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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.