Monday, February 18, 2008

Raw Report

Date: 02/18/08 from Anaheim, CA.

The Big News: WrestleMania is finally beginning to take shape.

Show Analysis:

HHH came out to start the show. He said he’s happy because last year he had to watch WrestleMania from the sideline and this year he’ll be back main eventing. HHH vowed to win the title. That brought out Randy Orton, who said that HHH has always been jealous of him. Orton alluded to beating everyone else, which brought out John Cena.

John Cena said Orton is a liar and a loser. He added that Orton has an asterisk by his name, the only man to lose his way into a WrestleMania main event. The tone of this was way, way, way too cute. Cena was screwed out of the title and a Mania main event last night, and now he’s joking around about it. I think Cena acting cute is a part of why a portion of the fan base passionately hates him, and they could at least cut back on that when he actually ought to be angry.

Cena suggested they have a Raw rematch. Orton of course declined. William Regal came out and made a non-title match between the two. He said that if Cena won, there would be a triple threat at Mania. HHH didn’t like this, so Regal announced HHH would be the special referee.

Jeff Hardy beat Snitsky to qualify for the Money in the Bank. Jeff had a new entrance to celebrate his reentry into the midcard. He even has music that fits the theme. The first line is about seeing the writing on the wall. Snitsky worked over Jeff for about three hours. The crowd wasn’t just dead; it suffered on the way there.

Snitsky hit a yakuza kick, bear hug and elbows. Jeff came back with a whisper in the wind that basically missed. He went for the twist of fate, but Snitsky hit a big boot. Snitsky went for the pump handle slam, but Jeff escaped and hit the twist of fate and swanton for the pin. This was the worst Jeff Hardy match in ages. I have trouble remembering a Jeff Hardy match this bad.

Shawn Michaels announced that Ric Flair would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Paul Burchill then beat Super Crazy. There were chants of “Paul the Pirate,” which I suppose is better than “Sister Fucker” as far as chants likely to be directed at him in 2008. Burchill won this week with just the curb stomp, so it looks like they took Dave’s advice as far as just using that as the finisher. Burchill should wind up the curb stomp like Super Dragon to build anticipation. Backstage, Randy Orton lobbied HHH against a triple threat. HHH said he would call the match the way he sees it.

Big Show went to the ring to apologize for last night. He acted basically like a face, and asked Floyd Mayweather to come to the ring. Floyd came out with his crew to that obnoxious 50 Cent song about getting money, and received a strong heel reaction. Pretty Boy Floyd said that he loves WWE, and that he was sorry about the previous night but he’s the best fighter in the world and if someone calls him out he has to retaliate.

Show said he wasn’t calling him out, just trying to get some publicity as to their size difference. Show said all that’s in the past, and offered a handshake. Money Mayweather thought it over and shook his hand. As Floyd was leaving, Show said that he did what he was supposed to do but now he had something to get off his chest .Show said that the only way PBF could hurt him was on his knees, and even there he’s bigger than PBF. Show said he could take out Floyd in two minutes, and challenged him one-on-one. Floyd ran to the ring and accepted. Floyd teased a punch and Show flinched.

I really like the idea of bringing in Floyd Mayweather for a WWE angle. I think it’s the perfect sort of celebrity tie-in. The angle last night was great. If Floyd was supposed to pull his punches, he still should have been bonused for stiffing the man because it made the angle all the better. The key to this sort of angle is the illusion that it might break into some sort of shoot, and Floyd stiffing Show added some doubt as to how much of a work the Mania match will end up being.

With that said, WWE needs to be very careful with the booking at this point. The WWE audience doesn’t like Mayweather. It’s not like they sung “there’s only one Ricky Hatton” on a loop for 3 hours, but still there wasn’t a lot of love. With Mike Tyson, they quickly made him a heel and then turned him face at the end. It looks like they are going to try to make Mayweather a face all the way, and that could lead to some backlash undermining the angle.

I think this angle will end up increasing interest in Mania, but it’s conceivable that WWE fans turn on this angle in general because they don’t like Mayweather and resent him being portrayed as a face. That’s the worst case scenario, and WWE needs to tread very carefully if they are planning to build Mayweather as a face for six weeks. Tonight reminded me much more of West Texas Rednecks vs. No Limit Soldiers (complete with a group of faces and a lone heel ready to fight all of them) than Mike Tyson vs. Steve Austin. At the very least, Mayweather needs to dump the entourage.

Mr. Kennedy beat Val Venis to qualify for the Money in the Bank with the mic check. And that’s all I got to say about that.

The Vince McMahon vs. Hornswoggle cage match wasn’t a match but rather an angle. JBL slammed the cage door on Finlay’s face, and handcuffed Finlay to the cage. Vince and JBL then took liberties with Hornswoggle while Finlay screamed at them. Vince whipped Hornswoggle with his belt.

JBL choked him, slammed him into the cage, punted him in the head, dropped an elbow, and gave him a fall away slam into the cage. Afterwards Vince asked for medical help and apologized. I’m officially a total heel, as I cackled in laughter throughout this whole angle. The annoying leprechaun had it coming. This was a good angle.

Santino enthusiastically announced that Maria would be in Playboy and that he had the contract. He also announced Maria vs. Beth Phoenix. Santino then supposedly noticed fine print in the contract that Maria would have to beat Beth to pose in Playboy. Beth worked over Maria with a back breaker and power slam. Candice Michelle made her return and distracted Beth. Maria rolled up Beth for the pin. Santino was shocked but then feigned joy.

John Cena beat Randy Orton. This wasn’t very good. You can really see the wrestlers laying it in more with punches now that they are in HD. I point that out here, but it was evident this week in a number of matches. The match didn’t really build. Orton hit an implant DDT and power slam. He went for the RKO, but it was blocked and Cena applied the STFU. Orton got to the ropes, but Cena then hit the FU for the pin. HHH gave both men a pedigree after the match.

Final Thoughts:

This show didn’t really click for me. On paper it reads strong, with angles up and down the show building Mania. I don’t know why in practice it didn’t end up being that good, but for whatever reason it didn’t.

The big problem with this year’s Mania built is that everything is just starting now. Tonight was the first tease of Michaels vs. Flair. Last night was the first tease of the Mayweather/Show match. Tonight was the first real tease of HHH vs. Orton vs. Cena. Last night was the solidification of Undertaker vs. Edge. Tonight was the first injection of JBL into a presumed Finlay/JBL program.

All of this would be so much more effective if they were pushing towards these matches previously. Every month we have WWE run a set of angles for a PPV. WrestleMania is supposed to be a culmination, and that makes it feel more important. This year the matches just feel like another pay-per-view. Luckily for WWE, the WrestleMania name is really strong. But that’s about all WWE appears to have going for it this year.

The problem couldn’t be more obvious, either. It’s long term booking, stupid. Wrestling is about build. If you don’t have a sense of where you are going, you can’t make fans want to see you get there. And that’s the whole point. Next year they need to get around to setting up WrestleMania a lot earlier.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Clemens Hearing + NBA Deals

The Clemens hearing was certainly interesting. The one enduring impression I have throughout this steroid scandal is that too many people want to play the game of naming someone either truthful or untruthful. In reality, there is a much wider spectrum of truth. We all tell lies sometimes in some contexts. And our own perspective shapes what we say. So it has always strikes me as silly when people want to put on the "truthful" hat or the "untruthful" hat and then make decisions based on that.

Perfect example is Jose Canseco. Everyone branded him a liar from the beginning, and thus dismissed the claims of his that made a lot of sense. Then when those turned out to be true, everyone seems to view him as truthful and a good source. To me, both perspectives are kind of silly. Rather than starting with an opinion about the person, look at an individual claim and whether that makes sense or doesn't make sense. This also goes for Andy Pettitte, who is being given the "truthful" hat when I think he has made some misleading and deceptive remarks in defending himself.

And this all manifests itself most in Clemens and McNamee. There's so much discussion about the credibility of both in general. And I don't care. They both have obvious tendencies to be dishonest. The issue is who is telling the truth about this specific question - whether McNamee injected Clemens with steroids. And on that specific question, I think it is significantly, significantly more likely that McNamee is telling the truth, regardless of any broader conclusions that one draws.

On the most recent NBA trade, Jason Kidd to the Mavs, it's bizarre to me how the Western Conference got so desperate in the past few months. They're mortgaging their futures by trading young for old, and bringing in huge contracts that don't match the quality of player they are getting. The interesting thing is that the beneficiary of this arms race may be the eastern conference, as a number of western conference teams are moving in the direction of the Knicks rather than the Spurs, which should be the model for sustained success.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Raw Report

Date: 02/11/08 from Austin, TX.

The Big News: Raw was a fun show, but I don’t know about the build for the pay-per-view.

Show Analysis:

If you’re looking for the Westminster Dog Show, it is airing on CNBC.

Hornswoggle beat Vince McMahon. Vince shoved Hornswoggle down repeatedly. Hornswoggle was upset and didn’t want to fight Vince. Finally he slapped Vince. Vince took off his belt, but Finlay ran in to stop him. Vince told Finlay to leave and shoved down Hornswoggle. Finlay laid out Vince with the shillelagh and Hornswoggle hit the frog splash for the pin.

Chris Jericho beat JBL. They brawled early. Jericho went for the Walls of Jericho, but JBL got to the rope. JBL went to Jericho’s eye and hit a series of kicks to the head. He hit two hard clotheslines and applied a sleeper. Jericho came back with chops, a forearm and an enzuigiri. JBL went for a fall away slam, but Jericho countered into a DDT. Jericho then hit the code breaker for the clean pin. Afterwards, Umaga ran in and laid out both Jericho and JBL with the Samoan spike.

If you’re looking for the Westminster Dog Show, it is airing on CNBC.

Backstage, an angry William Regal wanted to do horrible things to Finlay and then fire him. God would I ever love to see another Finlay-Regal program. Vince said that instead they would have a Vince vs. Hornswoggle match in a cage next week. Also, WWE ran an anti-drug package that I’m sure will be quickly greeted with enormous ridicule. It featured John Cena and the tagline “there are no shortcuts to your goals.”

Paul Burchill defeated Brian Kendrick. This was the debut of the new incest angle with Burchill and his sister Katie Lea. Paul said that what Katie wants, Katie gets. This is a great angle; it has no chance of drawing money and is yet another reason for society to view wrestling as the world’s sleaziest form of entertainment. Burchill won with the curb stomp and the roll of the dice. He picked a cool pair of feature moves.

If you’re looking for the Westminster Dog Show, it is airing on CNBC.

John Cena beat Mark Henry in a quick match. Henry hit a body slam and punches, but Cena came back in a hurry and applied the STFU for the win. Randy Orton was watching the match from ringside, and afterwards John Cena confronted him. Cena said he is 100 percent, and he told Orton that he’s coming for the title. I still think the story works better with Cena not pretending he is 100 percent.

Mr. Kennedy called for Ric Flair to back out of their match. Flair said he wouldn’t. Kennedy said Flair doesn’t know what’s good for him. Flair said he has been a sixteen time world champion, while Kennedy hasn’t done that once. Flair said he’s got to win to survive, and that he’ll live to fight another day. Kennedy drop kicked Flair’s leg.

If you’re looking for the Westminster Dog Show, it is airing on CNBC.

Melina beat Maria. Maria actually dominated the match. She hit a clothesline, stomach breaker and bulldog. She was going for the pin when Jillian began screaming on the microphone to grab her attention. Jillian then kissed Santino to further distract Maria, allowing Melina to roll up Maria for the pin. After the match, Santino blamed this on Playboy. He said that Maria will have to choose between Santino and Playboy next week.

Jeff Hardy defeated Shawn Michaels in an excellent main event. What I liked about this main event in particular was that they mixed up their moves and did more different spots than usual. Jeff whipped Michaels into the turnbuckle and gave him a shot to the back of the head. Jeff went for a belly to back suplex off the second rope, but Michaels reversed into a pin attempt.

Michaels threw Hardy over the top rope, but Hardy skinned the cat. As Hardy came back in, Michaels hit a clothesline. Jeff came back with a mule kick and baseball slide. He came off the barricade with a crossbody attempt, but Michaels reversed into a power slam. Michaels proceeded to go after Hardy’s back.

Michaels hit a back breaker, swinging neck breaker, body slam and half crab. Hardy went for a superplex but Michaels pushed him off. Michaels dove off the top with an elbow, but it missed. Jeff came back with kicks and the whisper in the wind. Michaels responded with a clothesline, inverted atomic drop, body slam and elbow off the top. Michaels went for sweet chin music. Hardy avoided it, but Michaels caught him in the inverted figure four. Hardy got to the ropes, and then hit the twist of fate and swanton for the clean pin.

Final Thoughts:

If you’re looking for the Westminster Dog Show, it is airing on CNBC.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Inside the NFL Cancelled


31 years and they just give up on it out of the blue?

What an awful decision by HBO.

Shaq/Marion Trade?

Can someone explain this one for me? It makes absolutely no sense. You've got a high quality, up tempo team, and they're willing to trade one of their key pieces for an aged, out of shape big man with a monster contract? I wouldn't trade for Shaq, period. But giving up Marion for him? I recognize the Suns have been thinking about moving Marion for a while and that Shaq is one of the greatest players in the history of the league. But in 2008 this one is bewildering to me.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

WWE Raw Report

Date: 02/04/08 from Austin, TX.

The Big News: Triple H has vanished.

Show Analysis:

Randy Orton came out to start the show, and had a contract for a title match with John Cena. He made it a point to say two or three times that his lawyers drafted the contract. Cena came out to a huge reaction and signed the contract without looking at it. This might be significant later. Mark Henry came out to distract Cena and Orton gave him the RKO. Backstage, Orton said he didn’t need the help. Henry said he would enjoy ripping Cena’s arm out of the socket.

Mickie James and Kelly Kelly beat Victoria and Beth Phoenix. It was nice to see Victoria back, even if it was just to put over Mickie. Victoria yanked Kelly around by the hair. Kelly tagged Mickie, who came in with a huracanrana and neck breaker to Victoria. Beth tagged in, but Mickie caught her in a guillotine choke. It was called by Jim Ross, too, so maybe he watched UFC 81: Night of the Guillotines. Beth tagged back in Victoria. Victoria speared Kelly off the apron, but Mickie used that opportunity to hit the implant DDT for the pin.

Shawn Michaels came out for a weird promo. He said he was close to winning the Royal Rumble last year, and close to beating John Cena at WrestleMania. He said he feels unsatisfied, and he wants to go back to Mania and take the title. This reads like a serious promo, but he delivered it in a weird sarcastic manner that made it seem like he was making fun of the material.

Chris Jericho joined Shawn. Jericho said he respects Shawn a lot and has fond memories of their match at WrestleMania XIX. He said Shawn won’t win the Elimination Chamber, though. Jericho said nobody has won more or been in more Elimination Chambers. Well, three is the record for appearances. Unfortunately, zero is not in fact the record for most Elimination Chamber wins. Jericho said he will win the Chamber.

Jeff Hardy came out to a big reaction and said he will win. JBL was next, and he disparaged the state of Texas. He said he always gets what he wants. He added that Umaga speaks the language of money, and will guarantee JBL’s victory. Umaga came out and it was unclear whether he would get alone with JBL. Snitsky of all people was the last person out. He said he deserves to be in the Chamber. Shawn disagreed, and this led to a brawl where the faces cleared the ring. William Regal made a six man tag.

Mr. Kennedy beat Super Crazy. Kennedy went after Crazy’s leg, and won with what was called an inverted figure four. It was a different move than Michaels’ inverted figure four. I don’t really know which one more accurately deserves the label. After the match, Kennedy made fun of Ric Flair. He suggested Flair come out next week and forfeit his No Way Out match with Kennedy. He concluded by noting that if Flair does come, Kennedy will end his career and leave him limping for the rest of his life. This was a good serious promo.

Carlito and Santino beat Brian Kendrick and Paul London. Kendrick hit a series of kicks on Carlito, but Santino pulled open the ropes and Kendrick fell through. London literally chased Santino around the ring in a comical fashion. While this was going on, Carlito hit the back stabber on Kendrick for the pin.

Next up was Vince McMahon demanding Hornswoggle kiss his ass. This segment lasted forever, so I’ll save you the agony. Finlay protected Hornswoggle from doing it, and Hornswoggle bit Vince instead. It was a comedy spot, but the crowd didn’t react at all. “This is not funny,” opined Jerry Lawler. Damn right, King. Vince announced Hornswoggle vs. Vince next week, and if Finlay interferes he is fired.

Hardcore Holly and Cody Rhodes beat Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch. The heels worked over Holly, who made the tag to Cody. Cody came in with a double ax handle off the top, bulldog and DDT for the pin. Carlito and Santino interrupted the post-match celebration. Carlito said that the Boricua-Paisan Connection are the number one contenders, and Santino added that Holly and Rhodes are as likely to hold onto their titles as Maria is to pose for Playboy.

Shawn Michaels, Jeff Hardy and Chris Jericho beat Umaga, Snitsky and JBL. The faces were successful early, clearing the ring and hitting stereo dives to the outside. The heels gained the advantage and worked over Jericho. Umaga missed a head butt off the second rope; Jericho hit an enzuigiri and made the hot tag. Jeff came in with the whisper in the wind. We got a succession of finishers: the Samoan spike followed by sweet chin music followed by a yakuza kick. Jeff then hit the twist of fate and swanton on Snitsky for the pin. This was a good match with a hot finish.

John Cena and Mark Henry had your typical arm wrestling match. The heel stalled for a while. The heel gained the advantage, and the face fought back. Cena was about to win when Orton interfered. Cena escaped and lifted up Henry for the FU. I know that you want to put over a challenger strong going into a PPV main event. However, I think when your face challenger is coming back from a serious injury he should be selling it to at least some degree. It isn’t believable that Cena so soon after a torn pec would be stronger in that damaged region than a healthy power lifter who outweighs him by 150 pounds. Moreover, that vulnerability makes him more sympathetic anyway.

Final Thoughts:

WWE’s booking going into Mania is just awful. They have the most natural story ever for a big match. John Cena had the longest WWE Title reign in 20 years, but was forced to relinquish the title without having lost it in the ring. With Cena gone, Randy Orton won the title and defeated every major challenger. Now Cena is returning early from a major injury to regain his title from the champion who has dominated in his absence. This is on paper just about the most natural money program you’re possibly going to get. Yet, WWE isn’t even telling the story. Hell, they aren’t even teasing the story. Orton vs. Cena feels like just another program. There’s no excuse whatsoever for that. They’re flushing easy money down the toilet.

Additionally, HHH wasn’t even on Raw, nor was his absence acknowledged. He’s the guy who is presumably going to be added to the WrestleMania main event, and they were teasing Jeff Hardy in that spot more than HHH. That’s just ridiculous. Pro wrestling is about build. You make fans want to see something, and then get them to pay to see it. But WWE is seemingly so consumed with keeping things unpredictable that they aren’t building anything. Have you forgotten what business you are in?
I’ve got a few plugs to conclude the report. First, I’ll be on Fight Network Radio with Mauro Ranallo tomorrow. Show starts at 3PM Eastern/12PM Pacific, and I’ll be on ten minutes after the hour. You can pick up the show at

Also, you can check out my piece on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s latest big win here:

I also interviewed Steve Austin and JBL for CBS Sportsline, but the noise in the arena was too loud to accurately transcribe the whole thing. So here are a few notes from that. Austin arrived really early for the show. He was picking up his tickets at the same time I was checking in, an hour before the first fight. He was out for the first fight, before all the other wrestlers. Austin said it was his first live MMA event, but he’s been following the sport for about two years. He thinks the MMA and pro wrestling audiences are pretty distinct.

JBL and Undertaker arrived a little bit later, and all three wrestlers were hanging out and drinking throughout the evening. It was JBL’s second MMA event. His other MMA event was Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock I, and he joked about how tough Shamrock was to persevere through the beating he got that night. JBL did some training with Shamrock in advance of doing the WWE’s Brawl for All shoot competition years back. Contrary to his reputation in some circles, JBL was very friendly, laid back and articulate.

TNA was smart in the way they had Kurt Angle come out. He arrived much later than the other wrestlers, so that the crowd had filled out. He then walked down to ringside with a camera crew, and everyone was standing and mobbing him as he came down. It was like Chuck Liddell when he comes out, only much more orchestrated for the effect. It will likely look good if and when they air it on Impact. It was interesting in general to see how much the live crowd reacted to the wrestlers, particularly given it was a pretty star studded crowd with the likes of Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay-Z.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

All is Right with the World

Giants 17 Patriots 14.

What a glorious result. I thought for sure the villains would triumph. But they didn't. Hooray.