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Sunday, 10 June 2012

Mind The Gap

Its been a few weeks since I posted anything and this has been due to three reasons. Firstly I found myself working a lot more which has in turn sapped a lot of my energy, I was waiting to watch the Over The Limit PPV with my brother but then he didn't really get round to it and let me down meaning I was avoiding the internet as I REALLY hate spoilers and wanted to watch the CM Punk/D Bryan match without knowing the score, however after a week or so I realised increasingly that this match was the only one that truly held appeal (Although the Heavyweight title was pretty decent) - *Later upon learning Christian had returned to face Cody Rhodes I decided I'd changed my mind and that this one would also be great - it wasn't really, but that's another story.*

However there was a further reason that, in the time since WWE's recent PPV, I havn't posted. Another brother of mine recently donated me a Playstaion 3, a console I have never had much of a relationship with and with the loan of Assassin's Creed II, I have finally found Ezio Auditore and the joys of the Animus. To anyone who has never played a game in the series it focuses on a character called Desmond and his 'memories' of his Assassin Ancestors which he accesses through the means of a machine - the animus. Although the action and most of the story take place in the past, where the player is thrust into Renaissance Italy (at least in this second installment), it is the elements of the story that are clearly viewed by Desmond and the viewer (in the present) that hold the most interest and give the game its extra value. The clever idea in Assassin's Creed is that it emphasises the third person concept of the  'sandbox' genre in that we are controlling a character who is controlling a character, and in that sense Assassins Creed is a game within a game. The elements of puzzle solving in AC II is clearly a direct symbol of Desmond's quest to find the truth within the animus, where as the assassination missions and the gap jumping that fills the game play largely centres around the time period and the 'history' of Ezio's life.

So what I'm really trying to say is that playing this game has taken up a large portion of my increasingly limited free time, but I'm not gone. There is a strange thing however, about the 'gap'. Taking a break of even a few weeks from something that runs so intensely, can lead to a sense of distance - it happens with any serialised media - however it seems like in fact nothing has really changed.

- Kane is involved with the CM Punk/Daniel Bryan angle - I'm looking forward to one of them 'using' the Big Red Machine's aggression against the other.

- I've not really seen any Smackdown since OTL. But from what I can gather Christian is still IC Champ, I'm assuming he's in a rivalry with Cody Rhodes. I've got to say he's not living up all that Internet hype, his match at Wrestlemania 27 is still his crowning moment. Cody needs to step up.

- Sheamus vs Del Rio sounded pretty dull on paper, I like both guys but their rivalry seemed the weakest coming out of OTL. I suppose when both other guys get suspended that's what you get. Who could replace Del Rio if he really is out?

- I'm not even going to talk about John Cena. Except that for some reason this trend of the Cena Championhip being defended above the WWE Championship at every PPV is continuing. This time the Big Show takes on Mark Henry's most recent persona. If they threw in Brodus Clay to this match it would actually make it interesting.

Finally The Complex Heel has gone Twitter, you can follow me or I can follow you there @thecomplexheel 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

On the Rise - a spotlight on FCW and the emerging new stars, an homage to the spirit of Ring of Honor.

It seems that in times of transition between generations in the WWE we see a wealth of talent being ‘promoted’ if you will. It happened in the wake of WCW’s growth when WWE suddenly found its top talent poached. The answer at the time was to look at companies with cult followings and take their rising stars on to greater things, as was the case with ECW and the influx of stars like Tazz, The Dudley Boys etc. This trend however seemed to disappear for a while when WWE finally bought WCW and closed it down absorbing its top tier talent.

In recent years we have seen the WWE continually attempting to launch a new era (which has ultimately made that time into an era of its own right), beginning with Ruthless Aggression and the rise of Brock Lesner, and has ‘re-set’ every two to three years through various twists and tragedies. To list a few, the deaths of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, the departure of Lesner, the later (semi)rise and departure of ‘next generation’ stars such as Ken Kennedy and Bobby Lashley, the departure and untimely death of Umaga and ultimately and most recently the failed re-launch of an ECW brand, based on the cult following of the original company, (it seems the WWE have managed to kill a lot of the buzz around this through its own show). All this while new competition would begin to rise in the shadows. Increasingly the crowd would begin to show their dissatisfaction with the top guy. I have had an ongoing interest, as a wrestling fan, in ‘who next?’ Who will lead the next generation of wrestlers? And I feel that the ongoing Internet disenchantment with, ‘ why aren’t they pushing ______?’ would seem to suggest I’m not the only one…

With that said it now surprises me that I never paid more attention to the indie circuit. However over the last few months it has felt increasingly that the WWE have decided to once again look to ‘the indies’ for inspiration. Namely Ring of Honor, and though there are young rising stars that have passed through other doors it would seem that the focus on ‘wrestlers wrestling’ is on the rise. The catalyst at the centre of this change has been CM Punk, who to my mind the current roster is been built around – at least at the lower main-event level. One time Ring of Honor favorite and still indie hero today, he has shot to the top of the WWE and dragged some other names with him and it has become apparent since the summer that a slight shift has taken place in regards to the roster and its direction. 

 Daniel Bryan (or for the purists Bryan Danielson), has quickly grown through the ranks in the E and has more or less followed CM Punk’s rise completely; starting out as a young faced fan favourite, who was dubbed as having little to no charisma (this still mystifies me, his very first appearance on WWE television was when asked by Matt Striker to cut a promo he snatched the mic and stearnly said, ‘You want me to cut a promo, you want me to be charismatic well how about this… YOU TAP, OR YOU SNAP!’ The crowd went wild and I knew in that second, with quite a lot of anticipation that he would be a World Champion in WWE). In the beginning I had no idea about his history with ROH and his huge Internet following. It’s funny how much people would complain about Michael Cole putting him down every week, the whole point of that angle was to make Daniel look better and Cole worse. He has gone on to show he is one of the best when it comes to heel mic work and his in ring skill is second to none. It interested me recently to hear that when Danielson left ROH certain fans wondered whether the company could go on without him. His World Heavyweight Title reign has been the most compelling in recent memory and his ‘YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!’ cries as he approaches the ring have Kurt Angle ‘you suck’ or Austin ‘What!?’ crowd chant potential – in fact all the way through the recent ROH 10th anniversary bash the NY crowd were hot with this as a chant. I love Daniel Bryan’s current persona, which to me is a perfect mix of Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit and a little bit of Ric Flair’s cowardice. I could easily see Bryan as a future Undisputed Champion and a true threat to Punk.

NOTE: This section was written prior to Wrestlemania XXVIII, I have written in depth about my excitement about the way that ‘YES!’ has caught on and the impact that this is having on the wider industry. I also, like many, am glad he’s gotten his main event push proper – even if it did have a slight feeling that the section was rushed a little.

In the wake of the current rise of WWE stars to main event level opens up the vacuum of the mid card. Which in the very near future will be filled with more former ROH stars. Seth Rollins (formerly Tyler Black of ROH) has been touring with the main roster recently. Rollins currently holds the FCW championship where he shares the locker room with many other ex ROH faces, who I’ll get to later, and has proven himself as a fan favourite. From what I can gather he was top guy in ROH a couple of years ago and still carries a lot of anticipation leading into his expected WWE main roster promotion, even though we may have to wait a while. His memorable feuds include a run with Austin Aries (current TNA X-division champion) for the ROH championship. I’m excited to see this guy break through. He recently toured with the Smackdown roster where he had a match with Tyson Kidd 
And this is a match he had against Dean Ambrose, another one of FCW’s stand out characters who has had a lot of attention on the internet recently, from last year. This is a PPV quality match – in fact they get longer in the ring here than most main-eventers get at top WWE PPV’s – and the chemistry they have together is outstanding. As a side note I’d also point out that Ambrose is perfect as the creepy heel, but then again, you already know that. 

FCW as an entity is an interesting beast. It is technically the WWE training ground for future ‘superstars’ however it remains as a separate roster – something that, if NXT could take itself a bit more seriously could and looks like will, also begin to do, even if at times FCW in fact feels like a more well rounded product. FCW’s association with the WWE is publicly and intentionally un emphasised and while it is a far cry from the highest of production values bestowed upon ‘The End of an Era’ it is shaping up to be a fairly serious promotion. Even considering the recent set backs in the loss of its television deal and possible reforms, it bridges WWE’s more independently leaning audience and scratches their itch as well as teasing at the possible future. It’s main criticism has been that it schools too much, moulding young wrestlers into the WWE package and even Jake Roberts recently made some remark about the lack of characters in the WWE today saying, ‘They've all been just stirred up in a bucket and everybody's just the same.’ (Busted Open Interview: Jake Roberts Hosts: Doug Mortman and Dave LaGreca on Sirius 94 XM 208)

And while that may, to some extent be true, I feel that FCW is in a place it hasn’t necessarily been before. Its alumni are now prominent, established stars and their heritage is reaching new audience levels – This obviously goes hand in hand with the growth of independent audience generally. We are at a point where Ring of Honour will get an odd name drop from the WWE Champion, and this in turn makes the FCW roster look and feel more established as well, even if WWE insist on inventing new gimmicks for its incoming wrestlers. The Internet nearly exploded recently when Chris Hero recently joined his old Kings of Wrestling teammate Claudio Castagnoli on the FCW roster.

Hero, now renamed Kassius Ohno, has the same support group as Punk and Bryan, he also shares CM Punk’s Chicago heritage and carries the same fire that he brought in his early WWE presence. He has put a lot of work into his character already, only having been active with the organisation for a few weeks, which is impressive in itself. His gimmick centres around his initials K.O, which is self explanatory, the extra catch that makes it that much more interesting is the eccentric edge that he has given it. Kassius Ohno is Mick Foley mic tactics crossed with Chicago/CM Punk/ROH attitude. Below is a clip of his debut promo;
It’s the way he lingers on those words, it gives the whole thing a deliberate yet improvised sensation and in my mind is one of the best promo’s since Punk’s now infamous ‘shoot’. I have a feeling Ohno’s rise to the main roster will be faster than most; he really brings a lot of status with him.

Similarly Claudio Castagnoli, rebranded as the more manageable Antonio Cesaro, has been making his mark. Though I’ve admittedly had less involvement with Cesaro, he like Rollins has had a taste of the WWE undercard. His background has been across a variety of indy platforms and his in ring prowess in undeniable, as seen here in a triple threat match against Ohno and Bo Rotundo. 
 Both these guys seem to have really good singles characters, although a personal notion I would like to put out there would be NXT getting its act together and having a season of tag teams much like they did with the, ahem.. divas… But seriously, I feel an NXT tag team tournament would help rebuild the broken tag division, and having the reformed and aptly named Kings of Wrestling win it would up the anti in that division. However with last week’s Smackdown debut for Cesaro this looks unlikely. With a quick look at the way that he has been introduced, WWE are again hiding his immediate connection with the company pushing his European rugby player image which creates a distinction with his ‘real’ history that many smart fans will already know. I was pleased to see his ring attire cross over to his televised WWE debut however, and his in ring performance was pretty interesting by comparison to the three other squash match style intros the E have been parading of late.

I understand that while these guys all bound by their ROH background, the FCW roster is also housing wrestlers form other established organisations but there is something important happening (or has been happening) in ROH. I feel that the style that ROH embodies is shaping wrestling globally as ‘ROH originals’ have established themselves in the mainstream. Within ROH currently there are a number of inspiring performers (adversely to this blog’s suggestions actually housing ex WWE superstars Haas and Benjamin), including ‘Die Hard’ Eddie Edwards, Roderick Strong, and the current champ Davey Richards, who all seem great in the ring. However there is one man currently ruling the ROH roster. 

I didn’t want to like Kevin Steen - he is the ‘Internet Snark’ lived out as a wrestling character but his mic work, especially that seen on Young Wolves Rising (the 10th Anniversary show), steals the show. His wrestling skill also seems surprising although this is kept to a minimum for sensational over the top assaults. His use of props utilises ROH’s spirit of knowingness while also referencing the past – the ‘Jim Cornett’ with his tennis racket was/is great and Steen plays it with a sarcasm that comes off as wit, how threatening can someone make a tennis racket look? Well when Steen ambles around with it (displaying the face of current ROH Champion Davey Richards), it actually does appear to be menacing, but that comes down to the wrestlers demeanour and intent. The downside to Steen’s persona however in my mind is the nWo style anti establishment idea. I feel like his hatred is misplaced, why would he want to destroy ROH? Because he wants to re build it in his form… well on the other hand perhaps there is something to that. For all that ROH has achieved it does feel as if its own prestige is outweighing it somehow. The top guys in the company don’t really carry the same explosive personality as other names to pass through the gates and although the in ring ability is stellar, the charisma does seem lacking; perhaps this is something that Steen’s persona alludes to? Regardless of all that Steen delivers on sheer creativity and although I cant quite see him with WWE I’m sure he will have a bright career (although I’m sure many said the same of Mick Foley). With the spotlight on Ring of Honor getting brighter, It seems that the company is attracting stars in their own right, the forthcoming PPV will see another return of in ring legends and fan favourites Lance Storm and ‘Fit’ Finley and with the looming title match between Davey Richards and Kevin Steen perhaps its time once again for personality to rule in the Ring.
The influence that CM Punk and now Daniel Bryan have within the WWE will undoubtedly alter the companies direction somewhat, and though its obvious that the E are pushing their internationality through the richness of the current roster, it should be noted that the characters being produced are either informed by the WWE Champion’s connections – see the emergence of Cesaro, or by his influences – see Lord Tensai; if CM Punk is the Bret Hart of his era then Tensai would surely be his Yokozuna (by extension in this scenario John Cena would be Hulk Hogan returning at Wrestlemania to ruin the event). There are a number of ROH alumni leading the pack, and though it’s true that TNA got there first with Hernandez, Samoa Joe and AJ Styles, WWE seem to be utilising the talent better now. Perhaps this next three weeks will be memorable in more ways than one, there are potentially two era defining main event matches running parallel to one another, ten years in the making, at one end of the scale the WWE championship between CM Punk and Daniel Bryan at the other the ROH Championship between Davey Richards and Kevin Steen. Ten years in the making, two new era’s rising.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Angry Wrestler

Poor The Miz

With this Sunday seeing The Miz relegated to the pre show for Extreme Rules, where does this leave the former 'Most Must See WWE Champion in History'? Everything seemed to be in place for Miz and he was heading to the magical face of the WWE position. Then CM Punk dropped his pipebomb and stole his spot. For a few months The Miz fought really hard to keep it, but in the end he just isn't as far developed as Punk. I actually feel that a CM Punk/Miz feud would be brilliant, but since we've probably had that feud in that Chris Jericho is basically the original Miz and the fact that The Miz has had the biggest de-push in history due to a couple of un-fortunate mistakes, this probably wont happen soon, if ever. 
It's a shame because he was involved in some pretty entertaining moments, (usually ending up with him being humiliated) including the genius idea of inverting the WWE logo to represent his name and in turn his own logo, (which in turn again is intrinsically tied into the WWE's  corporate logo and so on), which purely speaking is a first, and a threatening repertoire that echoed Marvel Comics character Arcade, who creates fun-house/arcade game assault courses for his opponents, during his Cena feud. I think that the 'Face Turn' that was expected by some at Wrestlemania XXVIII was a golden opportunity to keep The Miz relevant in the imminent shift in focus toward new(old) faces (but then I suppose they'd only just made a point of him being conniving and nasty in wanting to team with Daniel Bryan). I also think his victory for Team Johnny in the same moment should have been the ideal way of keeping The Miz a Heel but remain relevant in a 'Team Johnny Faction/Corporation' kind of way (but then I suppose they'd only just made a point of him being untrustworthy in a team scenario).

I really hope that The Miz runs in on the WHC match or something, because it would instantly remind people he's a good prospect. And seeing as they missed his face turn perhaps he should go even further down the ridiculously self confident, arrogant and bullyish yet ultimately unskilled and cowardly while actually being a mastermind route.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The New Landscape

With the shock of Brock Lesner’s return to WWE wearing off and mass anticipation as to what his next move will be. I thought I’d take this opportunity to have a look at the scope the WWE currently has and where this all fits into ‘People Power’.

I think the best way to sum up the significance of Brock Lesner’s return to WWE is simple – listen to the enormous crowd reaction upon his entrance last Monday. The last few years have seen the WWE attempting to ‘relaunch’, so to speak. We have seen various young stars emerge and then disappear again – either on to MMA (following in Lesner’s shoes) or on to another company (see Ken Kennedy), the other option has been somewhat more depressing with the ever on going number of deaths that have occurred in the last 15 years. It is certainly true that Lesner has broken the mould, in that he made such a lasting impact on WWE in such a short time (roughly 2 years) and went on to become a bigger star in UFC, the rise of which has in fact been the biggest rival to WWE in recent times. His return to WWE opens up a massive potential fan base, many of who before now might have dismissed wrestling as an immature package and further possibly, is the notion that there may be a draw for other MMA stars to convert working the aspiration ladder in reverse. As a manifesto for a new era in WWE it has to be said that Lesner was the exclamation point and where I would have said previously that the roster would be built around CM Punk it would appear that, in fact, it will be built around Lesner, at least in the short term. 
 Of course this roster in itself is altering, I would still invest a lot in CM Punk. He is at the centre of everything in the WWE (literally actually always ‘headlining’ the first hour of Raw), and still champion. It’s also clear that he will be sticking around for a while – I think WWE will be giving him a lot of exposure in the months to come and with rumours circulating that he could face Steve Austin at next years Wrestlemania I don’t think any fans should panic just yet, he is a star that will continue to rise. However, in my mind he could do with a strong Wrestlemania feud for the title with someone of his own generation.

This week has seen the introduction of a number of ‘new’ superstars who will surely be major players, one of whom possibly more so (or at least more quickly), than others. Lord Tensai (Prince Albert/A-Train/Giant Bernard) had less build than Jericho, Sin Cara and Kharma, however he somehow feels more important for it. I imagine that his push will be into the WWE title picture and the clue that he may go into a feud with Punk came when Big Johnny said Punk would be facing a natural disaster soon. I saw someone write somewhere that Tensai is Japanese for natural disaster, it isn’t, it means Genius or Prodigy. But I still think a Punk/Tensai feud would be a classic. For what Lord Tensai actually brings, he is important. After he left WWE he would go on to become a major star in Japan under his Giant Bernard gimmick, a name that is so over the top and cartoonish it seems that WWE decided to go that way with his attire, which comes over as a Shinobi boss or something, but either way he’s great in ring and will draw some attention from the East. It is also interesting that  the E are referencing his past and the fact he has been away returning as the monster, think Apocalypse Now or The Deer Hunter or Homeland as a wrestling character and I think you'll agree  it a promising concept, there's a great article on Tensai here which expands on this a little.  I just hope he changes his face paint a bit – I’m not a fan of his run-over-with-a-tyre look. 
With all this said it does beg the question what of the likes of The Miz? The mainevent card seems like it may be splitting off – I believe that the WWE championship will now represent the ‘upper mainevent’, while the WHC will represent the ‘lower mainevent’ and as a result may have quite a crowd targeting it. I think while CM Punk and Randy Orton may float between the two sections, with John Cena, Lesner, Tensai and later, The Rock, making up the ‘top card’, it will be Sheamus, Del Rio, Miz, Barrett, Rhodes, Henry, Christian and D.Bryan all gunning for the WHC, which is a much richer scene than we’re used to.

There are two honourable mentions before I close this down and that is to just once more speak of Daniel Bryan’s breakout, he could be big news at this rate. And finally the debut (at least gimmick wise) or Ryback who was Goldberging all over the place on Smackdown! Major face push to the midcard anyone? With the introduction of a couple of big time names the WWE has enriched its roster and officially entered a new era, the only question left now is with a roster this stacked where are all these new FCW faces going to fit?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

After Miami

The phenomenal fan support for Daniel Bryan is, to me, the biggest thing to come out of Miami. When you think about the amount of hype in WWE post Mania that's saying something; Brock Lesner's return, Lord Tensai's Debut, The Rock's homecoming and victory (clean over Cena), An amazing Hell in a Cell to see off an Era and the dawning of a new one under the rule of Big Johnny. However, there has been one thread that has bound the events of Wrestlemania and Raw and it began with a squash match. 

To the shock and awe of the WWE fanbase Daniel Bryan was beaten in a mere 18 seconds in the opening bout of Wrestlemania 28. During the entrance segment for the World Heavyweight Championship it was clear that Bryan has mustered a great deal of support with chants and crowd signs in abundance. Once Bryan had lost the match the increasingly popular 'YES!' chant began to escalate and would punctuate the evening. I first noticed that this was catching on at Ring of Honor's 10th Anniversary show and I'm really happy that its caught on in the WWE. The entire arena would chant this consistently throughout an epic Raw on Monday and the genuine excitement for Bryan is inspiring. Even John Cena would have to acknowledge the chant - even if in a skewed fashion that only Cena could manage and somehow lay claim to the chant?! In a strange way, the Wrestlemania squash may have been a blessing in disguise, as at this point, he is getting a better reaction than Punk - and he's a heel who continuously bullies his girlfriend - which hopefully will continue to translate across arenas. Great breakout moment for D. Bryan.


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Angry Wrestler

Here comes more of the same! Monday saw the return of Brock Lesner. It garnered a massive reaction from the crowd and though he didn't look quite as agile as he did in his original debut, he did look as mean and dominating as ever. I especially liked the little touch when he kicked away Cena's hat after the F5. The commentary team were right - the landscape has changed...

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Wrestlemania Time

Only because I feel that it would be disrespectful to let Wrestlemania pass by without writing something, here I am with my thoughts on this years event.
I’m not going to do predictions, I really don’t like reading them. Instead I’m just going to put down general thoughts and the excitement I have for the matches that have especially grabbed my attention. Oh and I’m not going to say anything about the ‘Divas’ match other than it has absolutely no draw for anyone. I don’t even know who Maria Menounos is, I know I probably spelt her name wrong but that just proves my point.. Good with that out of the way…
The World Heavyweight Championship match should be great. Daniel Bryan is my current favourite (see more in the forthcoming ROH study). His title run has been fantastic in my mind. While many have said he wasn’t ready to pick up the belt, I’d argue that he has provided some of the best entertainment in recent months and while the match against Sheamus hasn’t really been built on story, in a sense its stronger for it. The match is just what it is, two rising stars fighting for the title. It also has the extra attraction that this match was cut (rather confusingly) from last years card. With such a backlash from fans I think WWE made the smart move holding it this year, it reminds me of Leeds/Reading festival one year – The White Stripes were scheduled to play and then Jack White broke his hand. As a solution they were announced as headline act for the next years event, this could also be likened to the Cena/Rock match. Obviously outside of all this the idea that D.Bryan has become a twerp is the main story – Sheamus just happens to be the top face that can take him down, its just a good old fashioned wrestling angle with a fresh face. I’m really looking forward to this match and am thrilled that it’s happening.
Punk and Jericho has had some real ups and downs throughout the feud. I’ve enjoyed the highs and I think Punk is coming off really well. I’d almost be happy if the match just consisted of Punk repeatedly elbowing Jericho in the face for his recent playground bullying. But by that I mean the result of this feud is exactly what it should be – making the audience desperate to see Punk get his revenge. I’d also add Jericho’s trolling since his return has been frustratingly fun and keeping him off TV for the last two weeks has only made him seem more manipulative.
I’m excited to see where the battle for the brands goes, should be good midcard mayhem and I’m really pleased with the fact Cody Rhodes has a singles match for the IC Title.
I really don’t need to say anything about ‘The End of an Era’ match. However I would like to offer an alternative take on the title. To me the era in question is actually the era since ‘Ruthless Aggression’. Although its true that the Triple H and ‘Taker were involved with the ‘Attitude Era’ and the stipulation for their match this year reinforces that, ‘The Streak’ has only been a major selling point for the event for the last five or six years. Before this the streak was increasingly involved with Wrestlemania but never to its recent extent. In my mind ‘End of an Era’ signifies the end of the current era in WWE and the beginning of a new one.
Rock/Cena – I have posted on this before. It should be epic and has been built really well in the last couple of months. I hope it delivers.
That’s about all the excitement I can muster for now, so until next time, make mine Mania!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Once in a Lifetime

 There’s something interesting happening in the ‘WWE Universe’. Just under a year ago the match of John Cena vs The Rock was finally announced. The announcement after Wrestlemania XXVII (which The Rock would make an appearance as guest host) came after a great feud between the pair in the lead up to that event. In fact the feud between Rock and Cena would be so strong it would detract from Cena’s main event WWE title match against The Miz, which in turn was built fairly badly. To further The Rock’s part in the feud he would eventually abuse his power to interfere in what was a really strange match anyway, restarting it after a double count out and immediately screwing Cena. Frustratingly we would have to wait a year to see the resulting match between the pair, however in the last month I have become re-interested in what has resulted in an off beat and unique story.

Over the course of the last year we have seen the feud, which has been built in a series of sparse instalments, based on ‘twitter wars’, trending topics and satellite feeds without seeing very much of the two stars interact with each other in the physical realm. All the while Cena has been pushed in a slightly more knowing way having to overcome a series of obstacles the likes of which he has never before faced; a wrestling ‘terrorist’ (in the form of CM Punk) absconding with the WWE title only to later haunt and taunt when Cena finally thought he’d won the ‘war’ and the title again (all the while also managing to save his own job), a second fleet of terror in the form of The Miz and evil R Truth who seemed to have formed themselves in a more extreme but less effective version of Punk – all the while having to team with The Rock himself, and of course most recently Kane presenting Cena with the idea that the audience had began to turn on him forcing Cena to ‘Rise Above Hate’. This has been building all the way to Wrestlemania season, where we would finally get the main feud for the much hyped match.
 What we have been presented with in the last few weeks as a result however, actually feels embedded with a decent history between the pair. But more interestingly than any beef these two men have with each other, is the beef that the audience have and are beginning to declare about both men. And I think we are in position where the WWE as well as Rock and Cena have been caught slightly off guard. We have seen various promos establishing a war of words between the two over a number of weeks, however increasingly we are hearing boo’s for The Rock… and less for Cena. What has gone from a disgruntled crowd with building fury against Cena has begun to turn since the Kane feud. Cena has dropped some of the nice guy act, (notice he has ended every promo recently by dropping and in some cases throwing down his mic ‘Pipebomb’ style),  he has began adapting to the crowds criticisms and he has also adopted a lot of ‘reality era’ traits. And by ‘reality era’ I suppose I’m referring to dressed down insults that reference something outside of the gimmick, something that indicates John Cena the person, rather than ‘John Cena’ the character, dislikes something about Dwayne Johnson, rather than disliking something about ‘The Rock’. This is another element that I first recall CM Punk doing to Randy Orton insisting on calling him ‘Randall’. It seems obvious to me that the reason Cena has this over The Rock is because he has a greater understanding of the current, which makes sense. The Rock is relying on tried and tested formulas to win cheers from the crowd – there are a lot of cheap pops in The Rock’s repertoire. Yes, he is creating trending topics instantly (another first that is great to witness), such as now popular ‘Fruity Pebbles’ and more recently ‘Kung Pow Bitch’, however in terms of ingenuity this is really the same stuff he would come up with in the 90’s, which is interesting as so many Internet fans have been asking for the 90’s back, but ultimately it doesn’t mean anything and is, quite frankly, slightly dumb by comparison, if not catchy.

Last Monday for me the turn became evident. The crowd interacting with everything The Rock had to say and also seemed really into Cena too (having his home town crowd surely helped), however during part of The Rock’s confrontation with Cena, the crowd did something I didn’t expect, they began to chant ‘Tooth Fairy’. The Rock was mid rant, throwing his cartoon insults at Cena when the audience themselves threw the softest sounding insult they could, directed at Dwayne Johnson. Dwayne Johnson the actor, not The Rock. However in a story line where The Rock has insisted that the two are the same, it does beg the question how much do the audience still truly believe in The Rock? In one chant, all of The Rock’s one liner ammunition was slightly compromised. 

Whatever the match is like at Wrestlemania we have seen a first, a unique story that has relied on social media and audience participation in a way never before seen in this form of entertainment. I’d like to finish on a note that when Hogan faced The Rock at Wrestlemania X8, the audience shocked people and turned Hogan who came in as a major nWo heel to a babyface, and the crowd was really split. I think this is another unique moment for the WWE audience as it is really unclear who takes which position in the Cena/Rock feud. The match is sold as Face vs Face, however to many Cena is a heel, to some (and increasingly so) The Rock is a heel – there are combinations of which wrestler falls into which slot depending on the audience memberis and it will be interesting to see what the crowd think on the night. As a fan I am finding myself in a unique position, in that I am actually routing for John Cena to win. And that truly is a first.    

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Ring Ka King of Heels

This post may contain Ring Ka King spoilers – if you want to watch the episode first you can do so here

Having just watched my first episode of Ring Ka King I thought I absolutely had to write a post concerning the program. I don’t usually dip my toe in TNA waters, every time I’ve tried to give it a chance it has failed me for one reason or another, mainly on poor production quality and the dated feeling the programme gives (see above image). I admire a few roster members but overall it’s a fairly messy product to me. However on hearing the news that the company had launched a new show purely aimed at the Indian market, and indeed based in the country as well, my ears pricked up. Upon viewing the show I was surprised by the roster foremost. It is a fantastic mix of up and coming fan favourites such as Brutus Magnus, Sonjay Dutt and Matt Morgan, mixed in with TNA mainstays such as Scott Steiner, Abyss, (arguably Dutt and Morgan may also fit here), alongside Indian home grown talent. However the surprise for me was the treatment of free agents such as Chavo Guerrero who has been teamed with Bulldog Hart, with whom we are more familiar as Harry Smith, son of The British Bulldog. They have already been given the Tag Team Championships along with an elevated main event status. I also like the reference to Harry Smith’s heritage, something WWE never could quite seem to do for some reason (My suspicion would be that management think of Bret Hart as a bigger draw, he was constantly referred to as his nephew – which of course he is – but not very often as Bulldog’s son). It also seems significant that neither of these wrestlers appear on the TNA roster page, where someone such as Magnus is included; I like the idea of Ring Ka King having exclusive big draw wrestlers on the roster.

The entire show built to the six-man tag match of RKK Champion Matt Morgan with RKK Tag Team Champions Chavo Guerrero Jr and Bulldog Hart against the super heel team of Scott Steiner, Sonjay Dutt and ‘Sir’ Brutus Magnus. Through out the duration the heel stable were cutting promos about the arrival of some form of monster heel. To anyone who has ever seen a TNA show it’s going to be Abyss, but he is never revealed, we are just presented with shadows of the creature. The Indian crowd are really hot for the match - the atmosphere is really something and it’s clear that there is a lot of hype and excitement surrounding the product, which only helps present the show as a serious thing. The other aspect which makes the show feel a little more spectacular is that the floor level audience are standing, which means the crowd are moving and interacting with the show, much like in the old football or rugby stands, or as a crowd at a festival or gig might act. This also makes for a unique moment in the show – super heel Steiner begins pushing the crowd who in turn are gesturing at him, as the crowd move around he pushes forward and the scene takes the form of a riot. This ‘violence’ continues post match, when the heel team are joined by a raging, ‘Monster Abyss’ who is revealed with an Undertaker-esque black out. Both men begin the staging of an assault on the audience, literally breaking barrier between the show and the audience. The standing audience actually flee as they are lurched at. There is a genuine excitement to this segment and it makes me think of all this talk about the ‘reality era,’ although in truth its closer to Orson Welles infamous ‘War of the Worlds’ radio broadcast, complete with panicking civilians, but the interesting thing is how willing the audience are to play their part.  

This is terrific heel characterisation and it really feels like it’s breaking new ground (or as the case may be very, very old ground – I’ve heard stories of Giant Haystacks interacting with the crowd, but probably not quite like this). In terms of entertainment its commendable that RKK and in turn TNA for taking this leap, it goes to show what context will do for a product, if this had been attempted in the U.S it wouldn’t have worked in the same way. Regardless of Steiner's horrible in ring skills and real life personality, in an era in wrestling where ‘reality’ plays such a large role it’s nice to see a bit of hyper reality creeping back in.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Angry Wrestler

William Regal.

Just a few thoughts about Regal, a fantastic British wrestler who has maintained his heel persona for the entirety of his career. He has been in and out of the limelight in WWE for nearly as long as Mark Henry and has 'achieved' roughly the same amount, only at different stages. I can't stress enough how much admiration I have for both men. I have always had a soft spot for Regal, from the days of his knuckle duster (or brass knucks) finisher through to his role as GM. I wish he'd had more of an opportunity for a main event push in his prime. I think he would have had more of an opening in today's landscape - take Wade Barret for example, a contemporary equivalent perhaps. Imagine what the roster could have looked like, had the WWE had a brand split back in the attitude era. 

These days he seems to be well ingrained in WWE and he is doing a lot of commentary on NXT. I think he should become a commentary mainstay on either Smackdown! or RAW and I'd also like to see him in a manager type role. He is really skilled on the mic and he is someone who could really help develop the tag team division by 'introducing' a new group in story. I feel like there is still a little un-tapped potential in Regal and the WWE would be wise to use him more going forward.

Friday, 17 February 2012

OH NO! In search of a Hero

I've been reading in various places recently that an Indy wrestler called Chris Hero has been signed to WWE talent development FCW. I dont know very much about him other than he is an internet phenomenon. He has masses of followers and has made waves working for Ring of Honour (along with once Kings of Wrestling tag Partner Claudio Castagnoli, also now working with FCW). 

It has been announced by FCW that he will go on under the name of Kassius Ohno under the company, rather than his former, presumably 'creator owned' name. This has Vince McMahon's fingerprints all over it. Ever since The Ultimate Warrior tried to claim copyright to the gimmick he made his name under with WWE (then WWF) even changing his name by deed pole to 'The Ultimate Warrior', (I think he still goes by Warrior), McMahon has been increasingly keen to own all rights to characters from the outset - further indicating CM Punk's influence within WWE, it should be noted he was allowed to keep this name from the outset.

It seems over the last year (and largely on the back of last years poorly received Wrestlemania) that the WWE has changed its tune. This time last year The Miz was riding high as the new WWE Champion, ranting and raving all over the screen with one of the biggest pushes since John Cena. Its rare we see the company get behind someone from the get go and stick with them these days. It was a pretty convincing title run in the end and The Miz looked set to become a huge star in the making. With rumours circulating in the last year that WWE was going to drop the word 'wrestling' from its branding and a total abandoning of the use of the word in WWE programming was becoming the norm. This is something the internet fan base were really upset by (and understandably so), and it has to be noted that in the last year things have changed. We now have former Ring of Honour darlings CM Punk and Daniel Bryan (formerly and confusingly Bryan Danielson) holding the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships respectively, and there is an over all sense that suddenly, and no doubt through CM Punks doing (at least to some degree), that 'wrestling' is back in vogue. It has to be said that the 'internet fans' are the fan base that truly need nurturing, I think the large section of the audience made up of children are more willing to believe in the characters of the WWE, they have great imaginations, but the adults need satisfying. It does look bright at the moment for the WWE, the roster is full of amazing talent, and there is a whole roster of FCWers to be excited about. 

So with WWE forming a small army of 'independent wrestlers' I ask the 'universe' when, and where from, will we find our next hero?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Beginning of an Era

After reading a blog on ewrestlingnews earlier referencing the current Triple H/Undertaker impending feud, named The End of an Era. I replied with a comment in the thread that felt like more of an autobiography via my life long relationship with wrestling, with that in mind I thought it should also go on this blog in its own right.

To read the original blog written by Azure follow this link 

I replied with a story;

"I watched wrestling the first time round as a young boy, I watched between era's consisting of wrestlers such as; Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Jake the Snake, Bret Hart, Diesel, Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels. I was astounded by each and every character that entered a WWF ring. However as the next few years of (Primary) School went by I just sort of stopped watching. I always had it in the back of my mind and would look at my action figures or trading cards but I didn't really put much more thought into it. I spent more time re reading my small collection of English reprints of American comics.

Then a few years later my youngest brother, who at this point was a little older than I was when I stopped watching, bought a WWF sticker album. My first reaction was a gasp, ' I cant believe they changed the logo, the old one was well better!'. As he showed me the characters page by page, I looked for a familiar face. Not many could be found barring The Undertaker, who now had a brother of his own. All I could think as he turned the pages was, 'Who's this X-Pac kid? He looks'. My brother showed me his favorites; Triple H, Big Show and Stone Cold Steve Austin, and to be honest didn't see what was so special about them. Where had all the cool characters gone? Where were the colorful costumes? Where were all the animal sidekicks? All I could think was 'I've got to watch this with him and find out who these characters are'.

I quickly got back into wrestling, and to my surprise it had gotten dark and violent. This was the height of what we now know as the attitude era. But it took Triple H a few years to become that headline threat that the audience came to love him for. The Undertaker seemed less impressive somehow and soon after we started watching, he was riding around on a motorbike to Limp Bizkit - the now legendary streak at that point was just a byline, a side note to any Wrestlemania match. The big draw was always Stone Cold, The Rock and McMahon in the middle (or indeed somewhere on the edges). That era gave us some of the best and the worst of Wrestlemania history.

I continued to watch just up until after the WCW invasion angle, which  I really enjoyed, and I remember thinking 'I wonder who will come next? I wonder who will the next Rock?' I still get excited about that prospect, that within five years the roster will change so dramatically that it is almost unrecognisable.

I'm sorry this turned more into a blog of my own than a response, but I'd just like to end on the point that the legends of the era we've been talking about, only became those legends over time. We have seen the beginning of CM Punks rise over the last year and I'd like to think that your list of legends will continue to grow. "

I was attempting to touch on the cyclical nature of long established serial programmes. I think it probably has something to do with the limitations of narrative structure, but from soap operas, such as Coronation Street, to wrestling programming, such as Monday Night Raw, there will always be an element of recycled material. However there is also the idea of a history, recording of information and an editing of said information born out of the fact that WWE programming presents itself as falling somewhere between Sport and Reality TV - often when WWE want to make a champion sound more prestigious they will combine their Heavyweight and WWE title reigns. In the same way that they will mention all the greats of WWE history when referring to The Undertaker's Wrestlemania Streak, however they will fail to mention Giant Gonzales. But this is forgivable, for the reason that we are watching a work of fiction. In the same way that a death in a major comic book has the permanence of, well, no permanence at all.

Digression aside, in pop culture, each generation has a defining experience depending on the cartoons that were available, the technology at hand and in my case and the case of thousands, the wrestlers that were employed by the WWE. I'm sure to the children born into 'The Cena Era' this is the classic age, where Cena is Hulk Hogan, where Orton is a more successful Jake Roberts and where Hacksaw Jim Duggan is still Hacksaw Jim Duggan.  

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Heel Turns for the Ages #1

The first in a series of spotlights on heel turn moments. Character turns usually make for amazing wrestling viewing and I'll begin with a little flashback to...

CM Punk

Punk was really over in WWE after a vast rise on the new defunct ECW brand, he was even proclaimed 'The future of WWE' by Triple H (Trips picking upon a really vocal chant from the crowd), when teaming with DX at Survivor Series (2008 maybe). However he would go on to cash in Money in the Bank against a debilitated Jeff Hardy, much to the crowds confusion - it had seemed that Punk would build up to be a super face until this point (a tactic that has been repeated more recently with another internet darling in Daniel Bryan) - and I think the WWE played the slow burn turn really well, selling Punk as a conflicted young professional. All the while building to a supervillain in the making...

Here is the moment he properly turned;

Its interesting how truly shocked a lot of the crowd are. I really enjoyed this story arc, it was a really good year for the Smackdown roster too. I think a lot of people would disagree about that but it was a highly athletic roster and seemed to be really putting over believable main event caliber stars. This is a slight digression, but the WWE Brand Draft has really damaged the development of the roster over the last few years, I think the current roster would feel slightly more established if more time had been invested in the brand development..

CM Punk went on to develop his heel persona drawing on his Straight Edge background to become a preachy, greasy, sleezy, evil genius character. And he really got under the crowds skin. I remember really disliking the direction as it progressed, however with hindsight, it shows how successful that character was. He went on to form the Straight Edge Society, who were similar to Right to Censor from the around the end of the Attitude era.

Another interesting element of this heel run was how much the internet fan base supported it, an idea that links in to some of my ideas about the subjectivity of the heel position. To thousands Punk was still someone to cheer for, a trend that is continuing to rise, internet fans following and supporting heel roles (more on this another time). The Internet were so into 'Heel Punk' that even after his face turn last summer many were still making references and guesses as to when his face turn would commence. In case anyone missed it here's Punk kissing 'goodbye' to Vince McMahon and with him the WWE.

I'm sure we'll get another heel run or two out of Punk at some point over the years, but for now lets enjoy his title run, here's hoping he still has the title come Wrestlemania! 

edit: It should be noted that CM Punk's heel run during this period was also interesting as he took what should be a strong positive message - don't abuse your body with alcohol and drugs - and turned it into a preachy aggressive attack on the audience. There was a lot of humour and sarcasm  in this character that still makes Punk popular today and its really nice seeing the audience laughing along during some of those promos. This is a good example of a heel you love to hate, much like classics such as Ted Dibiase (Million Dollar Man), Ric Flair and arguably the current Daniel Bryan run.   

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Bane’s Main Event Push

Like many comic and Batman fans with building anticipation to this summer’s The Dark Knight Rises, I began reading Batman: Knightfall, by Doug Moench and Chuck Dixon (running largely across DC’s Batman and Detective Comics lines in 93), a couple of weeks ago. It seems at the moment that you can hardly enter a comic book shop without hearing a reference of, or request for this collection. I’d never read very many Bane stories growing up, (partially scarred by his appearance in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin) and when it was announced that Bane would feature in Christopher Nolan’s sequel, I was somewhere between confused – I had never seen him as a lead villain – and interested, particularly by the notion that he would be an intelligent but powerful unknown threat. It was this idea that sold me on him as not only a worthy foe but also one that would take the audience along on the ride with Batman himself.

The reading of Knightfall is a slightly off kilter experience in its build (in fairness it is nearly 20 years old now), as Bane secretly puts Batman through an unrelenting gauntlet of ‘classic’ foes, showing his cunning. However the nature of exhausting Batman to the point where the ultimate showdown is almost unnecessary and actually serves to lessen the impact of  ‘the broken bat’ image, which in itself has become an icon of comic book (or perhaps Batman imagery), history.  Indeed the image is duplicated even more dramatically on the issues cover. 

The most exciting moment of Bane’s victory comes in the following issue in a two-page transition that unveils Bane to Gotham as the victorious mystery man that has been tormenting the city remotely. His monologue is over the top and hammy and I couldn’t help but draw some themes into another territory; the territory of Professional Wrestling, the territory of the WWE to be exact.

Batman overcomes all odds through out this relentless crime wave, but upon finally being confronted by Bane in the main event, it’s a complete squash. Bane wins without taking any damage at all. It seems that in days gone by this tactic would be used by Professional Wrestling Promoters to give a clear push to a future maineventer. WWE did this with greats such as The Undertaker and The Rock, mystery entrants to the Survivor Series match who would go on to give top performances and get over with the crowd immediately. We still get squash style pushes today in the WWE but the difference is the push will be against under card ‘talent’. A prime example of this the recent push of Brodus Clay under his Funkasaurus gimmick. He is well received amongst fans although the string of opponents he is being fed are so far down the card (in most cases) that the match has no promise of defeat for the man. The notion of a Bane like push in today’s WWE does seem like a relishing thought and I’m talking about complete destruction on a big stage. 

I suppose John Cena would have to be targeted becoming Batman in the storyline, perhaps it would be more like Superman vs Darkseid then... This as a debut push would potentially create a new monster face or heel in the WWE landscape adding to a mainevent roster that is becoming very established, but I feel a breakout star will really rise in the next couple of years.
So with that said, heres to John Cena vs Bane at a Wrestlemania near you soon.

Friday, 3 February 2012

not what I thought my first blog would be about.. (or the unexpected [re]push)

The Royal Rumble.

Going in I had so many fantasies about what the outcome would be; who would shine, rumble ‘Legend’ returns and if there would be any surprise returns to the main roster. I thought the latter may be even more promising in light of Randy Orton's early return for Smackdown and for some reason I just kept getting Batista's music stuck in my head in the build up. I'm not sure why, I never liked him (with the exception of the incredible match he had against Undertaker that year at Wrestlemania). I try not to read spoilers where possible, especially regarding PPV info so my imagination occasionally runs wild, but in real terms I was really looking forward to seeing the rising stars have some exciting stand out Rumble moments. 

The potential for some real propulsion for new characters was unending and although I felt the Rumble was fun, it just didn't create many moments for its current top (or rising to the top) roster stars, (I’m intentionally ignoring the fantastic end segment with Sheamus and and Jericho). It felt a little like the WWE wanted us to recognise The Miz and Cody Rhodes as major threats just by being there. This is not to say that either superstar came across badly, in fact Cody looked very strong, but just didn’t have a major maniacal Cody Rhodes moment that I can recall. 

However, for me personally I feel the experience of the rumble was altered this year, and this is where I start to get to the surprise in the blog. This year I watched the rumble with both of my brothers, who at various points over our lives have fallen in and out of wrestling. The tradition that stands in our family is that we try to get together to watch Wrestlemania and even though we all got together last year, about a third of the way into the match one bro remarked, ‘I don’t know who anyone is!’. In truth he was familiar with The Miz, recognized Dolph Ziggler (mainly understanding his position from the WWE Championship match earlier) and had forgotten Cody Rhodes - it proved to me what a big year its been for Rhodes. However what happened next surprised me. The same brother later remarked, ‘Is Kofi Kingston still in it?’, the very next entry was Kofi Kingston and both my brothers went crazy, and I think its safe to say the crowd did as well.

Kofi Kingston.

It was Kingston. Kofi Kingston, who entered the Rumble with just about the only pyro display on the roster (other than the newly added Funkasaurus, or returned Y2J), stepping up in new ring attire who brought some serious energy and much needed zest to the ring. I realised that I had been underestimating his position within the company for some time. He has provided a lot of the major spots in the Money in the Bank matches (possibly a reason he’s always in them) and he’s one of the only roster members who’s had respectable multiple time Intercontinental Championship reigns and hasn’t risen to World title status. He was put in place to birth a new tag team division, its such a shame that has been de-railed, even if only temporarily. Its also interesting that in a Rumble match that lacked flare he provided a spot of inspiration, a spot so simple its surprising it hasn’t been done before, but a spot executed so perfectly that every fan from front row enthusiasts to families in the top tier applauded heartily. 
 Its promising that the very next night Kingston was booked to win over The Miz, in a clean victory no less AND that he will feature in the title match at Elimination Chamber. I truly hope this is another opportunity for Kingston to break through - I suspect this is time kill until/if Evan Bourne returns – but I have surprised myself in becoming interested in the guy. I’ve always sort of ignored him, but I’m realising now he’s one of the more senior roster members and he has some notoriety in public conscience.

Possible break out moment for Kofi Kingston? I hope so, or maybe I’m just excited by the fact he’s dressing up like The Riddler.