Rocca and Edouard Carpentier. In 1964, he had the impressive distinction of challenging for three preeminent world titles in the same month, headlining against Lou Thesz for the NWA World Title, Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF World Title and Fred Blassie for the WWA World Title.

When Baba was brought back to Japan in 1964, the Japanese wrestling business was in serious danger. Rikidozan’s death had brought about great scandal, and many speculated Japanese pro wrestling was going to die. Giant Baba would be one of the most important forces in its revival starting in 1964. He symbolized professionalism, respectability and class, and cleaned up wrestling’s image while gaining new fans. Over the next few years he held Rikidozan’s NWA International Heavyweight Title, and beat the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Lou Thesz, Fred Blassie, Fritz Von Erich, Killer Kowalski, Don Leo Jonathan and Bobo Brazil. The biggest match of the period was his 65 minute draw with Gene Kiniski in an NWA International Title vs. NWA World Title challenge on August 14, 1967.

Antonio Inoki had left JWA, and his return in 1967 brought about a wrestling boom known as the B1 Cannon period. From 1967 to 1971 Baba and Inoki teamed together as JWA’s top stars, and they drew great attendance and ratings. However, over time Baba and Inoki both grew disillusioned with the company. They wanted to start their own companies, and JWA, fearful of a coup, fired Inoki. Baba was still not satisfied, and months after Inoki founded New Japan Pro Wrestling, Baba founded All Japan Pro Wrestling. Baba became the first PWF Heavyweight Champion, which was All Japan’s top title and later became a component of the Triple Crown Championship. He won it in a tournament which saw him go 8-0-2 against the likes of Terry Funk, Abdullah the Butcher, Don Leo Jonathan, Destroyer, Pat O’Connor and Bruno Sammartino.

While Giant Baba gained a reputation as a traditional promoter in his later years, he was quite innovative earlier on. All Japan rose as a company due to a number of his intelligent gambles. He signed judo legend Geesink, starting the mixed martial arts gimmick before Antonio Inoki. He brought in Destroyer as a full time good guy, the first American to ever be portrayed in that manner in Japan, which had previously been based on Japanese vs. geijin, or foreigners. He came up with the idea of selling t-shirts, souvenirs and ring music a decade before the WWF. That became a big money maker.

Baba promoted Mil Mascaras as an acrobatic masked man for the kids a decade before Tiger Mask rose to prominence. In an effort to convince the public that All Japan was superior to New Japan, he forged a working relationship with the NWA and had a brief run with the NWA Title in 1974, beating Jack Brisco. They would re-do the idea in 1979 and 1980, with Baba beating Race for the NWA Title two more times. Baba also brought in Jumbo Tsuruta, who would become one of All Japan’s biggest stars for the next two and a half decades.

In 1979, Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba reached an agreement to work together. However, after one show which featured them teaming together to defeat Abdullah the Butcher and Tiger Jeet Singh, the relationship fell apart. This led to a fierce promotional war in the 1980s between the two companies. After New Japan brought in Abdullah the Butcher by doubling his salary, Baba raided Stan Hansen, who was New Japan’s top foreign star and Inoki’s best opponent. He gave Hansen a lifetime deal, and like so many others, Hansen would stay loyal to Baba for the rest of his career. At one point, All Japan left New Japan in serious jeopardy by raiding a group of wrestlers including Riki Choshu. They led to great business for All Japan, but New Japan was able to convince the group to jump back.

In 1990, Genichiro Tenryu, one of Baba’s top stars, jumped to the ill-fated SWS promotion. This forced Baba to starting pushing new stars, and the generation of Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada and Kenta Kobashi would lead to All Japan’s best box office period. Budokan Hall became All Japan’s home of sorts, and they had a sellout streak of cards in Tokyo for a number of years. However, All Japan did not do a very good job of finding successors for that group, and when they finally did a Tokyo Dome show on May 1, 1998 it was a last hurrah for Giant Baba as a promoter, drawing 58,300 fans.

While Baba rarely ever lost, he also was willing to keep himself out of the spotlight. Throughout much of the 80s and 90s, he wrestled on the undercard of All Japan shows. He would entertain the fans and have fun wrestling, but allow others to be featured as the top stars. This is something Hulk Hogan and Antonio Inoki were never able to do. He also developed a reputation as the promoter everyone in the world most wanted to work for. He was honest, he paid more, and he got the biggest stars in wrestling to agree to the finishes he wanted. He promoted an athletic style of pro wrestling with clean finishes and gradual progression, in many ways similar to great American wrestling promoter Sam Muchnick.

Wrestlers had incredible loyalty to Baba. For example, Bruno Sammartino once said that if Baba got into a precarious financial situation, he would go to Japan and work for free to help Baba rebuild his company. Given what Sammartino has to say about other wrestling promoters, that is quite the compliment. Baba also built an incredible financial empire. He invested his money in wise real estate and stock investments, rather than aspiring football leagues. As such, he ended up one of the richest men in wrestling.

Giant Baba’s life came to a sudden end. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in later 1998. When he cancelled a few appointments citing a bad cold, a lot of people were very suspicious. After all, Baba had developed a reputation as one of the most reliable and steady wrestlers, who never missed a match or appointment. At first it was thought he would be fine, but the cancer reoccurred in early 1999, and he passed away at the age of 61.

Giant Baba is unquestionably one of the top 2 or 3 biggest wrestling stars in Japanese history. He helped pull it out of a difficult period, and was the driving force behind one of the world’s top wrestling promotions. He was a big draw in the United States and Japan, and many of his ideas were innovative in changing the wrestling business. Finally, in a business full of lowlifes, thieves and liars, Baba epitomized class. ITSC salutes Shohei “Giant” Baba and is proud to induct him into its Hall of Fame.

"ECW" Report

Oh My God!: Rob Van Dam defeated the Big Show to earn a future title shot.

You Fucked Up: The main event finish was overbooked and undermined what they were trying to accomplish.

He’s Hardcore: Hard weapon shots to the head were the order of the day tonight, with Sandman, Matt Striker, Big Show and Test among those on the receiving end.

The Extreme Rundown:

1. Sandman defeated Matt Striker via count out in a Singapore cane on a pole match. Having a count out finish on that sort of stipulation match sounds dumb, but it fit well into the story being told here. Sandman and Striker traded chops and punches early. Striker made a couple attempts for the cane. Striker missed an elbow drop and Sandman went for the cane, but Striker cut him off. Striker threw Sandman off the top rope into the ring and claimed the cane. He hit Sandman in the head with the cane twice, but missed a third shot. Sandman gave Striker four shots with the cane, including two hard shots to the head and one to the back. Striker was bleeding, and when he saw the blood he left the ring.

2. CM Punk beat Rene Dupree. I like how ECW has one person beating another multiple times. It goes against WWE’s trading wins formula, and makes it much clearer who is being pushed. That in turn makes them feel more important and builds bigger matches. Dupree slapped Punk at the onset and ran away. He snapped Punk’s neck on the ropes and went after him with punches and kicks. Punk retaliated with a leg lariat, slaps, a spinning back fist, the uranage and the anaconda vise. Mike Knox ran in afterwards but Punk cut him off with a punch and Knox retreated.

Rob Van Dam was interviewed backstage by one of the diva competition women. She sounded like she was reading lines rather than asking questions, and came across badly. I hate the talentless women being brought in to interview, because it undermines the credibility of the promotion when it is represented by idiots. RVD said he is popular because he is the best, and he will slay the giant. He said he will prove he can beat the Big Show and Show will have to put up the title at some point. Big Show was later interviewed and said he is the most dominant champion and will defeat RVD. He said that if RVD won the non-title match, he would get a future title shot.

3. Test beat Balls Mahoney. Test called himself an impact player before the match and the word of the day for him was ruthless. He reminded the audience what he did to Hardcore Holly, and said he’ll make an example of Holly when Holly is able to wrestle again. This was a sub-par promo by Test that felt over-rehearsed and unconvincing. Balls Mahoney came out and said that if Test wanted competition, Balls would provide it. Test turned him down, so Balls attacked him. A referee came in and the match was on. Balls missed a splash and was thrown into the post by Test. Balls came back with punches and a sit down power bomb. However, Test finished him with the yakuza kick and TKO.

4. Sabu beat Shannon Moore. Sabu hit a leg drop and went for the camel clutch, but Moore got to the ropes. Sabu hit a springboard leg drop and somersault plancha. Moore was able to come back with a quebrada, but missed the sky twister press. Sabu hit a somersault leg drop off the apron for the pin. This was an effective match. It’s nice to see different moves being used on ECW that aren’t seen often in WWE.

5. Rob Van Dam beat Big Show. RVD started with punches and kicks until Show hit a big boot. RVD hit a somersault senton off the top but Show quickly kicked out of the pin. Show bullied RVD around, and RVD came back with kicks and punches. RVD hit a kick off the top rope and rolling thunder, but Show again powered out of the pin. Show hit a spear but missed the corner splash elbow. After a ref bump, Show went for the choke slam but had it reversed into a DDT.

RVD went to the top for the frog splash, but Test pushed him off. Test hit RVD with a chair, but Hardcore Holly took the chair from Test. He gave Test a chair shot to the head, and gave Show two. RVD then hit the five star for the pin. RVD and Show did a good job wrestling in a way that emphasized Show’s size. That is easier said than done. The finish was lame, as it undermined RVD’s claim to the title and the ref bump/run-in/interference/cheap win formula should be pretty close to permanently retired by WWE. It’s only effective in limited doses, and instead it’s the finish of seemingly 80 percent of WWE main events.

Please Don’t Go:

Hopefully last week’s show was an aberration, as ECW returned this week to what it had been doing well prior to last week. This show didn’t have a standout match, but again was just a solid, basic wrestling show. The reliance on guests seems to be declining, which is another positive.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Raw Report

Date: 10/16/06 from Los Angeles, CA.The Big News: WWE was in Los Angeles, and the company was not picky as far as “celebrity” usage.

Title Changes/Turns: None.

Match Results: Cryme Tyme b Johnny Jeter & Mikey Mondo; Jeff Hardy b Chris Masters, Super Crazy and Shelton Benjamin; Carlito Caribbean Cool b Rob Conway; Maria b Victoria, Candice Michelle and Torrie Wilson; Triple H b Randy Orton.Show Analysis:

The show started with Randy Orton and Edge dressed as DX doing old-timer mannerisms. I was worried they were going to do another tired parody, but they took off their accessories almost immediately. Edge basically said that DX’s routine is garbage, and Edge & Orton are the most talented men in the industry. They said only 12 year olds and idiots get off on DX’s type of humor. Amen. Orton said DX won’t do what they want any more. He showed more intensity, fire and charisma in his more important role, which is a good sign.

DX came to the ring. Michaels wanted to know if he looks like that much of an idiot when he comes to the ring. HHH said he wasn’t going to lie to Shawn, and then quickly turned his attention over to Orton and Edge. I thought this was hilarious, but wouldn’t you know it got no reaction. HHH made fun of Orton and Edge. He showed a picture of Edge at the live sex show with Lita, and said he couldn’t get aroused. He then decided he was fully aroused. HHH then labeled Orton the most downloaded wrestler on the web among the gay community, and showed half-naked pictures of Orton. He went to a picture of Michaels in Playboy, while Michaels got defensive.

Orton said the jokes are over and challenged HHH. HHH accepted, and they got into a fight with DX clearing the ring. This was a good opening segment. The tone of the feud should be Orton and Edge taking a more serious tone while DX jokes around and mocks them at first. That shouldn’t last too long, however, because Edge and Orton can’t be treated as laughing stocks like the McMahons, Spirit Squad, Highlanders, Cade & Murdoch, Viscera & Haas, Chris Masters and Jonathan Coachman.

Cryme Tyme beat Spirit Squad in a non-title match. JTG started off fast against Johnny with a hip lock and drop kick. Johnny and Mikey hit a double suplex on JTG and worked him over briefly. JTG hit a double neck breaker and made the tag. Shad came in with shoulder blocks, punches, clotheslines and a yakuza kick. The Squad tried to interfere, but JTG knocked one member off the top rope. Cryme Tyme then hit a Samoan drop/neck breaker combination for the finish. After the match, Kenny got into a big argument with the other members of the Squad and stormed off. He labeled them losers, and I’m glad they are finally distancing him from that gimmick.

Johnny Nitro and Melina said that they would have a special A-list guest celebrity, and the theme of this show was WWE featuring every fake celebrity they could find. I was seriously waiting for an appearance from Sy Sperling or Rhonda Shear. Elsewhere backstage, King Booker was chatting with Coach. Coach said Vince wanted all three champs in attendance for a big announcement. Cryme Tyme came in and made off with Booker’s wallet. Booker said he doesn’t speak ebonics, and then went into a livid tirade when he realized his wallet was gone.

Jeff Hardy won an Intercontinental Title fatal four-way. Hardy went for the twist of fate, but was caught with a Benjamin crescent kick. Crazy hit a drop kick off the top on Benjamin. Crazy went for a crucifix cradle and La Magistral on Masters for two counts. Masters caught Crazy in the Masterlock, but Benjamin broke it with a springboard Buff blockbuster on Masters. Hardy hit a mule kick on Crazy and whisper in the wind on Benjamin. Hardy back dropped Crazy over the top on Benjamin. Hardy then hit the twist of fate on Masters and the swanton for the pin. They are on a nice roll with these multi-person matches, which have been coming across better of late than they usually do.

Johnny Nitro announced his A-list guest, Kevin Federline. Of course he was booed, and he insulted the crowd. He called them posers. Federline has world class natural heel charisma, and I don’t mean that in a good way. He teased rapping and plugged his album, as if people would be frustrated by the fact he didn’t rap and rush out to buy his album. John Cena came out, and said the people shouldn’t be cheated out of a performance. He did a brief rap, noting Federline has Cena’s street cred and Paris Hilton’s talent. Nitro went after Cena, but Cena sent him out of the ring.

Big Show and King Booker came to the ring. Vince said that Cyber Sunday would feature a three way match with one of the champions defending his title based on the voting of the fans. This whole angle doesn’t strike me as compelling at all, but I guess we will see. Champion vs. champion vs. champion sounds important, but the DX-Orton/Edge match with a guest referee I think will mean more. Cena invited Federline back in the ring, and wanted to know who Federline would vote for. Federline said Cena, because he wants to see Cena get his ass whipped. Cena gave Federline the FU.

Carlito beat Rob Conway with chops, a drop kick, a springboard elbow, a knee lift, a clothesline, and the back cracker. He spit apple on Conway afterwards. Edge and Lita backstage spoke with Vince. Vince made a tag match with DX vs. Orton and Edge for Cyber Sunday. Edge wanted the fans to choose a special referee like Coach, Eric Bischoff or Vince. Vince liked the guest referee idea but didn’t say who the choices would be. That’s going to be the spot for Steve Austin, presumably.

They brought the guys from Jackass into the ring, and they acted like goofs. Sadly, nobody chanted “this is stupid.” They were asked their favorite superstars, and I swear to God I thought one of them started to say Shane McMahon. Armando interrupted, and wanted to know if they would do anything. They said yes, so he brought out Umaga. They treated this like a joke, taking off their shirts and laughing. Umaga beat them up, but one of them kept laughing so he got a splash off the top. It was not a good idea to let comedians anywhere near Umaga.

Maria won a four way bra and panties match, which was in the women’s title tournament. Apparently, this is a 7 woman tournament, where the first round is double elimination unless you’re Maria. Boy, if they keep this up the women’s title is going to end up as more of a joke than Joey Ryan’s. Maria won the match by stripping Torrie.

HHH beat Randy Orton. HHH dominated basically the entire match. He sent Orton to the outside, and hit a knee drop. Lita came to ringside to distract him. Orton sent him over the top and Edge gave him a DDT on the floor. HHH then came back with punches, a high knee and a face buster. He went for the pedigree, but Edge got on the apron. Orton took that opportunity to hit a neck breaker, but HHH came back with a spine buster.

Lita got on the apron and Edge gave HHH a low blow. Michaels sent Edge into the post in retaliation. Lita gave Orton a chair, but Michaels came in with a low blow and HHH hit Orton with the chair for the pin. DX should be winning at this point since the story is Edge and Orton are frustrated and angry at DX, but this was almost squash like in terms of the relative offense the two men got.

Final Thoughts:

The show was good. The new feuds are a breath of fresh air. There is too much goofiness, however.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Gorgeous George

Professional wrestling is filled with colorful, larger than life characters. Few, however, have parlayed their unique characteristics into as much fame and success as today’s inductee into the Inside the Squared Circle Hall of Fame. Today we induct the Sensation of the Nation. The Human Orchid. One of wrestling’s most famous stars and memorable characters, the incomparable Gorgeous George.

Gorgeous George was born George Raymond Wagner in 1915. He grew up in Texas, and began his wrestling career in his teenage years. Wagner was a small man by wrestling standards, standing well under 6 feet tall and weighing a little over 200 pounds. Wrestling under his real name Wagner had very little success. From the 1930s to the late 1940s, he was an anonymous wrestler with sub-par skills. However, Wagner would soon prove that in pro wrestling, image is everything.

In the 40s, Wagner sought a way to gain himself more notoriety. It was at that point he developed his famous Gorgeous George character, one of pro wrestling’s first larger than life gimmicks. He bleached blond his hair, grew it out into long curly locks, and pinned it back with bobby pins. He wore extravagant robes and made theatrical ring entrances to “pomp and circumstance” 40 years before Randy “Macho Man” Savage. He would be accompanied to the ring by male valets who pushed the audience’s buttons, and later a female valet. He would spray the ring with perfume, decorate it with rose petals, prance around the ring, stall for minutes on end and act in a cowardly manner. Audiences had never seen anything like it, and given the conservative nature of American society at the time, it drew a real rise out of them.

The Gorgeous George persona was an immediate hit, but it was the advent of nationally televised professional wrestling that made him a legend. Pro wrestling first began to be broadcast on national TV in the late 1940s. Gorgeous George’s unique persona made him the biggest star of the period. He would become a big star in the late 40s and would stay that way until the late 50s, particularly on the west coast. He was incredibly hated, and would draw large crowds of fans who desperately wanted to see him get his comeuppance.

Over the years, pro wrestling has become more reliant upon television to maintain its popularity. WCW was forced to close because of the decision of a television executive. Viacom pays WWE a substantial annual sum to broadcast its programming. It was Gorgeous George that first proved wrestling could be a force in attracting television audiences. He was not just one of wrestling’s biggest stars; he was one of television’s biggest stars.

In the 50s, George not only enhanced his stardom, but he improved his performance in the ring. In 1950 he captured the AWA World Heavyweight Title by beating Don Eagle. He lost the belt to the legendary Lou Thesz. In the late 50s he had a major feud with Whipper Billy Watson, which culminated in Watson beating George in a 1959 hair vs. hair challenge.

The end of the Gorgeous George story was not a happy one. George was a big draw, and made a lot of money. However, he did not save his money. Worse, he did not take care of his body. He partied hard and was an alcoholic. As a result, George’s body gave out on him at a young age. He suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 48 on December 24, 1963.

Professional wrestling has undergone numerous changes over the years. The popularization of wrestling on television, and the evolution from sport to sports entertainment are two of its most important changes. Gorgeous George played a very important role in each. Because of his national prominence, he not only influenced numerous future wrestlers, but he influenced many other celebrities. Most notably, Muhammad Ali credited George as one of the biggest influences in his flamboyant style. Wrestling would not be wrestling were it not for the presence of people like Gorgeous George. ITSC is proud to induct him into its Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

UFC Does a 3.1

Wow! I totally didn't expect it to go that high. It will be very interesting to see if there is any residual effect from this on UFC, or if it just ends up being a peak rating for a particular fight. The story of people having more interest in a well promoted fight than false teases of nudity is all too easy.

Pillman DVD

I finally got the Brian Pillman DVD (well, DVDs) from WWE. I highly recommend it. It's actually one of my favorites that they have done. The documentary is really interesting with a lot of insight from some people (and not as much insight from others). The extras are fantastic as well, because most of the matches and vignettes aren't ones I've watched tons of times before (like the Bret Hart and Ric Flair sets, among others). Pillman's story is really extraordinary and improbable, and I'm very much looking forward to the Observer story on him as well.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

""ECW"" Report

Okay, so the women were in a studio, and they cut to them every 20 seconds. They had entire segments to themselves, and they would do split screens in the middle of the matches to show them. This was a complete distraction and made it impossible to concentrate on anything else. They did contrived discussion to plug the Marine, and laughed with dealer Balls Mahoney.

They didn’t actually play poker. Instead, they “played” high card. Well, that was the premise. Basically they just took off clothes to strip down to the same underwear we have seen them in a hundred times before. At the end, Candice and Maria tore off each other’s clothes and rolled around on the floor supposedly nude with their naughty parts blurred out while Balls banged the table and chanted ECW. The entire show was about this “strip poker.” The matches were just backdrop.

CM Punk beat Rene Dupree with knees from the clinch, a high knee, a bulldog, a power slam and the anaconda vise. Tommy Dreamer beat Kevin Thorn. He hit a suplex and sit down power bomb but missed an elbow off the second rope. Thorn hit a sit down power bomb, but Dreamer kicked out. Dreamer hit the DDT for the pin.

Sabu, Rob Van Dam and Sandman beat Big Show, Matt Striker and Test in a good match. Sabu and RVD got the best of Test early. RVD hit a springboard crossbody and spin kick, and Sabu & RVD did the rolling thunder combination. Big Show and Sandman came in, and Show overwhelmed Sandman with strikes. The heels worked over Sabu, until Sabu gave Striker an enzuigiri and tagged RVD. RVD came in with clotheslines, kicks, a monkey flip and a kick off the top on Striker. He went for the five star but Test came in. RVD kicked him and Sabu gave him Air Sabu. Sabu also knocked Show off the apron. RVD hit Striker with the five star in the ring and tagged Sandman. Sandman hit the Rolling Rock for the pin.

Final Thoughts:


UFC Thoughts

I didn't really care for tonight's special. I thought it was put together well and the fights were good enough I guess, but I just wasn't interested in what they were offering. I don't think much of Hamill, Grove or Herman, and they were given soft opponents to boot. Herman's loss was a bad one, and is going to really hurt his credibility continuing forward. I thought Hamill looked completely unready for television. He just isn't much of an MMA fighter yet. He was early UFC one dimensional. Grove looked good, but a fight with Rory Singer isn't going to get anyone excited. And Tito-Shamrock was pretty much predetermined. So the whole thing felt kind of pointless. I also thought Tito looked really bad. He was disrespectful towards Ken for no real reason, and then came across so phony when he "reconciled." So not a great fight night for me.

I'm looking forward to UFC 64. I like Rich Franklin over Anderson Silva. I think Silva's overrated by many, because many people have only seen his striking skills and forget his questionable takedown defense and ground game. He also naturally smaller than Franklin. He's a better technical striker than Franklin, but I think the matchup favors Franklin. I wish they weren't billing Kenny Florian vs. Sean Sherk as a Lightweight Title match. It just makes the title feel insignificant from the start. They should have allowed the division to sort itself out first. I'm not convinced these guys are among the top five LWs UFC has, and Florian might not be in the top ten. I like Sherk via GNP, but I wouldn't be shocked if Florian submitted him either. Spencer Fisher and Jon Fitch are the highlights on the undercard.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Raw Report

Date: 10/09/06 from Columbia, SC.

The Big News: Tito and Ken fight tomorrow on free TV. Also, Raw was three hours rather than two.

Title Changes/Turns: None.

Match Results: Umaga b Kane; Big Show b Jeff Hardy; Shawn Michaels & Triple H b Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch; Chris Benoit b Shelton Benjamin; Dave Batista, Bobby Lashley & Rey Mysterio b William Regal, Fit Finlay & Chavo Guerrero, Jr.; Melina b Torrie Wilson; King Booker b Rob Van Dam; Ric Flair b Mitch; John Cena NC Undertaker.

Show Analysis:

Raw had a cool new opening and theme song. It won’t make a difference, but it was a nice touch. All the announcers from the three brands were there, and they interacted and bickered with each other throughout the show. John Cena came out to start the show with a weird segment. He said Raw is as strong as ever, he is still the champ, and Edge is out of the picture. That brought out King Booker. Booker said Cena may be a champ, but Booker is the champion of champions. He pointed out that he made Cena kiss his feet, while Cena retorted that he came to Smackdown and beat Booker’s team. He said Booker has lost his mind, and this isn’t a Renaissance fair. Cena challenged Booker, but they were interrupted by the Big Show.

Big Show said that he is the champ of champs, and the most dominant giant in WWE history. Cena pointed out that Andre’s name is above his. Show said Andre is not here anymore, and if he was Show would kick Andre’s ass. Obviously, this was the opening tease of the Big Show vs. Hulk Hogan feud for WrestleMania XXIII. Show said that he is the most dominant champion of the three.

Show said that while Cena is in the Marine, he was in The Waterboy, and it did much bigger box office. Booker pointed out that Show was only in that for 40 seconds. Booker then pointed to his movie, Ready to Rumble. Cena and Show had a fake laugh together over this. Cena then randomly attacked Show, and Show cleared the ring. This was a fine segment, but it felt way too scripted and had way too much comedy for a showdown of champions. The material was better than usual WWE comedy, but it was a completely inappropriate way to start a main event feud that you want to draw money.

Paul Heyman, Jonathan Coachman and Teddy Long were arguing backstage. Heyman said that Show demonstrated his dominance because he is the best champion and cannot be defeated. Coach proposed Show vs. Jeff Hardy. Heyman said that would be fine if the other champions also wrestled. Heyman suggested Booker vs. Rob Van Dam. Teddy Long accepted. Coach then suggested Cena vs. Miz. Long declined and instead proposed Cena vs. Undertaker.

Umaga beat Kane in a loser leaves town match. They traded punches and clotheslines early. Umaga hit a head butt, but Kane threw him into the post. Kane went for a clothesline off the top, but was pushed to the floor. Umaga hit a Samoan drop. He went for the butt drop but was caught by the throat. He escaped with a belly to belly. Kane sat up and hit a series of punches. Umaga hit the downward spiral, a leg drop, and a splash off the top. Umaga went for the Samoan spike, but Kane blocked it and went for the choke slam. Umaga got out, but Kane hit a side slam and clothesline off the top. Armando interfered, and that gave Umaga the opportunity to hit the Samoan spike for the pin. There were light chants for Kane after the match. This was better than expected.

They introduced Steve Spurrier to the crowd. He got a good ovation, so apparently there aren’t many Redskins fans in South Carolina. You did a great job for us, Steve. Tell Danny Wuerffel I said hi. That fun and gun sure worked out. But hey, we’ll always have that great preseason opener against the 49ers. Kane was leaving the building when he was approached by the Highlanders. They said he put his heart and soul into everything he did on Raw, so they were honored to be on the same show with him. He laid out those jobbers in no time flat and left.

Next up was the DX press conference. This was a takeoff of skits they were doing literally almost ten years ago. Shawn Michaels apologized to the tag team division for decimating them. HHH then pointed out there wasn’t really a tag division anyway. Shawn apologized to the Spirit Squad, but HHH said they couldn’t look any more like fairies anyway. Shawn apologized to Edge for costing him the title, but HHH said Edge wouldn’t have won the title anyway.

Shawn apologized to beating Cade and Murdoch within an inch of their lives, but HHH pointed out that hadn’t happened yet. HHH observed that they were on live television, and they nervously acted like they didn’t know what to do. Finally they composed themselves and plugged merchandise. The comedy was lame, sooner or later people are going to turn on DX as tragically uncool, and they buried everyone on the roster again. I am very afraid of an Edge vs. DX feud.

Big Show beat Jeff Hardy. Show hit a chop, stepped on Hardy’s throat, gave him a clothesline, and hit a body slam. He missed a Vader style corner splash. Hardy hit a drop kick to the leg and went for the twist of fate. Show threw him to the floor instead, but Hardy came right back in. He hit the whisper in the wind and the swanton, but Show kicked out authoritatively. Show then hit the cobra clutch back breaker and show stopper for the pin. Nitro came in afterwards and attacked Hardy. Show came back in, gave him the cobra clutch back breaker, and tossed him aside like a piece of garbage. They might as well just disband the Intercontinental Title for all it means after this segment.

DX beat Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch in a street fight. Prior to the match, since they were at the home of the Gamecocks, they showed Cocky, the team mascot. They then told about 45 minutes of cock jokes. This humor must work for some people, because there was some reaction from the crowd. I guess I’m the only one who found it lame towards the end of junior high. This match was basically a brawl. HHH hit a face buster and clothesline to the outside on Cade. He slammed Murdoch and Michaels was going for the elbow off the top, but Cade pushed Michaels off the top rope.

Murdoch and Cade threw HHH into the steps. Murdoch and Cade gave Michaels the inverted atomic drop/yakuza kick combination. Murdoch whipped Michaels with a belt and Cade hit him with a boot. HHH pulled down the ropes when Cade was bouncing off, and gave him a suplex on the ramp. HHH hit Cade with a hard chair shot to the head and Cade bladed. Michaels back dropped Murdoch to the floor.

Michaels hit an elbow off the top rope, sending Murdoch through a table on the floor. Michaels then gave Cade sweet chin music in the ring and HHH hit the pedigree for the pin. Edge was interviewed backstage about DX “arguably” costing him the title. Edge said there was no arguing about it. Edge said he would have a special guest on the Cutting Edge and questions would be answered.

Chris Benoit beat Shelton Benjamin. Since Benjamin is announced from South Carolina, of course he had to turn on the crowd and lose. He was cheered coming out, but turned on South Carolina. The crowd didn’t react by booing. They just stopped responding to him. He challenged anyone in the back, so Benoit came out. He hit chops, a snap suplex, clothesline, and rolling Germans.

Benoit missed the head butt off the top and Benjamin hit the Stinger Splash. Benjamin went for the T-Bone but Benoit escaped into the crossface and Benjamin tapped. This was a good short match, but I don’t get why people always have to lose in their own hometowns. Booking them strong in their hometowns is such an easy way to make wrestlers feel like stars. Look at Sylvan in Montreal. He’s Sylvan, for Christ’s sake.

Backstage, Long and Heyman had a conversation. Long said Benoit’s win was reflective of Smackdown’s strength. Heyman said that Benoit is still ECW, and he’s just on loan to Smackdown. They really should bring Benoit to ECW. They badly need some depth at the top of the cards there, and Benoit would fit in perfectly. He also would mean more than he would on Smackdown. This led to another lame comedy segment with Super Crazy. Basically they asked him a bunch of questions and he said “si.” He then talked about how all three shows are great in English. This surprised Long, who didn’t know he spoke English.

Batista, Lashley and Rey Mysterio beat William Regal, Finlay and Chavo Guerrero. Chavo and Rey started. Rey hit a huracanrana over the top rope on Chavo and a double huracanrana off the top on Finlay and Regal. The heels eventually caught Rey and worked him over three on one. He was worked on for most of the rest of the match until he tagged Batista. Batista came in with punches and clotheslines. He slammed Finlay onto Regal. He hit a jackhammer on Chavo, but Finlay and Regal broke up the pin. Lashley speared them out of the ring. Rey tagged in, and hit a huracanrana off the top and 619 on Chavo. Batista gave Chavo the spine buster and Rey hit a frog splash for the pin. This was another pretty good match, although nothing special.

Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young were introduced to the crowd. Booker backstage said that this was an important evening because he was a commoner on Raw and now he is king and champion. He said he needs to prove himself. Melina beat Torrie in a lumberjack match in the women’s title tournament. The other women were out there to plug the strip poker tomorrow. Kristal tripped Torrie coming off the ropes, and Melina grabbed her tights for the pin. After the match the other women threw Kristal into the ring and Torrie gave her the stink face.

King Booker beat Rob Van Dam with the scissors kick. The story of this match was the announcers. Tazz and JBL got into such an argument I literally stopped watching the match so I could transcribe all the shots they were taking at each other. This started earlier, as JBL started the first segment by telling Tazz, “shut up, midget.” JBL also laid into Jim Ross in another segment, making fun of his speech, look, and football references.

Here, Tazz said that JBL was only announcing Smackdown because Tazz didn’t want the spot. JBL said Tazz is only an announcer because he couldn’t cut it as a wrestler. Tazz said he couldn’t wrestle because he wasn’t tall enough and that matters in WWE. Tazz told JBL to stop trying to get himself over and call the match instead. They argued about their wrestling careers, with JBL making the Bingo Hall and Madison Square Garden references. This was interesting, if nothing else.

Cryme Tyme is coming next week. Backstage, Mitch said that he sucks, but he will beat Ric Flair because he’s got lots of help and Flair doesn’t. Really, that was his interview. Heyman, Coach and Long argued backstage. Vince McMahon came in. They all tried to posture for his attention. They all said their champion is the best, so Vince suggested a triple threat match between the champions at Cyber Sunday.

Ric Flair beat Mitch. Of course in wrestling, when you say something like your opponent has no friends, bad things are going to happen. Prior to the match, Flair brought out Roddy Piper, Money Inc. (Ted DiBiase and Mike “I.R.S.” Rotunda) and Arn Anderson. They led the Spirit Squad away from the ring. Flair gave Mitch a few chops and applied the figure four for the win. This was fun, although Anderson got less of a reaction than I would have expected. That signals that the old NWA/WCW audience has pretty much tuned out WWE, even in Horsemen country.

Next came the highlight of the show. Edge introduced Randy Orton on the Cutting Edge. Edge said Orton had a spark when he started but now he’s just garbage. Fell from top ten to not mentioned at all, to Batista’s stardom is greater than yours. Orton angrily told him to get to the point. Edge said all Orton’s problems can be traced to one point: when HHH turned on Orton. Edge said that HHH’s selfishness cut off all his momentum.

Edge then pointed out what DX did to Edge last week. He said that DX thinks they are jokes, so they need to take a stand. Edge said he called Orton out to take that stand. He said they should own the show and join together. They can beat DX and take back their careers. Orton said DX won’t run the show any more, and shook hands with Edge. Edge was great here, and the story of the bad guys joining together really worked.

John Cena and Undertaker battled to a no contest. There wasn’t much to the match. Cena hit the Cena slam and went for the five knuckle shuffle, but Undertaker grabbed him by the throat. Cena escaped the choke slam and went for the FU, but Undertaker escaped. Undertaker finally hit the choke slam but Booker and Show ran in and attacked both men. Mr. Kennedy came out as an excuse to get Undertaker to the back. That left Cena, Show and Booker in the ring. Show attacked Booker. Cena put Show in the STFU and hit the FU on Booker to end the show.

Final Thoughts:

I was entertained by the show. It didn’t drag even though it lasted three hours. Still, it was really flawed as far as the way it was constructed and presented. There was very little that made me want to see specific matches, and that’s the whole point of pro wrestling. The matches they are promoting were built all wrong. Worse, they buried tons of people again and protected mainly people who don’t need protection.

The glowing exception to these problems was the Randy Orton/Edge segment. That was exactly what professional wrestling should be. It wasn’t cute and it didn’t feel scripted. You had two people with very clear motivations. You know exactly who they don’t like, and you know the specific reasons why. There are important stakes for all wrestlers involved, and clear goals are laid out. Most of all, the story being told makes sense and has a strong element of truth. If they continue that type of build, it will feel very important when the two sides meet. Segments like that are just classic, logical professional wrestling. They should be the rule, not the exception.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Verne Gagne

I forgot I had a few of these left, so I'll run the last ones in the next week and a half. Giant Baba and Gorgeous George still haven't been run.

With WWE currently the only major pro wrestling promotion in the country, newer fans have forgotten that this was not always so. Now only was there the NWA, which later became WCW. There were three top American wrestling promotions. The third was the AWA, and no one was more important to the AWA than today’s inductee to the Inside the Squared Circle Hall of Fame, Verne Gagne.

Verne Gagne was born in Minnesota in 1926. Minnesota remains a wrestling hotbed to this day, and numerous professional wrestlers came from Minnesota. Gagne was very important in this. He excelled in athletics at a young age, and became a wrestling and football star. He competed in both at the University of Minnesota, which was a wrestling powerhouse at the time. He was NCAA wrestling champion in 1948 and 1948, and wrestled at the 1948 Olympics. He briefly played professional football before debuting as a professional wrestler in 1949. He was a smaller man, but he eventually would become a top star. His celebrated past as an amateur wrestler gave him credibility with wrestling fans, and he was promoted as a big deal from early on.

Verne Gagne became NWA Junior Heavyweight Champion early in his career, and in the early 50s he was a beneficiary of national television exposure. He became a well drawing star, and gained a reputation as an excellent scientific wrestler. His top moves were the dropkick and the sleeper hold. He was particularly successful in his Midwest home base, where his conservative look and style connected him with the fans.

Gagne’s career took off with the creation of the AWA in 1960. That promotion quickly established itself as a major national power, and Gagne was one of its first champions in 1960. He would hold the title on ten separate occasions, and his last title run would come over 20 years later in 1981. His longest run with the title would last from August 31, 1968 to November 8, 1975, an incredible seven year run. He won the AWA Title from such greats as Gene Kiniski, the Crusher, Fritz Von Erich, Mad Dog Vachon, Dick Beyer and Nick Bockwinkel. He had legendary feuds with all the biggest names of the period, such as Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson, Harley Race and Superstar Billy Graham. He retired with the title.

Gagne was not only a great wrestler, but a very successful promoter with the AWA in the 60s and 70s. He owned the company and put together the product. He also was the trainer for the promotion, and trained the likes of Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Bob Backlund, Sgt. Slaughter and Curt Hennig. A lot of the reason Gagne is not as well remembered by current fans is what became of the AWA in the 1980s. It died a slow death, as Gagne the promoter was no longer able to connect with the people. He went with a very traditional good guy-bad guy formula that had become stale. The WWF raided most of the AWA’s top stars for its national expansion, including Hulk Hogan. AWA was left with few major stars, and it existed in its final years as a shell of its former self. Verne Gagne is still involved in amateur wrestling, but he does not like what has happened to pro wrestling.

Verne Gagne was not flashy or spectacular, and that was the way he wanted it. Gagne was an excellent wrestler. He brought credibility to wrestling and was a major star in it for four decades. He was the AWA. He was its owner, promoter, top star and trainer. Few wrestlers have been so important to a promotion. Gagne is a great reminder of a bygone period in professional wrestling, and is remembered well as a fine representative of professional wrestling.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Marine

The Marine approaches. I'm predicting this is going to bomb. See No Evil I figured would do okay, because they didn't market it like a wrestling movie and there is a built-in horror movie audience. There have been some pretty awful horror movies with no stars that did good business just because the previews made people interested. By contrast, with an action movie you can't just advertise an action movie and expect box office. Action movies are star driven and spectacle driven. Cena isn't a star to the mass public, and it's too low budget to be a spectacle. As a result, the only people going to see this are going to be Cena fans, and they frequently aren't numerous enough to make a difference in wrestling arenas, let alone at the box office. I think The Marine will draw less than $10M in its entire theatrical run. Maybe closer to $8M when all is said and done.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"ECW" Report

Oh My God!: Test defeated Rob Van Dam in a tremendous main event.

You Fucked Up: The excessive hype for strip poker once again demonstrates the disconnect between Vince McMahon and wrestling fans in 2006.

He’s Hardcore: Rob Van Dam has found his niche again, and is on a tremendous roll.The

Extreme Rundown:

The show began with Paul Heyman meeting with Hardcore Holly. They showed clips from Holly’s match last week with Rob Van Dam, and Heyman put him over big time. It almost became overkill with Heyman claiming that Holly almost died. Holly got in Heyman’s face and demanded a rematch with RVD on the show. Heyman said this would cause insurance problems, and he could find himself sued.

Holly grabbed Heyman and said that if he didn’t get RVD, he would give Heyman something to sue about. Holly was then suddenly taken out from behind with a chair by Test. Heyman said that RVD would wrestle Test, not Holly, on the show. This was a strong start to the show. Holly appears to be a face already, and I like the potential of him in this setting.

1. Big Show and Matt Striker beat Sabu and Sandman. The heels worked over Sabu for most of the early part of the match. Show hit a clothesline, head butt, vertical suplex, and stepped on Sabu. Striker hit a baseball slide low blow and running kick. Sabu hit a spinning heel kick and made the tag to Sandman. Sandman finally got Striker, and hit him with punches.

This didn’t get much of a reaction even after weeks of building to this point, which is not a good sign. I just don’t see anything in Striker, and Sandman means little in 2006, particularly without his music. Sandman hit a top rope Heinekenrana, and the match broke out into a brawl. Show stopped a Sandman white Russian leg sweep attempt on Striker, and splashed Sandman. Striker covered Sandman for the pin. This was an effective opener.

They plugged strip poker next week, which is such a lame attempt to counter UFC. UFC draws young men, not teenage boys. Young men long ago figured out ways to spot false teases of nudity. They had the Raw, Smackdown and ECW women all talk about the show. Tazz did get a good line in. After Kelly exposed her boobs covered only by a pair of aces, Tazz said he had a straight.

2. Kevin Thorn beat Tommy Dreamer. Thorn hit elbow drops, an avalanche into the corner and a stomach breaker. Dreamer came back with punches and a swinging neck breaker. He went for a DDT, but Thorn grabbed the ropes. Dreamer then did hit the DDT, but the referee said Thorn’s arm was barely under the ropes. Thorn then hit Dreamer with his staff and scored the pin. This match wasn’t much.

3. CM Punk beat Danny Doring. Punk hit a double underhook into a back breaker. He followed that with muay thai knees, a high knee and a bulldog. Next came slaps, a spinning back fist, and a high kick. Finally he finished Doring with the uranage and anaconda vise. Kelly Kelly after the match congratulated Punk and started to strip for him. Mike Knox of course interrupted, and told Punk to stay away from Kelly. Punk said the problem is Kelly staying away from him.

Knox came to the ring to tease confrontation and Punk was ready, but Knox decided to leave instead. The Punk push is so refreshing. They just have him go out there and win matches to establish that he’s good. They rarely ever do that anymore, except with “monster” characters like Umaga, and pushes in those circumstances are less effective because the monster loses so much more once he loses.

It’s nice to see them just a guy go out there and win matches. Kelly after the match congratulated Punk and started to strip for him. Knox of course interrupted and said he’s sick of this and told him to stay away from his girl. Punk said the problem is his girl staying away from him. Knox came to ring and Punk was ready but Knox changed his mind.

4. Test beat Rob Van Dam in an extreme rules match. Rob Van Dam was sent into the steps early, and missed his corkscrew leg drop onto the barricade. Test went to hit RVD in the head with the steps but missed. RVD then hit rolling thunder on the steps. Test came back with a big clothesline and kicked a chair into RVD’s head. RVD threw a chair into Test’s head in response. He went to send Test through a table but Test stopped him with a punch.

Test went for a suplex off the apron through a table, but RVD blocked. RVD then hit a sunset flip into a power bomb that sent Test off the apron through the table. Paul Heyman came to ringside, and the riot squad jumped RVD. They hit him repeatedly with a nightstick. Test threw RVD into a chair, but RVD kicked out of the pin attempt. Test threw a chair at him again, and again RVD kicked out.

RVD came back with a series of kicks culminating with a kick that sent a chair into Test’s head. Test recovered and hit an incredible spot where he came off the top with one chair and drove that chair into another chair that was on RVD. It looked like he killed RVD. RVD still kicked out. Test went for a power bomb through a table, but RVD rolled down his back for a near fall. RVD then hit a kick off the top rope. He drop kicked the riot squad off the apron and took them out with a pescado. He went for the five star off the top through a table, but Show pushed him off the top rope. Test then hit the TKO for the pin.

This was a fantastic match. This was easily the best ECW TV show match. It was much better than last week’s strong Holly-RVD match because it had a better first half, and I didn’t think Show-Flair from earlier was even a good match, let alone a standout match. Both men looked excellent, and this will help both. RVD in particular looked like a real star again.

Please Don’t Go:

This show was not just competently put together or inoffensive. It was downright excellent, from beginning to end. ECW right now is so much better booked than Raw or Smackdown. It’s not always a better show because it has inferior talent, but it’s in a different league as far as utilizing talent to the best of their abilities. It also is starting to actually feel like ECW again, which was not the case at least for me for a long while. This was a fun show with very good wrestling and very good storytelling. Rob Van Dam in main events is so much more fun than Big Show in main events. It’s easy to understand where the “whole fucking show” catch phrase came from with performances like these.