Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Peyton Manning

I've been hearing and reading a lot about Peyton Manning, and how it's a shame the defense is so bad and is letting him and the offense down. And yeah, the defense is bad. But to not draw the connection between the defense being bad and the offense being good is just silly. With the NFL salary cap, teams can't splurge on every position. The Colts have decided to spend obscene amounts of money to keep Peyton Manning and his favorite targets. And that is such a large amount of money that it makes it very hard to build a quality defense. So yeah, Peyton is carrying the team. But he has to since all the resources are going to him. And it's hard to feel sorry for him given he doesn't need that money. I haven't seen figures recently, but I can't imagine he's making more for playing football than for doing endorsements given how many endorsements he does. He's set for life even if he has a career ending injury next week. So if he really cares that much about winning, he could easily have signed for less than the richest contract in NFL history. That money would go to players that would help the team, and he wouldn't have to do so much heavy lifting. I wouldn't normally suggest a player take less money in the NFL, because without guaranteed contracts players are at the mercy of owners and are justified in trying to get everything they can get before they get kicked to the curb. But Peyton with his endorsements and extremely high contract is a unique case and it's hard to find much sympathy for his plight.

ROH Thoughts

I decided against a full report due to not having that much time, there already being a bunch of reports out there, and Dave getting down the key points from the show here. That said, here are some random thoughts.

I thought the show was good, like all ROH shows. I don't think it was a blow-away show, but it's kind of hard with the standard ROH has set this year. I thought the 6 man might end up being a style clash, but boy was I wrong. That was probably the best match of the show, with Aries and CIMA standing out particularly. Pearce-Reyes was probably the worst, but it was short and completely inoffensive.

I'm not sold on the Jimmy Rave push. He does have heat, but I'm not sure it's the right kind of heat. Even when he has a good match, and the McGuinness match built into a good match for sure, he feels more like he's executing moves than fighting with another guy. I wouldn't be grooming him for a major push, but maybe I'm missing something there.

Brent Albright delivers power moves really well. He fits in great in ROH because he's big enough relative to the ROH guys that he looks like a monster and can work that sort of style that fits him. I think pairing him with Jacobs works really well.

Briscoes vs. Claudio and Hero started off slowly, but it really picked up as the match went along with all sorts of crazy double team moves. Definitely one of the better matches on the show, and it will be interesting to see where they go with Hero from here. Obviously they want to keep him as a heel, but he is good in either role.

Homicide-Danielson was a good match but a bit of a letdown. Still, the celebration afterwards really made the title change. The title has been built up to feel important and it does. With Homicide celebrating with Joe in the ring after the match, it would appear Joe vs. Homicide will be a big feud in the latter part of the year, but I'm not sure who turns if they do that.

I'll probably look like an idiot saying this, but I didn't know Hammerstein Ballroom and the Manhattan Center are in the same building. We walked up and opened the door and saw the abandoned Hammerstein Ballroom, and then kept walking up to the Manhattan Center room, which was essentially above it. I'm kind of amused by the idea of two groups running at the same time, and fans running back and forth in a sort of live version of the Monday night wars.

Monday, December 25, 2006

WWE Raw Report

The Big News: WWE presented its annual Tribute to the Troops, with straight matches and clean finishes.

Title Changes/Turns: None.

Conclusive Finishes: 6 of 6. Winning with a handful of tights is close enough.

Match Results: John Cena b Edge; CM Punk b Shelton Benjamin, Undertaker b Johnny Nitro; Bobby Lashley b Hardcore Holly; Umaga b Jeff Hardy, Carlito Caribbean Cool b Randy Orton.

Show Analysis:

John Cena beat Edge. Edge hit a DDT, punches and a baseball slide. Edge brought in a chair but the referee took it awway. Edge hit an elbow drop and applied the camel clutch but Cena powered out. They traded punches, and Cena hit shoulder blocks, the Cena slam and the five knuckle shuffle. He went for the FU but Edge escaped and hit an implant DDT. He followed that up with the electric chair, but missed the spear. Cena hit the FU for the pin. This was probably the best of the matches.

CM Punk beat Shelton Benjamin in a short match. Benjamin teased leaving but Punk brought him back. Benjamin sent Punk into the post and went after his shoulder. Punk came back with knees and a bulldog. Benjamin turned the tide with a superplex, but missed the Stinger Splash and Punk rolled him up for the pin.

Undertaker beat Johnny Nitro. Nitro dodged around early but Undertaker caught him with punches and the rope walk. He went for the Last Ride, but Melina distracted him and Nitro hit an enzuigiri and drop kick. Undertaker hit a hard clothesline, yakuza kick, choke slam and tombstone.

Lashley beat Hardcore Holly. Lashley started with a press slam, shoulder block, snap suplex and delayed vertical suplex. Holly threw Lashley into the steps and hit punches. Lashley then used a belly to belly and torture rack back breaker. Holly went for the Alabama slam, but Lashley avoided that and hit a running power slam for the pin.

Umaga beat Jeff Hardy. Jeff hit a drop kick and baseball slide, but he was caught going for the pescado. Umaga rammed him into the post and hit a leg drop, but he missed a splash off the top. Hardy responded with clotheslines, the whisper in the wind, and the twist of fate. He went for the swanton but Umaga got up his knees. Umaga finished Hardy with the running butt drop and the Samoan spike.

Carlito beat Randy Orton. Orton went to the eye, hit a drop kick, used the Garvin stomp, and applied a spinning side slam. Carlito answered with a knee lift, clothesline and springboard elbow. Orton hit the back breaker. Carlito attempted a back cracker but Orton escaped and tried to pin Carlito with his feet on the ropes. The ref caught him, but didn’t catch Carlito using a handful of tights seconds later for the pin.

JBL came out as Santa with the divas, and they gave out gifts. Chris Masters came out and said he hates Christmas and doesn’t believe in Santa. He challenged Santa to the Masterlock challenge and won. He then challenged the troops, and picked out a small guy. JBL came back in and kicked Masters, breaking the hold. They announced that the soldier was the first to break the Masterlock.

Final Thoughts:

When WWE started Tribute to the Troops, I was somewhat leery of it both because of the politics WWE infused into it and because I was suspicious of the motivations of the company. But my initial suspicions were unfounded. The event has turned into a valuable and classy endeavor providing smiles to people who deserve them.

I hope everyone had a pleasant holiday.

Friday, December 22, 2006

TNA & Russo

If you want to voice your displeasure with Vince Russo as TNA booker, here is a way.

"I am starting a petition to try to remove TNA Booker, Vince Russo from his current spot as booker. So I am encouraging anyone to join and sign their name by e-mail or comment section to help him get removed. Would you be willing to post, a plug or something to help me out in this situation to get the word out about this site? I know if you are like me, then you will agree that Vince Russo is not helping TNA by burning through angles, illogical booking and needs to go. So please help me in my quest to make TNA better without Vince Russo. Thank you for your time.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wrestling Observer Awards 2006 Ballot

Lou Thesz/Ric Flair Award (Wrestler of the Year)
1. Mistico2. Edge3. Bryan Danielson

Mistico carried his promotion to a strong year, which is my traditional definition for this award. Edge and Danielson carried their promotions, but WWE and ROH didn’t have a particularly strong year. John Cena and Perro Aguayo, Jr. were also central to their promotions’ success and merit consideration.

Most Outstanding Wrestler
1. Bryan Danielson2. KENTA3. Samoa Joe

Danielson was the best wrestler this year as far as consistently putting on great matches, and KENTA wasn’t far off. Joe wasn’t as prolific this year but had another strong year as well.

Best Box Office Draw
1. Matt Hughes2. Tito Ortiz3. Mistico

If the current estimates for Hughes vs. B.J. Penn are accurate, Hughes had an amazing year at the box office. Even if they aren’t, he did a huge buy rate against Royce Gracie and surely his fight with Georges St. Pierre also did very well. Ortiz did big buy rates against Ken Shamrock and Forrest Griffin, and a big TV rating as well. If his fight with Chuck Liddell fell in the voting period, he would win. Mistico helped CMLL to a tremendous year at the box office.

Feud of the Year
1. John Cena vs. Edge2. Ric Flair vs. Mick Foley3. Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock

All three of these feuds are pretty similar: great talking and believable hatred, with not the greatest results in the ring. I like a good story told through a feud, and all three of these had that in spades. Edge vs. Cena was a success on every level, and even led to some great matches later in the year. It elevated both men. Watching Foley and Flair go back and forth was a real pleasure. Ortiz and Shamrock sold their fights well and helped UFC have its best year ever.

Tag Team of the Year
1. Mark and Jay Briscoe2. Latin American Xchange3. Super Dragon and Davey Richards

The Briscoes had great matches with a tremendous variety of teams in 2006, and were the best in ring tag team in the world. LAX was TNA’s hottest act and produced great matches as well as great angles and interviews. Dragon and Richards had a really good run in PWG.

Most Improved
1. Jay Briscoe2. Mark Briscoe3. Edge

I remember finding the Briscoes to be good dating back many years, but watching them this year was a revelation. They have gotten so good and really taken their games up another level. Edge was the recipient of a bigger push this year, but he made that push through his own improved performance. His improvement came with a push, but I don’t think the improvement was a mirage. Johnny Nitro tries really hard and has improved a lot as well I think.

Best on Interviews
1. John Cena2. Mick Foley3. Konnan

This is quite the competition, with some great talkers missing the list. Cena is phenomenal on the mic, and is able to excite the crowd with just about any material. Foley had another really strong year in feuds with Edge and Ric Flair. He might even have won if he were around all year and given as much time as Cena. Konnan is just as good as the other two, even without as much focus on him.

Most Charismatic
1. John Cena2. Edge3. Tito Ortiz

Cena has the most off the charts charisma. I’ve been watching Edge for years, and when I saw him live this year it was striking just how much charisma he now magnifies. Tito Ortiz also has great charisma and gets a big reaction just by appearing at an event.

Best Technical Wrestler
1. Bryan Danielson2. Roderick Strong3. KENTA

Danielson runs away with the award, and I’m not sure where to go from there. Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit are probably the two best technical wrestlers in the United States, but both were inactive for significant periods this year.

Bruiser Brody Memorial Award (Best Brawler)
1. Finlay2. Homicide3. Samoa Joe

Finlay is such a pleasure to watch, and I’m glad WWE gave him a decent sized push this year. He is great at having believable brawls, even with greater limitations than guys in other promotions. Homicide and Joe are also great brawlers, although I didn’t think Joe had as good of a year this year as he did last. Chris Benoit always merits consideration, but he was out for too long this year.

Best Flying Wrestler
1. Jack Evans2. A.J. Styles3. Matt Sydal

Evans has been the most spectacular flyer for years, and he has learned to integrate spectacular moves into great matches better than in previous years. Styles continues to be incredible smooth in his flying, and Matt Sydal has the same attribute.

Most Overrated
1. Vince McMahon2. Batista3. Jeff Jarrett

Vince McMahon did nothing to justify his massive self-push, producing bad angles and bad matches. Batista continues to be pushed based on his physique and he gets good pops, but he brings little to the table. Jarrett wasn’t as overpushed this year as in some past years, but featuring him in title match main events continued to be a deterrent to getting more fans into TNA.

Most Underrated
1. Shelton Benjamin2. William Regal3. El Generico

WWE has buried Benjamin for so long that they have convinced even many of Benjamin’s previous supporters that he isn’t that good. I’m still unconvinced. Benjamin has too much ability and potential to be a lower card nobody. Regal continues to be slotted really low on the card, but he always outperforms expectations when given the opportunity. People don’t even know who Generico is, and he is so good. He doesn’t even get much of a push on the independents.

Promotion of the Year
1. Ultimate Fighting Championship2. Ring of Honor3. CMLL

UFC wins this easily, combining great shows with tremendous business success. ROH put on great shows in its own right, without the phenomenal business. CMLL had a great business year as well promoting traditional pro wrestling.

Best Weekly TV Show
1. Ultimate Fighter Season 32. Pro Wrestling NOAH3. CMLL

The Ortiz-Shamrock dynamic made Ultimate Fighter 3 a great show to watch. As far as presenting good wrestling matches, CMLL and NOAH were the best.

Shootfighter of the Year
1. Georges St. Pierre2. Mirko Cro Cop3. Matt Hughes

St. Pierre’s win over Matt Hughes was the most impressive MMA performance of the year, and he added a victory over B.J. Penn as well. Cro Cop looked absolutely dominant in winning the Pride Grand Prix, and I suspect he will win this category over St. Pierre. It’s really close. Hughes had a great year in his own right and would be first if he had defeated St. Pierre.

Worked Match of the Year
1. KENTA vs. Naomichi Marufuji 10/292. Samoa Joe & B.J. Whitmer & Adam Pearce vs. Super Dragon & Chris Hero & Necro Butcher 4/223. Davey Richards & Super Dragon vs. Jack Evans & Roderick Strong 3/4

I just watched KENTA-Marufuji, and I hope I’m not overrating it, but that was an amazing match. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the ROH-CZW six man, and Richards/Dragon-Evans/Strong was another really fun match.

Shoot Match of the Year
1. Matt Hughes vs. B.J. Penn 9/232. Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin 4/153. Matt Wiman vs. Spencer Fisher 5/27

Hughes-Penn is my favorite type of MMA fight. One guy establishes his dominance over the other and looks to have the fight handily in control. Then the other guy is able to exploit a weakness in the other man and pull out a totally unexpected victory. In the past we’ve seen the weakness come in the standup game or submissions. In this case, it was stamina. Ortiz-Griffin was an incredible spectacle live, a back and forth hard fought war. Wiman-Fisher was another close, exciting fight with a spectacular finish.

Rookie of the Year

I just haven’t seen enough of most of the candidates this year.

Best Non-Wrestler
1. Konnan2. Jim Cornette3. Armando Alejandro Estrada

Konnan wins this easily. He is so good on the mic and they put him in an act that can get over again this year. Cornette is also a pretty clear second for me, as he is very strong on the mic even if he didn’t have as much to work with as far as material as Konnan. Third is tough. Armando gets my vote even though he hasn’t been given as many opportunities as he could be. I miss Prince Nana, I love Julius Smokes, and I think Kevin Federline also deserves credit.

Best Television Announcer
1. Jim Ross2. Mauro Ranallo3. Jerry Lawler

Ross had a really strong year. Perhaps the realization that Vince McMahon might get rid of him at any time for no reason loosened him up, but he feels more motivated to do a good job than he has in a while. Ranallo has improved a lot the past few years, and it’s really a shame he has parted ways with Pride. Lawler had deteriorated in recent years, but I think he really improved this year and he’s a lot of fun to listen to again. I was torn on whether to list JBL here. He’s entertaining as hell, but he also does damage to a lot of people in the process. He narrowly misses for me.

Worst Television Announcer
1. Jonathan Coachman2. Todd Grisham3. Joey Styles

Coachman and Grisham are both unbearable. Styles is a good announcer but WWE did a number on him this year and he was bad more often than not. I don’t expect he’ll get many votes here, but I thought he clearly had a worse year than Michael Cole.

Best Major Wrestling Show
1. Pride Real Deal 10/212. UFC 65 11/183. UFC 59 4/15

Pride’s spectacular US debut was easily the pro wrestling/MMA highlight of the year for me. The fights weren’t as strong as most UFC shows, but the production and feel of an event I’ve watched on DVD and PPV for years finally coming live was incredible. UFC 65 and 59 were both great cards featuring electric main event atmospheres and strong undercards. It really was a strong year as far as great shows. Pride Final Conflict, PWG Battle of Los Angeles, WrestleMania, and a number of ROH shows also deserve mention.

Worst Major Show of the Year
WWE Royal Rumble 1/29

I don’t know if I would consider WWE’s B shows to be major shows any more. The Rumble still is, and it was a major disappointment.

Best Wrestling Maneuver
KENTA Go to Sleep

This wins narrowly over Homicide’s Cop Killa for me.

Most Disgusting Promotional Tactic
WWE exploits and exploits and exploits and exploits Eddie Guerrero’s death

There aren’t as many contenders this year as there usually are, which is good. Unfortunately, the winner may very well be the most disgusting promotional tactic in Observer Awards history.

Worst Television Show

WWE puts the most resources into Raw, but the result is the most insulting and least enjoyable wrestling shows of the year. I’m not suggesting that is the rule. My point is that the worst of the worst are usually Raw shows, even if there are also good, bad and average editions of the show. On average there may be worse shows, but Raw wins for the most infuriating lows.

Worst Match of the Year
11/19 Sting vs. Abyss

Luckily I’ve developed a tremendous ability to block bad matches out of my head, so I don’t remember many matches that were truly awful. This match was an insulting disaster as far as the way it was put together and the booking, so I’ll give it the nod.

Worst Feud of the Year
DX vs. McMahons

This feud presented bad matches, bad angles, and indirectly buried tons of people.

Worst Promotion
World Wrestling Entertainment

It was another insulting, destructive, nepotistic disaster of a year for WWE.

Best Booker
Gabe Sapolsky

The booking of almost every worldwide wrestling promotion was bad. The booking of ROH was good. ROH wins.

Promoter of the Year
Dana White

This is the easiest selection of the entire ballot. 2006 belonged to Dana White. UFC’s rapid ascent was truly remarkable. Antonio Pena and Paco Alonso also had great years. As an aside, this isn’t an appropriate category to celebrate ROH. The promoter of the year should have great business success promoting the product, and ROH just didn’t have ambition comparable to the major contenders for this award.

Best Gimmick

LAX was probably TNA’s greatest creative success in 2006. It was carried by the perpetually undervalued Konnan, and was a fun gimmick that elevated everyone involved.

Worst Gimmick
D-Generation X

It was the best gimmick in wrestling almost ten years ago, but now it’s two 40 year old men acting like teenagers and some of the lamest jokes you’re ever going to witness. Dishonorable mentions to Faux Kane, Crossdressing Vito and Voodoo Kin Mafia.

Best Pro Wrestling Book
Tangled Ropes by Superstar Billy Graham

Of the major releases this year, I read the books by Shawn Michaels, Eddie Guerrero, Billy Graham, Bill Watts, and the two major American ECW books. Graham’s book is the most deep, touching and informative of the year, and is one of the better books of the past few years. If I had to rank three picks, the Watts book would come in second place and the Guerrero book in third.

Best Pro Wrestling DVD
The American Dream: The Dusty Rhodes Story

This was a really fun nostalgic ride, with lots of great promos and some good matches as well. The BS meter was also lower than on some of the other major releases. The Bret Hart and Brian Pillman DVDs also deserve mention.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

UFC: 2006 Review and 2007 Preview

Few entertainment companies of any kind had as successful a year as the Ultimate Fighting Championship. A company with great longstanding growth potential, UFC finally exploded in 2006. When all is said in done, it may have ended up breaking its all time buy rate record on five separate occasions in one year. UFC pay-per-views have become a box office bonanza, and UFC has cultivated a stable of box office draws. The question for a lot of people this year has been whether UFC is a fad, and whether UFC can sustain itself in 2007. I believe that not only can UFC sustain its 2006 success, but that with the right moves it can fact still grow significantly.

The first regular column I wrote for the Observer site ran almost exactly four years ago, and it was on the UFC. At the time UFC was coming off Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock I, and a lot of people were calling for UFC to utilize more pro wrestling marketing techniques to build its product. My argument was that there were things UFC could learn from pro wrestling, but also that UFC should be careful in doing so because MMA was the product with the greater business potential.
My underlying message then is my underlying message now. UFC needs to have ultimate confidence in itself, because there is no greater sport and UFC has the inside track on presenting it in North America. The challenge for Zuffa then was against using short term techniques that would undermine the sport’s long term credibility. The challenge for Zuffa now is trying to make too much money in the short term and undermining the sport’s long term future.

UFC has had a huge 2006 because its events felt like major spectacles with important matchups. With the same schedule in 2007, there is no reason to believe the promotion can’t do even bigger business. The buzz is building on the product, and as people tell other people the sport will continue to grow if the product is good. However, UFC isn’t running the same schedule. Rather, they are talking about running many more shows in 2007.

UFC’s greatest threat is thus one imposed by itself: oversaturation. The more shows they run, the less important individual shows will seem and the more likely fans will be to skip individual shows. If they have true confidence in their product over time, they will build slowly and let business growth come naturally. UFC cards will feel special and over time the shows will become even more must see. There is no need to rush out 25-35 shows to make every last dollar you can now. If UFC has a little more patience, they can continue to grow and make their spot in American sports permanent. Running too many shows will jeopardize that growth and risk making UFC a fad that it would not otherwise be.

There are already signs that too many shows are taking their toll. The season finale of the Ultimate Fighter drew only a 1.1, as compared to 1.9, 2.0 and 2.0 for the three previous season finales. Part of this was that the season didn’t click with viewers very well, but a larger part was simply a greater number of UFC shows that made an individual show seem unimportant if it didn’t have a marquee fight. I asked Dana White about this at the post-UFC 65 press conference, and he didn’t seem to take any lesson from the lower rating. That’s a bad sign, and UFC needs to have greater prudence to ensure consistent and sustainable growth. The most recent Ultimate Fight Night drew another underwhelming rating.

There are ways for the company to grow without risking a dilution of the core product. Expanding international business is something UFC is already moving towards, and there is a lot of money there. A next generation video game will be a huge cash cow. There is enormous merchandising potential, particularly in marketing individual fighters rather than just the brand UFC.

UFC can also benefit from the problems of its biggest worldwide competitor, Pride Fighting Championships. With Pride potentially in serious jeopardy, UFC can bring in top Pride superstars when their contracts are up and set up marketable and fresh matchups. Those matchups wouldn’t be perceived as dream matches by casual fans now, but UFC has proven in 2006 that it can turn formerly unmarketable fighters into box office gold through short but effective countdown specials. Matt Hughes drew Zuffa’s worst buy rates for main event matches against Frank Trigg and Sean Sherk prior to Spike TV. In 2006, Hughes was possibly Zuffa’s biggest draw. Mirko Cro Cop isn’t known to most American fans now, but he will be in a hurry with UFC fully behind him.

With all of these advantages, UFC is poised for even bigger things in 2007. The promotion isn’t going anywhere, and Ortiz-Liddell II is unlikely to be its high water mark. UFC will have a fantastic 2007 and beyond unless it imposes a self-inflicted wound by being in too much of a hurry.

Other notes for 2007:

-Quinton “Rampage” Jackson should be pushed as a superstar immediately. Jackson, acquired in the WFA purchase, has the charisma and ability to be the biggest marquee superstar in American MMA. Yet, at this point in time few know who he is. You never have a second chance to make a first impression, so UFC should present Jackson as a huge star from the beginning. One of the ways UFC has gotten big reactions to its 2006 shows live is by dimming the lights and playing cool live graphics for main event fighters. They should do that for the introduction of Jackson. The ideal scenario is to have him ready at Ortiz-Liddell. If, as expected, Liddell wins, the show should end with Liddell in the ring, the lights being turned out, and Jackson being introduced with an elaborate video package and ring entrance that hypes him as the only man with an unavenged victory over Liddell. He tells Chuck he is coming for the title, and Dana announces that fight will happen in 2007 to end the show. It’s obviously very theatrical, but it will leave UFC on a high note in 2006 and give fans something big to look forward to in 2007. Jackson and Liddell as coaches for a season of the Ultimate Fighter would without a doubt lead to big business.

-UFC has purchased WEC and there is talk of using WEC as a separate company. This would invariably end up as a minor league feeder system of sorts for UFC, because UFC can’t spare the main event talent to run a second major MMA company. Running WEC as a second MMA company is a bad idea. There is already an elaborate system of minor league MMA promotions in North America, and UFC can pick and choose from among the top fighters in these promotions. There is no need to waste UFC time and resources when the service will be provided to them either way. It isn’t like professional wrestling, where the independent scene has for the most part died out. UFC would like to keep its competitors from lining up television deals, but it can’t produce enough television for every station and is just going to have to learn to live with that possibility.

-As UFC expands into new markets, it is wise to link local fighters to the markets when possible to build bases in a variety of locales. This is probably the IFL’s best idea, and UFC can execute it better by focusing on individual superstars rather than “teams” with limited appeal. Tito Ortiz in Orange County, Georges St. Pierre in Montreal and Matt Hughes, Rich Franklin & Tim Sylvia in the Midwest are natural starts, and UFC should continue with this trend. It will increase the UFC’s visibility and make local fighters look like bigger national stars.

-UFC is winning the war for greater media coverage, and this will continue to be a story to monitor in 2007. Already major newspapers like the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times are giving regular coverage to UFC. That will likely influence smaller papers over time, and lead to larger awareness and acceptance of the sport. There really isn’t any justification for the dearth of MMA coverage, and 2007 ought to be the year that changes.

Tomorrow: Observer Awards Ballot

"ECW" Report

Oh My God!: WWE set up Bobby Lashley vs. Rob Van Dam for the ECW Title through fan voting, and I would be interested to know what they are trying to do with this.

Conclusive Finishes: 2 of 4.

The Extreme Rundown:

1. Bobby Lashley beat Rene Dupree. Lashley before the match put over Big Show and said he could have another shot at the title if he wants it. He said fans could vote on WWE.com for his next opponent in two weeks: Sabu, Test or Rob Van Dam. It would seem they are following through on the plans to turn him heel, because RVD would almost certainly be chosen and will almost certainly be cheered over Lashley. Then again, they also seem to be building up Test vs. Lashley, and if that’s the case this whole scenario is idiotic. Also, if they want to do Cyber Sunday every year, they should protect the online voting gimmick to make it seem rare and special.

Lashley plugged the Tribute to the Troops, and that brought out Dupree. Dupree called Lashley a corporate puppet just like the troops. He said they need the uplift because they are getting their asses kicked. This led into the match. Lashley seemed nervous and did not deliver a good promo at all. Lashley then won a quick match with body slams, a gorilla press, a belly to belly, the electric chair, a delayed vertical suplex, a spear, and the dominator.

2. Matt Striker beat Balls Mahoney. Brad Armstrong did commentary during this match for no apparent reason. He wasn’t very good, and bickered with Tazz over nothing. Striker used a kick to the head, choke and went after the arm. Balls came back with punches, clotheslines and a sit down power bomb. He missed a leg drop off the top and Striker hit the golden rule for the pin. Backstage, Test said there shouldn’t be a vote for the challenger to Lashley, because he has beaten RVD already. He ordered fans to vote for him. Rob Van Dam said he wanted another shot at the title and he’s the biggest reason to watch ECW. They didn’t give Sabu an interview along those lines, and that was a good decision.

Hardcore Holly said there is a rumor that he tapped out to CM Punk, but that wasn’t what really happened. Holly called out Punk and said Punk couldn’t make him tap. Punk came out, but Holly said he only had three minutes. Punk went for the anaconda vise a bunch of times early. Holly then worked him over the rest of the time. Punk went for the vise at the end but Holly went to the eyes. The time elapsed, and as Punk argued with the referee for no reason Holly jumped him from behind and gave him the Alabama slam. Punk looked like an idiot here abiding by pointless stipulations, and his careful protection looks to be over. I hope this isn’t the return of parity booking.

3. Great Khali beat Shannon Moore via disqualification. Moore got into a confrontation backstage with Daivari, who challenged him to a match. Instead, Khali wrestled. He hit the tree slam when Tommy Dreamer ran in and attacked Daivari on the outside, and for some reason the referee called for the bell. Khali punched a chair into Dreamer’s head and gave Dreamer the tree slam on the steps. They sold this as some sort of serious angle and the most dangerous situation ever, which fell really flat because a) Ric Flair did an even more serious angle and returned two weeks later and b) Dreamer has taken at least a hundred bumps worse than this over the years. Mike Knox backstage said he is the real victim, because Kelly Kelly made him look stupid.

4. Test beat Rob Van Dam and Sabu in a triple threat match. RVD hit a standing moonsault on Test, and avoided a Test pump handle slam attempt. RVD went to the top but Test pushed him to the floor. Sabu gave Test a springboard elbow and springboard leg drop. Test crotched Sabu on the top. Sabu and RVD teamed up for some double team moves and sent Test to the outside. Sabu gave RVD a springboard clothesline and springboard elbow. RVD crotched Sabu and hit a kick off the top rope. RVD hit the five star but Test threw RVD to the outside and covered RVD for the finish. Tazz then came in and announced RVD won the voting and would get the title shot. RVD celebrated until Test gave him the yakuza kick and the show ended. This was a good match.

Please Don’t Go:

This show was dull and poorly booked.

Russo Response

Quickly, on Vince Russo. As to whether he’s a good booker fundamentally, I think his track record speaks for itself. As for the notion that he’s doing well because “ratings are up,” I have 5 responses:

1. They aren’t that much. TNA has popped a 1.2 previously this year, and the shows are generally in the range they had been doing. They are only up slightly.

2. It’s hard to give Russo credit given this is during a period when they switched to prime time and when Kurt Angle has been regularly and prominently featured. With those three factors, I can’t imagine Russo being the primary explanation for a mild increase.

3. Of course ratings are going to increase slightly when you hotshot like crazy. That’s the whole point of hotshotting. In the old territory days, you could do a billion angles and temporarily increase business, but most promoters would avoid overdoing gimmicks because long term it burns out interest. Hotshotting and then pointing to short term ratings increases shouldn’t work on people that understand how pro wrestling works.

4. Since when did short term, mild TV ratings increases matter all that much? The whole lesson this year from WWE is you can retain ratings and have your PPVs collapse. PPV is the greater potential revenue stream for TNA. TNA should have used Joe-Angle as the big breakthrough for the company, and they have gone through it incredibly fast with little PPV bang for the buck. That’s a direct result of the TV booking.

5. Russo produced better short term TV ratings results in WCW. Hello?

WWE: 2006 Review and 2007 Preview

World Wrestling Entertainment recently released a DVD on the history of the AWA. The WWE’s coverage of AWA focused on the demise of the company. The DVD made the AWA seem out of touch and behind the times, which it was. The AWA lost the war and went out of business in large part because Verne Gagne was hopelessly behind the times. The World Wrestling Federation put out a product that drew in new fans and growing revenues. The AWA played to a steadily declining audience that eventually could no longer support the promotion.

Since 2001, WWE has put together a product that largely turns off fans. This has led to steadily decreasing revenues and an increasingly hostile audience. One of the greatest assets the promotion has is the lack of competition. There is still a significant audience that loves wrestling and loved the WWF and wants to see the promotion turn itself around. Without a competitor to satisfy that audience’s desires, they stick around waiting for WWE.

In 2006, that changed. The emergence of the Ultimate Fighting Championship as a pay-per-view entity has finally given a large base of wrestling fans the product that they missed. At the most basic level, there is now a serious product matching up people in fights where the winner seems important. As such, UFC pay-per-views are now regularly drawing bigger domestic buy rates than every WWE pay-per-view except WrestleMania.

WWE in 2007 has a choice. It can continue on oblivious, just as it has for years. Pay-per-view buys will continue to decline, and ratings are likely to suffer as well. Worse, the likelihood increases that fans will find alternatives to where they not only stop watching WWE, but stop caring if it ever does turn itself around. Or alternatively, the promotion can finally take affirmative steps to rebuild the promotion. Long term building, less goofy comedy and meaningful match results are a must.

WWE has shown an ability to do all of these things in 2006, but it needs to have more consistent focus and drive. It all starts with long term planning based around setting up fresh matchups that people will pay to see. When each week’s show is an indispensable link in the long term storyline chain, it makes absurd and counterproductive diversions less likely. WWE still has a reserve of longstanding goodwill from its fan base, but there will come a time when that well is dry. 1984 is over twenty years in the past. Dana White may be remembered as the new Vince McMahon. But if Vince McMahon isn’t careful, he may be remembered as the new Verne Gagne.

Other Notes for 2007:

-At WrestleMania 21, Batista and John Cena were anointed the new stars of the company. At the time, it looked like Batista was the greater star, and Cena was a distant second. Almost two years later, the roles have completely reversed. Cena is far and away the most important individual to future WWE success, while Batista looks like he might go down as a guy who had one hot run but didn’t prove himself worthy of the push he was given. Cena inspires emotion from crowds, and is the biggest star in professional wrestling today. He also couldn’t be a better representative of the company and has worked to improve himself on the ring. Batista, unfortunately, appears to be going on nothing but momentum from a long standing push and his physique. He badly needs to do something to justify his position. If he doesn’t, WWE should cut bait on him as champion and make him a special attraction more like Undertaker or Big Show.

-One of the problems with going public is the pressure from the financial world to make your books look good, even if that means doing things that may be bad for the company in the long run. To the extreme, that can involve cooking the books like Enron and the like. But WWE has a problem of its own with financial pressure. Pay-per-view buys and television revenue have gone down, and WWE doesn’t want to correct the problems that have caused the decline (since the McMahon family bears a large degree of personal responsibility) nor appear to be a company on the decline. Thus, they have sought ways to expand revenue streams. Some of these ideas are extremely smart, such as expanding the international market and increasing DVD production and sales. However, some of the ideas are short term solutions that are awful ideas in the long run. Namely, WWE has increased the number of PPVs it runs, and added even more television to its already full plate. This helps to offset declines, but WWE can’t keep procrastinating on its problems by just producing more and more product. That will simply exacerbate the negative trends. Instead, WWE needs to focus on what it already has, and make everything feel more important. Five hours of television a week is too much. ECW is just thinning the roster and burning company energy. It’s not worth the ad fees in the long run. Likewise, the extra revenue from an expanded PPV schedule is not worth the long term damage from deterring wrestling fans from ordering PPVs. They are better off running once a month and making each event feel important again. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, or the self-corrective measures will no longer have future potential effectiveness.

-Another key issue for WWE in 2007 is going to be wrestler morale. WWE is lucky that most wrestlers in North America view WWE as their ultimate goal. There should really be no reason that WWE can’t secure the best talent in North America. Yet, there are wrestlers voluntarily leaving the company for less money because they are unhappy with the way WWE is run. WWE needs to combat this, and the way to do it is by reestablishing the meritocracy that has always been a WWE strength. If new wrestlers are getting over or show major potential to get over, they need to be pushed above older wrestlers who have run their course. If wrestlers don’t think their hard work can potentially be rewarded with a greater push, they are either going to stop working hard or they are going to leave. It’s better to keep them on board and utilize their talent.

-WrestleMania now draws very well each year just based on the name, which makes it the most effective time of the year in getting over new main eventers. This year and every year WWE should think about ways to use WrestleMania as a coming out party for upcoming stars and anointment for new main event stars. Booking newer stars high on the card legitimizes them in the eyes of fans and helps set up the rest of the year. If WWE expects big things from someone towards the end of 2006 or in 2007, that should be getting set up now.

Tomorrow: UFC 2006 Review and 2007 Preview
Thursday: Observer Awards Ballot

Monday, December 18, 2006

WWE Raw Live 3 Hour Report

Date: 12/18/06 from Washington, DC.

The Big News: After wrestling two matches last week, Edge wrestled three this week, totaling around an hour of in-ring action. He won a battle royal, lost a title match, and concluded the show by taking out DX along with Randy Orton.

Title Changes/Turns: None.

Conclusive Finishes: 3 of 6. Not a good week in this department, but the longer matches made this issue less evident.

Match Results: Edge won battle royal; Johnny Nitro, Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin b Matt & Jeff Hardy; Kenny Dykstra b Ric Flair; John Cena b Edge; Victoria b Mickie James; Triple H, Shawn Michaels & John Cena b Edge, Randy Orton & Umaga-DQ.

Show Analysis:

I was at Verizon Center for a strong three hour edition of Raw. The arena was a near sellout, which is impressive in a city not known for overwhelming attendance. The show started with an at least relatively new WWE video package. It was excellently produced, as these videos usually are. It was a pretty live crowd initially, but it did get tired towards the end of what was a long show.

Craig Simpson defeated Christian York in a dark match opener. Simpson was announced from DC, and got a good reaction for someone that nobody knew. I’m not sure who he is either. He won a decent match with a tilt a whirl back breaker and running power slam.

Edge won a battle royal also featuring Ric Flair, Eugene, Gene Snitsky, Viscera, Val Venis, Lance Cade, Trevor Murdoch, the Highlanders, Super Crazy, Sgt. Slaughter, Johnny Nitro, Shelton Benjamin, Faarooq, Cryme Tyme, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Brooklyn Brawler, Shawn Michaels, Carlito, Kenny Dykstra, Charlie Haas, Chris Masters, Randy Orton, Triple H, Jeff Hardy, Rob Conway, Johnny Jeter and Jerry Lawler.

Edge was slow to get in the ring. Brawler was the first wrestler out. DX eliminated Viscera. Cryme Tyme took out Faarooq, who lamented his elimination with a single word. Haas and Benjamin eliminated Cryme Tyme. DX tricked and dumped Eugene. It came down to DX against Randy Orton, Edge, Johnny Nitro, Lance Cade and Chris Masters. HHH eliminated Masters, but all the heels took out HHH.

That left Michaels alone. He got rid of Nitro, and Orton eliminated Cade. Michaels avoided the RKO and sent Orton out to seemingly win. However, Edge had been knocked to the outside but not eliminated and he pulled Michaels out from behind by the hair to win the match. The battle royal was okay. They took too much time clearing the ring, as it’s hard to do anything when there are over 15 guys in the ring. After they got down to the final ten or so, the match was very well booked. I expect this match to do a very good rating.

Backstage, Edge said he would win the title and defend against Umaga at New Year’s Revolution. I don’t know if it was a good idea to make mention of that, since nobody believes that match will be taking place. Edge told Orton he would be moving onto bigger things. Chris Masters said he put Torrie in the Masterlock as payback to Carlito. They introduced Vladimir Kozlov (Oleg Prudius), who was announced as a world sambo champion, essentially playing the role of Fedor Emelianenko. This was not Las Vegas nor the Real Deal, and the fans booed him. He insincerely said he loves the WWE and the United States, and spoke some words in another language.

Chris Masters and Carlito were to have a match, but it never got started. They brawled into the crowd, and Carlito bladed. Masters ran off and that was the end of that. Johnny Nitro and the World’s Greatest Tag Team then defeated the Hardyz in a handicap match. Nitro got a really impressive heel reaction, which was an encouraging sign. The crowd took to him like a star. Jeff limped out and most of the match consisted of the heels working over Jeff. After the second hot tag, Matt came in with clotheslines, a bulldog, and side effects. Haas snapped Jeff’s neck on the ropes and Benjamin rolled him up with the tights for the pin. The heels beat down the Hardyz afterwards, with Nitro focusing on Jeff.

Armando said that Umaga would beat Edge or John Cena, but they would rather beat Cena because he would be an easier opponent and for revenge. Nitro ran into K-Fed backstage. Melina was impressed by Federline’s bravery. They introduced Sylvester Stallone on the big screen, and he got a nice reaction. They did a video interview with him plugging Rocky Balboa.

Kenny Dykstra beat Ric Flair. I’m not sure why they didn’t just use Doane for Kenny’s name, and the only reason I can come up with is it’s a play off former Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets star Lenny Dykstra. Kenny hit some kicks and a choke. Flair came back with an atomic drop and chops. Kenny threw him off the top, but missed his leg drop off the top. Flair hit some more chops, but Kenny rolled him up for the pin. Flair offered to shake hands after the match, but Kenny declined.

John Cena beat Edge to retain the WWE Title. Obviously, they didn’t run the title match at the end of the show as advertised, which likely means they didn’t have a plan firmly in place just last week. This was another strong match from Cena and Edge, and probably the best on this show. The crowd was split, and we got dueling chants and the typical Cena reaction. Cena had a real superstar aura.

Edge and Cena fought back and forth, and hit a double cross body. Edge knocked Cena off the apron to the floor. Cena hit clotheslines, cross body blocks, and the Cena slam. However, he missed the five knuckle shuffle, and Edge hit the spear for a near fall. Cena whipped out a rocker dropper off the top rope for a near fall. He followed with the stun gun and five knuckle shuffle. He went for the FU, but Edge got out and Cena hit a backwards suplex.

Cena went for the FU again, but there was a ref bump. Orton ran in and hit the FU. Then DX came in and gave Edge the pedigree. Cena covered for the pin. After the match Cena realized what happened, and teased getting angry at DX. That would seem to suggest they are thinking Cena vs. HHH for Mania, since they pretty clearly were teasing it. On this evening Cena ended up shaking hands with them.

They did a Cryme Tyme segment which really died live. Cryme Tyme brought out a George W. Bush impersonator to boos. He alluded to Kanye West’s comments about Bush, and “Bush” talked about how he’s down with Cryme Tyme. He made a reference to “George Jefferson,” presumably an allusion to Thomas Jefferson having a child with one of his slaves, but Cryme Tyme cut him off. They hugged him and stole his wallet. When he found out, he seemingly called them the n word, but it was blanked out.

The crowd seemed amused at Cryme Tyme at first, but as they went into the heavier stuff the crowd went really silent. You could hear a number of people gasping at the idea WWE would be doing some of this stuff, and people seemed pretty offended by the segment. It didn’t bother me that much because of the ham fisted delivery, but this got a unique type of reaction I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed at a wrestling show. That’s not a good thing. WWE really needs to understand these types of jokes are different when Dave Chappelle is telling them than when they are coming from Stephanie McMahon and Brian Gewirtz.

Victoria beat Mickie James clean. Mickie went for some rollups and a spinning head scissors. She attempted a DDT but Victoria escaped and kicked her in the head. She then hit the Widow’s Peak for the pin. She added another item to her list: the women’s championship. I would suspect that they didn’t plan for this program to result in a title change, but it has worked so well that I would go for it.

Kevin Federline came out. He said that no one knows the real Kevin Federline, and that K-Fed is just a media creation. He said the real Federline does great things, and he will beat Cena. He said on January 1, K-Fed is dead, but Federline will be whipping Cena’s ass. Federline got a good heel reaction, but it was a bit disappointing based on what I was expecting. The way this interview was scripted and delivered, it seems they might try to send off Federline as a face, which I don’t see working.

John Cena and DX beat Umaga and Rated RKO via DQ. Edge said that DX will die at New Year’s Revolution. The match didn’t really build, with people just rotating in and out. Cena fought Umaga to the back. Edge hit HHH with a chair for the DQ. Edge and Orton gave Michaels a double RKO on a chair. HHH went for the sledge hammer, but Edge kicked him into the announcers’ table. After booking the sledge hammer spot as a strong comeback for so long, it was really effective to see it cut off. Edge gave HHH two concertos on the announce table. They went after Shawn Michaels but Dean Malenko, Steve Keirn, Tony Garea and Mike Rotunda made the save. DX sold huge for this.

Final Thoughts:

This was as I said at the beginning a strong show. Raw probably doesn’t have enough talent for a three hour show, so they concentrated on spending a lot of time on their top acts. That was a wise move, as there weren’t any segments of death where the audience lost interest in the show. I’m very interested to see how New Year’s Revolution does. They have done such a strong build for the show that I hope it does well so WWE can potentially take a lesson from that.

People Defend Vince Russo

Well, I'll be damned...

"Ratings have been going up since Russo's been writing TNA. If they continue to rise, please shut your respective mouth.

Or watch something else.

Thanks bro."

"Come on give Russo a break. TNA just got their highet ratings ever. Their shows are great now. Can you honestly say that WWE has had a good storyline since Russo left years ago. Look at what happened to the ratings for Raw when Russo left, they dropped!!!! It took a few weeks but they dropped big time. Have you seen a good swerve since Russo left? No. Anyone with a have of a brain knows that WCW was a mess before Russo got their. Also check the rating on WCW, when Russo gained a small of amount of support from the good ole boys in WCW the rating went up. This part of the story is never told for some reason. The facts are Russo took WWE to unreal heights. If the McMahons are so creative why are the rating so poor compared to when Russo carried them? Vince McMahon is so clueless when it comes to being creative and the nut (Stephanie) doesn't fall far from the tree.

Come on admit it Russo is the best creative mind in the business. Ask yourself why you really hate Vince Russo."

"I'm tired of everyone crapping on Vince Russo like he's the antichrist. Vince Russo didn't kill WCW. He had a few horrible ideas, like the Arquette fiasco, but he had just as many good ones, like finally letting wrestlers like Scott Steiner and Booker T run with the ball, albeit years too late. With a competent editor, Russo does good work, and Jarrett and Carter are, for all their faults, competent editors. Add to that the checks added by TNA's content standards and you have a good system to reign in Russo. Russo's other upside is that he wants to develop personalities for the younger wrestlers, and allowing LAX to run with the ball and pairing up the X-Division guys with Kevin Nash has made for some genuinely entertaining television. As for Angle/Joe, TNA doesn't have time to drag out a really long tease of an angle. I do wish that they had waited longer for the rematch, but TNA needs to get people into their product fast, and Angle vs. Joe is doing that. I think that TNA's problem is that they only have one hour a week to develop these storylines, and I know that ECW only has that too, but they have the advantage of being able to hotshot RAW & Smackdown superstars onto their roster whenever they please, whereas TNA is on their own. If they ever expand to two hours their product will improve dramatically, in my opinion. And even without the expansion, they are making strides in getting their name out there, as last week's 1.2 rating showed."

"Hey, regular reader of your column and just got finished with your TNA year in review and just wanted to say i respectfully disagree with your comments. Firstly, you forgot to mention that TNA just received it's highest rating EVER. And that's with Vince Russo booking and the feud between Angle and Samoa Joe, you know, the one that has "run it's course". An by the way, overbooking and throwing away stipulation matches long before Russo. I'm not a Russo defender at all but TNA went form booking Jarret and Rhyno in Main Evnets to having a 5 way with talent like Angle, Joe, Sting, Christian and Abyss.How can a prime time deal and the highest ratings ever lead to anything but a positive review of TNA in 2006?"

I may respond tomorrow here (I always try to respond personally to e-mails), but I must admit Russo is a conversation ender for me. It seems so obvious to me that Russo is an awful booker that I almost don't feel like discussing it, like evolution vs. creationism. But evidently there are people out there who disagree.

TNA: 2006 Review and 2007 Preview

2006 was the best of times and the worst of times for TNA Wrestling. On the plus side, it was the year when the promotion finally completed the infrastructure for sustainable success. Unfortunately, the company’s booking direction went from mediocre from awful, and the inclusion of Vince Russo on the creative team is harmful enough to outweigh a lot of the other positives the company has going for it.

TNA has built a foundation for potential success slowly but surely. The current ownership group is invested in the company. They have a major television station behind them, and a prime time slot. The talent roster is a strength. TNA has over time been able to develop a skilled roster, and has added some major names to supplement that group. Most importantly TNA added a potential major difference maker in Kurt Angle, who should have been able to help draw away WWE fans. All of these are very positive signs for a company that for most of its existence has operated on tenuous footing.

However, TNA for all its strengths has lacked vision. It has all the bona fides one would want from a challenger to WWE, but that is ultimately hollow without that vision. TNA’s direction was problematic prior to Vince Russo. TNA didn’t offer a genuinely alternative product to WWE, and the promotion had way too much focus on Jeff Jarrett. Still, that was a golden period relative to the product since Russo took over.

Any borderline competent individual with knowledge of professional wrestling could have told TNA decision makers what an awful idea it was to bring in Vince Russo. Few individuals in wrestling history have done more to destroy the business through sheer stupidity. All the Russo hallmarks are there again. The promotion is going through storylines way too quickly, with little focus on internal logic. Wrestlers aren’t protected, and match results are devalued. Tag teams are broken up, crazy stipulation matches are given away, and turns are constant. It is hard to keep up with and care about the promotion even if you watch every week.

These problems are most clear when it comes to the booking of Kurt Angle. Angle should have been a savior for the promotion. Protecting him and making him feel important shouldn’t have been that much of a challenge. Yet, less than a couple months into his TNA tenure he has wrestled numerous matches and already been beaten. His feud with Samoa Joe should have been a drawn out and monumental feud, and sadly it has already practically run its course. There is no patience or planning. Russo’s booking operates like a simulator where you plug in 8,000 possibilities and simply shoot out feuds and matches with no rhyme or reason. That is not the way to build a promotion.

Thus, the key to TNA success in 2007 is first and foremost dumping Russo. The promotion will simply not grow with Russo in a prominent creative position. TNA needs to present a more serious product with meaningful match results, not go into a more hyperactive mode than WWE. The good news is that the company has assets for a successful 2007. It just has to act quickly before the self-destructive booking takes its toll.

Other Notes for 2007:

-Perhaps the biggest impact of Kurt Angle’s signing is the effect it could potentially have on other WWE stars when their contracts are up. Most WWE wrestlers cannot be terribly pleased with the promotion, and if TNA can convince them that it is a legitimate competitor it will be able to draw them away. Angle suggests TNA is legitimate, as do signings like Christian Cage and Sting. RobVan Dam or Rey Mysterio would be a huge addition to the roster. TNA can begin to convince wrestling fans that WWE wrestlers are leaving for TNA, not that TNA is taking WWE outcasts. That’s an important distinction.

-TNA needs to use the right guys in the right slots. The VKM idea isn’t a bad one. Challenging Vince McMahon and WWE rallies the fan base and challenges what WWE is doing. However, that challenge should not be in the form of sophomoric silliness. That should be the critique itself. Moreover, the challenge needs to be made by people that are credible and cool. The James Gang is yesterday’s news. The wrestlers that challenge WWE represent TNA. If the TNA representatives are uncool, TNA is uncool. Thus, that spot needs to be occupied by someone more like Kurt Angle. The same logic applies to the recent MLB angle.

-Paul Heyman may or may not be a booking answer in 2007. He sure hasn’t shown much as a booker since 1998 or so. But he has a greater chance of making a positive impact than most, and TNA should consider him if WWE lets him go. Jim Cornette is another natural choice given his understanding of basic wrestling that has really been lost in recent years. An outside the box choice would be Konnan, who had great success in Mexico and understands the business very well. In any event, TNA would benefit from one booker rather than a committee, because less ideas would be out there and the TV shows would feel less cluttered.

-Senshi should be added to LAX. While Hernandez has performed well this year, he’s still better off in a bodyguard role. Konnan is better off as a pure mouthpiece, and not having to get involved in the physical action. Senshi and Homicide as a tag team could do great things, and everyone in the group would be slotted in their ideal role. The current members have expressed interest in this, and it’s a good idea. B-Boy would also fit in the group perfectly if they have other ideas for Senshi.

Tomorrow: WWE 2006 Review and 2007 Preview
Wednesday: UFC 2006 Review and 2007 Preview
Thursday: Observer Awards Ballot
(all written and ready to go)

Ugly Night for the NBA

The brawl in MSG the other night was a sad night for the NBA, as it once again reinforced the image of the NBA as a bunch of thugs. Of course there is fighting in other sports, but the NBA is always going to get more scrutiny because individual players are so visible and the league is attached to hip-hop culture which brings in certain stereotypes. It's sad when the players come off so badly and hurt the league. As to penalties, there's an article here with proposed penalties. They come across as way too lenient across the board. Jared Jeffries in particular deserves more for charging across the court. The one guy who might deserve less than proposed is Isiah Thomas. The Nuggets shouldn't have had their stars in the game at that point, and ordering a player to give a hard foul in response seems to me pretty much fine. He didn't tell anyone to get into a fight or lose their cool. He was just protecting his home court from embarrassment and I don't think he can reasonably be held accountable for "starting" this. The key to it all is of course Carmelo Anthony, who comes out of this looking so unbelievably bad. He throws a punch for almost no reason and then runs away like a coward. It was so pathetic from one of the NBA's marquee stars. I might suspend him 20 games, and certainly no less than 10. You've got to look at actions in the context of which they came about, and he threw the bunch just to do so and it was pathetic.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Raw Report

Date: 12/11/06 from Uncasville, CT.

The Big News: We got a double dosage this week of John Cena, Triple H and Edge in a strong edition of Raw.

Title Changes/Turns: None.

Conclusive Finishes: 7 of 8. This is an absolutely fantastic number, particularly since the one inconclusive finish was setting up an immediate follow-up match with a conclusive finish. I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with inconclusive finishes when you have a weekly television show, but WWE has gone so far in making matches seem inconsequential that a shock therapy session is needed to make people care about match results again. Featuring clean finishes as much as they did this week is a step in the right direction. If match results prove who is better and who is going to get the bigger future push, pay-per-view events start to mean more as the culmination of major feuds and issues.

Match Results: John Cena b Armando Alejandro Estrada; Jerry Lawler & Carlito Caribbean Cool b Chris Masters & Viscera; Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin b Highlanders; Triple H b Edge-DQ; Triple H, Shawn Michaels & Ric Flair b Edge, Randy Orton & Kenny Doane; Victoria b Torrie Wilson; Umaga b Jeff Hardy; John Cena b Johnny Nitro.

Show Analysis:

John Cena beat Armando in the opener. Armando said nobody wanted to see him fight Cena, and offered Cena Cuban cigars as a peace offering. Cena of course broke a cigar in two. Armando offered his watch, but Cena destroyed it as well. Armando then offered cash, but Cena threw it into the crowd. Cena beat up Armando and pinned him after the FU. He applied the STFU after the match until Johnny Nitro came in. That was kind of weird, as Nitro only delivered one kick which Cena sold forever. It looked like Nitro really caught him with the kick. Nitro plugged Cena’s match against Kevin Federline. Backstage, Cena challenged Nitro to a match.

This was an entertaining opening segment, but I’m not sure they got enough heat on Armando in advance to where this felt more like the justified release of long-standing hostility and less like unprovoked bullying. When this angle has traditionally been done with a Jim Cornette or Bobby Heenan, the heel manager will torment the heel for months if not years on end. Armando and Cena were seemingly introduced to each other a few weeks ago, and thus it’s not totally understandable why he would have such malice towards the man.

Jerry Lawler and Carlito beat Chris Masters and Viscera. Masters hit a body slam and some punches on Lawler. Viscera followed with punches, slaps, an elbow drop and a sit down power bomb. Lawler tagged Carlito, who came in with a knee lift, clothesline and springboard elbow on Viscera. He gave Masters a drop kick. Carlito sent Viscera into Masters and rolled up Viscera for the pin. This was a really sloppy match, in large part due to Viscera. I don’t really see the purpose he serves as enhancement talent when you could bring in a better, smaller worker that would make his opponents look good in losing. Lawler was really trying, though. I celebrated the finish, because it meant we wouldn’t get Todd Grisham on commentary for the rest of the show.

Backstage, Cryme Tyme were presumably conning Highlanders in a shell game. Charlie Haas came in and reprimanded Cryme Tyme for the negative stereotypes. They mocked him. Shelton Benjamin then entered and said that he would reunite with Haas. Shockingly, that got a positive pop from a segment of the audience. I like that they are teaming Haas & Benjamin again, but it seems like they skipped a few steps in the story given Benjamin was leery of Haas just last week. Elsewhere backstage, Kenny wanted credit for helping Edge & Orton win last week, but Orton said they would have won anyway.

The World’s Greatest Tag Team defeated the Highlanders. Haas hit an overhead belly to belly and hard clothesline on Robbie. Benjamin gave him a suplex and a body slam into a Haas back breaker. Poor Marty Rubalcaba was given a fake last name, Elias. He’s the only WWE referee I’ve caught a wrestling event with, and he deserves his real name, dammit. Robbie hit a side Russian leg sweep and tagged Rory. Rory came in with a head butt and back drop, but his momentum didn’t last long. Benjamin caught Robbie with a yakuza kick and they gave Rory the World’s Greatest Double Team (broken arrow) for the pin.

Triple H beat Edge via DQ in a nothing match. They brawled on the outside, and HHH sent Edge into the announcing table. Back in the ring, HHH hit a high knee and knocked Edge off the apron. As he chased Edge to the outside, Randy Orton interfered. That brought in Michaels, followed by Kenny, and finally Ric Flair. It takes away from the gravity of a very serious angle they did just two weeks ago for Flair to return so quickly. DX and Flair cleaned house, and Coach made a six man tag match. They announced that next week there will be a 30 man battle royal at the beginning of the show with John Cena facing the winner for the title at the end of the show.

HHH, Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels beat Edge, Randy Orton and Kenny Doane. HHH gave Kenny a delayed vertical suplex and knee drop. Michaels followed with a sleeper and HHH hit a chop block. The heels took over on Flair, using mostly punches and kicks. Michaels was tagged in and hit a flying forearm, inverted atomic drops and an elbow off the top. He gave Edge sweet chin music but Orton immediately gave him the RKO. Orton and Michaels traded blows, and Michaels hit a swinging neck breaker. Edge missed a crossbody off the top and Michaels tagged HHH.

HHH came in with hard clotheslines and punches on Kenny. He sent Orton and Edge to the outside and hit a spine buster on Kenny. He tagged Flair who went for the figure four on Kenny, but Edge and Orton broke it up. Kenny went to apply the figure four on Flair but Flair rolled him up for the pin. The heels after the match jumped the faces. They set Michaels up for the concerto, but HHH came in with the sledgehammer for the save. This was a good match. Nitro and Melina were talking with Kevin Federline on speakerphone in the back. Coach came in to grant Nitro a cage match with Jeff Hardy next week, and left with Nitro and Melina. That left Federline still on speakerphone, and Ron Simmons came in for his weekly spot.

Victoria destroyed Torrie. Torrie didn’t want to wrestle Victoria because Victoria’s crazy and she was going to get her ass kicked. Carlito didn’t seem particularly concerned about her well being, and wished her good luck. Victoria just pummeled Torrie. She bit off one of Torrie’s nails and spit it out. She finished Torrie with the widow’s peak. Victoria is a great monster heel. It’s going to be a sad day for one Nathan Hubbard when Victoria gets her hands on Mickie James. Mirko Cro Cop’s not the only monarch without the crown. This is such simple build, but it’s very effective. Chris Masters came in afterwards to give Torrie the Masterlock, but Carlito made the save.

Umaga defeated Jeff Hardy via ref stoppage. Armando wasn’t with Umaga. Hardy hit kicks, a splash and whisper in the wind early. Umaga beat him down with punches, clotheslines and the dreaded nerve hold. He missed a splash off the top. Hardy hit his swanton, but Umaga powered out with ease. Hardy acted shocked and went for the twist of fate, but was caught with a Samoan drop. He hit his running butt drop twice and Marty stopped it.

Umaga gave Hardy a third butt drop and then took poor Marty, who just had his name taken from him, and gave him the Samoan spike. He then gave Hardy the Samoan spike. This was a very effective match in making Umaga look destructive. This segment also accentuated another point for me. As entertaining as Armando is, Umaga is more menacing without him. After having what amounts to a handler for so many weeks, when he is set free he seems out of control. Armando also is fun, and removing that element of fun may be a good thing for this type of character.

John Cena beat Johnny Nitro. Cena dominated early with punches and kicks. This led to a hilarious exchange between Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross. Lawler said, “If Cena nails Federline in the mouth, his rapping days will be over.” Responded Ross, “They’re not?” Cena went for the FU, but Nitro escaped. He threw Cena into the steps, worked on his back, and applied a sleeper. He hit a face buster and the sky twister press. Cena kicked out of a pin attempt, and finished Nitro with the Cena slam, five knuckle shuffle and FU.

Final Thoughts:

This was as straight forward a wrestling show as WWE has produced in years, and I consider that a good thing. We had a series of matches, with the winners moving forward to set up bigger future matches. The whole focus was on building the upcoming matches, and a consistent focus like this will make it easier to sell future PPV matches by making the match results seem more meaningful. Thankfully the last month of Raw has been consistently pretty strong, after an almost unbearable couple of weeks last month.

Next week my exams will be done and I’ll be back home in DC, so I’ll write up a live report from the 3 hour Raw at MCI Center. I’m also kind of itching to do some more writing now that I have time, so look for pieces on TNA, WWE and UFC in 2006, and what they should do in 2007. I’ll also be at ROH Final Battle in Manhattan, so I’ll have a write-up on that as well. But first I have to conquer wills and trusts.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

60 Minutes: IFL Worth $150 Million

Yeah, and I'm worth $45M.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bad Fight Drives Dave Insane

From the Strike Force play by play, for those of you who weren't checking for those results:

"Vernon (Tiger) White vs. Bobby Southworth for the "world" light heavyweight title in a five round fight is next. People evidently have stopped associating Bobby Southworth with UFC 1 because he got a nice cheer. Usually Southworth gets booed here even though he's local.Round one: Southworth took him down right away. He's throwing body shots. Got White' bgack. Southworth throwing knees to the body. White reversed. South went for a triangle from his back. Both are now up. Crowd was booing as nothing happened late in the round. I'd give the round to Southworth.

Second round: Southworth took him down again. White got to hiws feet. Crowd is turning on this match. Southworth got his finger in White's eyes so they had to call for a time out. Ken Shamrock was in White's corner. Southworth took White down again with a leg trip. He's throwing some body shots. Southworth's round.

Third round: Southworth landed a high kick and took White down. Slow-paced and the crowd isn't happy. Funny thta there was no booing all night whehn things went to the ground. All the booing is when things are standing. Southworth got another takedown. And then nothing happened again. I wonder if they should chanhge the rules to allow fans to throw in the towel? Round over. Fans are not happy. I think they'd leave early except Cung Le is still to come. I'd give the round to Southworth.

Fourth round: White tried to run in and punch and got taken down. Somebody needs to send Chris Leben in with a steel chair or something. Lots of people are walking out right about now. Maybe just bathroom break. This round seems like it was five hours. A few more minutes of this and I'll be confessing to any crime they accuse me of. Crowd is chanting "You suck." Not sure who is "you." This was worse than Sylvia vs. Monson round five. Southworth did get a takedown so I guess he won the round. Too bad they don't have rain outs in MMA.

Fifth round: Now I'm ready to watch Stevie Richards in drag against Tyson Tomko. Southworth took him down. White got up. You guys have three minutes to go and the world title is on the line. Southworth got him down again. Okay, I killed Jon Benet Ramsey and that blond girl in Aruba. And Nicole, so lay off O.J. These two are being booed out of the building with 15 seconds left. Eric was right. I killed WCW also. I saw Belfort vs. Overeeem live, and that match was like watching Flair and Steamboat compared to this.

Crowd booed the decision before Jimmy Lennon Jr. even announced it. They tried to down it out so we couldn't hear it. 49-46, 50-46 and 50-45 and NEW WORLD LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION BOBBY SOUTHWORTH. Southworth is on the mic. He's getting more heat than Iron Sheik could ever dream of getting. I have no idea what he said because they drowned it out. Thank got it was over. I'll be having this fight in my nightmares for some time to come."

Wow. Pick it up on DVD, folks!

Jim Gray Punk'd

So I'm watching the Wiz-Sixers game on ESPN. Lots of amusing stuff tonight. Gilbert Arenas hits 3's at the buzzer at the end of the 1st and 2nd quarters. Sixers GM is asked if Allen Iverson asked to be traded and says he won't answer, and then 10 minutes later or so the Sixers president is asked the same question and says yes. But the coup de gras was clearly a minute ago. Jim Gray throughout the evening had been discussing a conversation he had with Allen Iverson, where Iverson apparently he said he wanted to be traded to the Wolves, and Gray talked about having the conversation cut out on him with Iverson saying he'd call back. Then a minute ago they cut to Gray, who says that he was speaking with an imposter Iverson, and that he had been duped. In the process Gray looked somewhere on the level of an elementary school journalist. Absolutely hilarious. We need stuff like this in sports news more often.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

K.G. Trades

I was reading this article about the Timberwolves trading Kevin Garnett. I never really understood why you would trade Garnett, given what a phenomenal player he is in every way. It seems to me if you have K.G. and you still suck you need to get good players around him, not deal the only good thing you have. But this article first proposes a trade that seems pretty damn fair to me. If anything, it's a little too much to give up for Garnett: Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Luol Deng, P.J. Brown and the Knicks' 2007 first round pick. You get three quality young players, an expiring contract, and a potential top 5 draft choice. Quite the bounty. Then I go to the next proposal suggested, and I wonder if we're talking about the same player. The suggestion there is Garnett to the Lakers for Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Chris Mihm, Aaron McKie and a future 1st rounder. Am I the only one that thinks this deal is absurd? Bynum's a project, Odom's good but not elite, and a future 1st rounder would likely be in the middle of the round. Can anyone imagine Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Luol Deng, P.J. Brown and a high 1st round pick for Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Chris Mihm, Aaron McKie and a mid 1st round pick? I certainly can't. Then again, with the nature of the NBA it's very hard to work out deals that benefit both teams.

"ECW" Report

Oh My God!: Paul Heyman’s gone, Bobby Lashley’s the champion, and it may be time to cut bait on this experiment.

Conclusive Finishes: 3 of 4.

The Extreme Rundown:

They started the show by bringing up Paul Heyman’s departure from ECW. I have no idea what to make of that at this point in time. They also announced the next episode of ECW will be on Saturday the 16th. I’ll be traveling home that day so who knows if I’ll be doing a report on that show.

1. Rob Van Dam and CM Punk beat Test and Hardcore Holly via disqualification in a brief match. RVD dedicated the match to Sabu. Most of the match consisted of him being worked over, before he finally tagged Punk. Punk used the uranage and anaconda vise on Holly, but the Riot Squad interfered for the DQ. Sabu made the save.

2. Tommy Dreamer beat Daivari with a DDT. After the match Great Khali gave Dreamer the two handed choke slam on a chair. Big Show did a promo saying that Lashley can’t beat him one-on-one and that he would win back the title.

3. Kelly Kelly beat Ariel with a rollup. After the match Mike Knox came out in a suit to ask for forgiveness, but instead he laid Knox out. Tazz came into the ring to check on Kelly. I still think Kelly is much better off as a heel, but given they have no plans for Knox they are better off sticking her with a higher act on the card.

4. Bobby Lashley beat Big Show to retain the ECW title. Show worked over Lashley for most of the match. Lashley came back with clotheslines and a body slam to win. This was a lumbering big man match and it’s a good thing Show is getting a break. I give him credit for working hard in ECW despite not having to and not really being appreciated for it. He was still a bad choice for champion, but he did more with the spot than I expected.

Please Don’t Go:

There wasn’t much of note on this show, which was mostly just a continuation of December to Dismember. The thin talent roster is certainly better on a one hour show with commercials. Bobby Lashley is another awful choice for ECW champion, as he symbolizes the musclehead antithesis of ECW. I like Lashley’s upside because of his fire, look and high impact moves, but he’s not a good fit for a distinct ECW.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

It Just Gets Better

Iron Sheik is very angry at Kramer. Seriously.

Most Ridiculous Argument Ever

Monday, December 04, 2006

Raw Report

Date: 12/04/06 from Charleston, SC.

The Big News: USC isn’t playing for the National Championship. And things aren’t going much better for Matt Hardy.

Title Changes/Turns: None.

Conclusive Finishes: 4 of 5.

Match Results: Highlanders b Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch; Victoria b Maria; Carlito Caribbean Cool b Viscera; Shelton Benjamin b Super Crazy; Edge, Randy Orton, Joey Mercury & Johnny Nitro b Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Matt Hardy & Jeff Hardy.

Show Analysis:

A few notes to start the report. First, thanks to Justin Shapiro for filling in last week with a really fun ECW report. Second, I weighed in with some of my thoughts on year-end awards for wrestlemag.com, which you can check out at: http://www.wrestlemag.com/news/index.php?p=3869. There are also thoughts from other writers there which make for a good read, and I’m thinking of doing a write-up for the Observer awards this year depending on how time consuming the exam period ends up being.

The show started with a particularly well done video package on last week’s Ric Flair angle. John Cena came out and received what seemed to be more boos than usual. He was ready to fight Umaga right there. Melina came out, and said he has bigger things to worry about in the form of Kevin Federline. Cena compared Melina to Britney Spears, so she slapped him. Cena lifted her up for the FU, but Chris Masters came in and stopped him.

Coach announced John Cena in the Masterlock challenge, and said that if Cena lost Masters would get a title shot next week. Cena basically said nobody will care about that, so Coach said the Masterlock challenge would be for the WWE Title. This was an effective opener, with Cena easily being able to handle multiple issues at the same time.

Kenny Doane backstage went to Edge and Randy Orton and said that the Spirit Squad is dead. Apparently he escaped from Louisville. He wanted to join Edge and Orton. They said he would have to prove himself first. They are going to have to protect Doane if they want to rehabilitate him from the Spirit Squad burial.

Highlanders beat Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch in a match they dedicated to Roddy Piper. The crowd was really dead for the match and didn’t react to the Highlanders’ cheerleading for Piper. Maybe people thought it was an angle, maybe they didn’t care about the Highlanders, or maybe they associated it with the Eddie Guerrero stuff. In any event, Highlanders won with a rollup in a nothing match.

Victoria beat Maria very quickly. She had a Chad Johnson style checklist with Candice, Maria, Torrie and Mickie listed on it. After the match Mickie came in to check on Maria and got a widow’s peak for her efforts. Mickie-Victoria is an effective, serious build.

They did an unfunny comedy sketch with Cryme Tyme visiting a retirement home. I’m guessing the idea was taken from a Brian Pillman story. In any event, they sung colorful carols and left with an old lady who told off the director of the retirement home. Backstage, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Super Crazy and Todd Grisham apparently found this hilarious, as they were doing this really unbelievable fake laughing. Shelton Benjamin said Cryme Tyme just reinforces a bunch of negative stereotypes and challenged Super Crazy to a match.

Shelton Benjamin beat Super Crazy in a brief match. He hit a kick to the head, but missed the stinger splash. It’s now called the Shelton splash by Jim Ross, presumably because Sting works for the opposition. Then again, few people watching Raw even know that, so I’m not sure how useful that change is. Crazy missed a moonsault and Benjamin hit the T-Bone for the pin. Charlie Haas came out after the match to celebrate, but Benjamin was confused. I’m all for putting them back together. With Edge/Orton, MNM, Hardyz and Benjamin/Haas, they would have their best tag division in years.

John Cena won the Masterlock Challenge by making Chris Masters tap out to a full nelson. No, this didn’t make any sense. Cena was trying to break the hold when Masters rammed him into the referee. Cena then put on a full nelson of his own for the tap out. I thought the idea of the Masterlock challenge was to see if the other guy could break Masters’ full nelson, but whatever. It wouldn’t make sense to have Cena break the hold out of the blue, since it means more to Masters than it would mean to Cena to break it. I also don’t like the idea at all of the title being on the line in this sort of thing, but as long as it didn’t change hands it’s not that big of a deal. Umaga came in and had a hot pull apart brawl with Cena after this.

Backstage, Viscera wanted Torrie Wilson to dump Carlito and get with him. Torrie was uninterested, and Carlito spit apple in his face. Ron Simmons made his cameo appearance, and the joke has more than run its course. Elsewhere, Shawn Michaels said that Ric Flair would be back and now their feud with Edge & Orton is personal. Michaels said Edge & Orton did to Flair what they knew they could never do to DX. HHH was great, just sneering menacingly and angrily in the background.

Carlito beat Viscera in an awful match. Just about every move was botched. It was horrific. Viscera hit a clothesline and stood on Carlito. Carlito went for a springboard crossbody but was brushed aside. Viscera missed an elbow, and Carlito hit the knee lift. Torrie grabbed Viscera’s foot coming off the ropes, and in the midst of this one of the straps of her outfit came apart. She spent the rest of the match holding it up, in what was the only drama of the match. Carlito hit a drop kick off the top, springboard senton and quebrada for the pin.

Armando backstage said that John Cena couldn’t touch Umaga for the rest of the year. Coach made Cena vs. Armando for next week. Val Venis was doing kiss cam in the ring with two women. They were obviously models sitting in the front row hired to do this, but they pretended to be reluctant. They ended up rolling around the ring making out, of course. Eugene came out and wanted a kiss, but they refused. He said he’s special repeatedly, and attacked Venis. This gimmick is totally ineffective.

Randy Orton, Edge and MNM beat DX and the Hardyz. They invoked WWE Booking Rule 302 here: Any match featuring Matt Hardy and Edge must end with Edge pinning Matt Hardy. The teams brawled early, with HHH choking Orton and Michaels giving him chops and a swinging neck breaker. The heels ended up working over Jeff, who tagged Matt.

All eight ended up brawling again at that point. Michaels hit a flying forearm, the Hardyz hit stereo pescados, and HHH hit the spine buster. At that point Kenny hit Michaels with a chair and HHH chased him into the crowd. In the ring, Jeff was going for a swanton, but he was pushed off the top rope. Edge hit a spear and pinned Matt. After the match, Kenny received sweet chin music and a pedigree with Orton and Edge watching. I really hope Kenny doesn’t become a lackey character.

Final Thoughts:

Raw continues to be better. I think John Cena vs. Umaga is going to do well on PPV. I’m not a fan of the 80s cartoon character push for Umaga, but he is as fresh and credible a main event challenger as they have had in ages. There’s the rare situation in WWE where the result is uncertain and people will be interested to see who wins. The wrestling wasn’t very good on this show, but the pacing and build was strong.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

UCLA 13, USC 9


I'm so happy for Coach Dorrell and the players. What a wonderful little morality play.