WWE Royal Rumble Review January 26th 2014

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The Be Here Now of wrestling shows.

You have to admire the hubris. Expecting an unlikebale, unfit semi-star one week back in the company to be cheered for winning the Rumble. Having your most over performer in years do the job clean in the opening match. A world heavyweight title feud which has never drawn an atom of heat. It’ll be fine, right guys?

I enjoyed this PPV more than I’ve enjoyed anything since Summerslam. First, the action in the ring was splendid. Bryan / Wyatt was an exhibition by these performers of what they’re capable of. It felt like Shawn Michaels was talking for the company when he described them as the starts of the future. The problem is that the audience want them to be the stars of now. Cena / Orton was absolutely fine as a by the numbers heel title defense. Orton deserves credit for acknowledging the protest, but the problem is bigger than him. Listen again to the entrance pops for these two: Orton mild disapproval, Cena’s jeer more resigned than ever.

I’m even going to defend Lesnar / Big Show. This is a misbegotten feud and a complete waste of Lesnar. But just as their segment on Raw was unexpectedly fun, the encounter at the Rumble at least had an element of surprise and violence. Be honest, would you rather have seen them work a twenty-minute match?

And then there was the far more entertaining meta-show. This was outright rebellion by the crowd. It also might be the first Royal Rumble in history where the Rumble match was not the most entertaining thing on the card. Lacking in surprises and of course lacking in D-Bry, it felt like the party all the used-to-be-popular kids got invited to. Cesaro was great, Reigns was kind of great in his vanilla-ish way. Seth Rollins worked as long as Punk, and it should be noted that unlike Punk he managed not to take a twenty minute nap in the corner. Batista, it has to be said, looked awful. Rusty, inexplicably breathless, angry, arrogant and baffled by the crowd. Rehabilitating him must be their top priority.

What WWE creative have forgotten is that back in 2000, Rock and Austin weren’t the old guard. They weren’t the guys back for a couple of months between making movies – they were the new stars. They were Daniel Bryan, and ridiculous as it sounds given how badly they’ve been booked, they were Ziggler, Ryback, Cesaro. The great thing about WWF back then was that the old guard weren’t there. They had defected to WCW. They weren’t around to hold down the talent and slow down the show. This is why fans cheering the current exodus from TNA are gravely misguided. You think Hogan coming back to WWE is a good thing? You trust them to intelligently book Sting? You want *more* old guys for creative to make the actual talent job to? You do remember what happened to WCW, don’t you?

The problem is that this has become like a divorce. Bitter and personal; a matter of pride between creative and the fans. It’s thrilling and makes for great TV, but you’ve got to hope a peace can be brokered. With a landmark Wrestlemania and the Network just around the corner, the next three months are momentous for the company. It seems unthinkable that management can press ahead with Wrestlemania as planned. If they do, and pull it off, they deserve enormous credit. But after Sunday, they may well be wondering whether discretion is the better part of valour.

TNA Impact “Genesis” (part 2) Review January 23rd 2014

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Nine New Investors:

  • There is one production detail wrestling promoters have been grappling with for a generation: The correct “British Guy” entrance music. It seems an intractable problem, responsible for (among other horrors) Steven Regal’s “Erotic James Bond” theme. But you know, I think with Spud’s new music TNA have finally cracked it. It starts out gaudy and triumphant like Blackpool South Pier, and ends up wistful and sweeping somewhere on the North shore. It’s at once absurd and elegant, like Britiain, like pro wrestling. It’s a masterpiece.
  • Actually, while we’re on this, fix Magnus’ entrance. I mean, what even is that?
  • The door. The fucking cage door. Who was the dimwit who suggested: “Hey, you know cage matches, what if you could win by just walking out of the door?”. Everybody laughed, of course, but here we are in 2014, still living with pro wrestling cage matches where you can win by WALKING OUT OF THE DOOR. If I have to watch one more wrestler take a full minute to crawl down the ring steps, I’m going to be really annoyed.
  • For me, Kurt’s cage moonsault has become a symbol of his love for the business, not to mention his hardcore badassery. The internet reaction to this match has annoyed me. “TNA shouldn’t let Kurt do this”? He’s a grown man. If WWE gave this match away on free TV you’d be creraming yourselves. Jerks.
  • Joe is getting a nice push here. I hope it continues.
  • I like Gunner. I know it’s weird. I like how he looks and wrestles like an angry hobo. But even I have to admit his match with Storm this week was flat. Too much awkward work on the turnbuckles. However, I loved the section after the briefcase came off the pole. We could have done with more of that; it’s a clever stipulation with loads of possibilities. A run-in maybe? The briefcase and competitors going for a little tour of the building? Could be great.
  • Beautiful ringwork with Aries / Sabin, as you’d expect. I don’t know why Aries is being kept away from the main event story; I could watch the guy wrestle all night. There’s just something about the Velvet / Sabin / Aries angle which irks me. Somebody needs to sit down and decide what Velvet’s character is supposed to be. Why does she stay with Sabin, but betray him? Why are we supposed to like Aries in this? At the moment the whole thing just has a sleazy vibe.
  • I wasn’t crazy about the Sting match. It was fun, but it was too similar and too soon since the AJ match. Also, again Magnus has failed to do any wrestling which made me think of him as a world champion.
  • There were lots of (in pro wrestling terms) well acted backstage segments tonight. I’m increasingly finding these much more entertaining and watchable than the in-ring promos. The Aces & Eights funeral was among the funniest few minutes of wrestling TV I’ve ever seen. Now, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but you may also know that Impact’s ratings have started to rise recently. Wouldn’t it be weird if what TNA really needed to do to grow, rather than spending money hiring stars from the past, was just let their existing talent regularly talk on TV in a naturalistic way?

Again, a solid show from TNA which furthers their recent determination to book logically. For me, The Kurt / Roode match lifts the second part of “Genesis” above the first. It’s worth noting that this show arrives in the face of unrelenting internet doom-mongering about the company, and they’ve responded with a rise in US TV ratings and the best TV special since last year’s “No Surrender”. With the UK tour next week, TNA are in a great position to put some momentum into their slimmed-down product.

WWE Raw Review January 20th 2014

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Nine surprise entrants:

  • Great fun with the Shield and friends. Of course, the “where should we put all our good workers?” match tends to deliver.
  • On paper, you wouldn’t have thought a Big Show / Lesnar segment would be very good. But this actually *was* very good. Big Show’s impersonation made me spit tea on myself, and Lesnar has become a kind of artist of ringside mayhem. He’s mildly less terrifying without his MMA shorts, and I think he may have lost a little weight. But who would have thought it was possible to look forward to this match? That’s going a little far, but the match will happen, and we will watch it. Anything else is a bonus.
  • I have no idea why the New Age Outlaws are still on my TV two whole weeks after Old School Raw. Is this going to be a thing? I’m going to tolerate it because I hope Billy Gunn is working towards a Vigo the Carpathian gimmick. Every week he’ll be wheeled to the ring inside a painting. The commentary team will cautiously approach, conveniently forgetting their experience the previous show, at which point Gunn will burst out with some shenanigan or other. The haunted painting angle, or “portrait ballyhoo” as it was known, was very popular in the territorial era.
  • I’m incapable of saying anything objective about Naomi matches, so I’ll just say she rocks. I can think of about a billion more interesting things to do with the “Divas” (ugh), and particularly the brilliant AJ Lee than what they’re doing, but whatever weird mental hangup stops US national wrestling promotions doing anything worthwhile with women is beyond the scope of this review.
  • It’s really hard to get excited about Batista on the basis of him attacking Del Rio. Wouldn’t we all do that given the opportunity?
  • Also, he looks a bit like a mole.
  • Even if we assume that Bryan wouldn’t have been allowed to win the Rumble on Sunday, surely having him in it would have been worth a few buys from naive souls who still think management will ever give him the ball? Certainly a few more buys than the match with Wyatt, anyway. He remains *terrifyingly* over. In an era with any meaningful competition at all, they would have to do something about it.
  • This program is still too long.
  • I’m not as critical of the Orton / Cena feud as a lot of internet commentators. I buy Orton as a whiny heel, and I don’t think it makes him look weak. You can be whiny and still be extremely capable, as a lot of professional sportspeople demonstrate. The arena brawl was a nice touch of controlled “anarchy” on a product which is generally too safe, clean and organised. Maybe the outcome of the match was a little disrespectful to Kofi? Having beaten the champ clean and then fought him to a no-contest (I guess), I assume he’ll be added to the title match at the Rumble? Sorry, I’ll have a lie down.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t enthralled by this show. That’s a bit unfortunate as it makes me look like I’m down on Raw generally, which I’m not. I just think that outside of the Rumble mach, which will of course be brilliant, the rest of the card is in a bit of a mess. Bryan’s enforced mid-card feud hasn’t caught fire, and the Brock and title matches are only lukewarm. Still, it’s not like we’re not going to watch the Rumble, is it?

TNA Impact “Genesis” Review January 16th 2014

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Nine “Roode Bombs”:

  •  Noticeably larger ringside area this week, giving the talent more space to work. Can one dare to hope that the disability ramp is gone for good?
  • Say what you want about Dixie and Spud; they draw nuclear heat. Spud’s opening promo was vintage heel work of the first degree.
  •  Impact still benefits from being outside Universal Studios. The Huntsville crowd were loud and involved, and it added a lot to the show.
  •  TNA can book a fun 12 man tag. Joe looked like a beast, as he should. And that’s the first time in a while we’ve seen a Knockout pull a proper big move on a male wrestler, which is exciting and adds to the credibility of the KO division. More of this, please.
  •  Sing’s mic work was gold all night. Angry, passionate and sending the crowd wild. Are we stuck with the t-shirt? I guess we’re stuck with the t-shirt.
  • You know what I really miss? Putting a little ident on the screen when a wrestler wins a championship. You know, just a little graphic under a shot of Rayne with the title, saying: “New Knockout’s Champion: Madison Rayne”. It’s a small thing, but small things matter.
  • Some slightly rusty ringwork in the Anderson / Bully match. Other than that it was a good hardcore outing which furthered their feud. It’s still great to see a rare piledriver on TV; very few moves look as devastating. It would have been nice to see Anderson really set the table on fire. Nothing like a bit of fire for the highlight reel.
  • I’m not a fan of seeing Aries talk about pigeons, and I don’t find a supposed face trying to undermine another guy’s relationship very sympathetic. And this from a guy who already has a hard time coming across as likeable. It’s also a great shame that the X division currently seems to consist of two guys. This angle would benefit from Aries or Sabin fighting somebody new – maybe just somebody on a single appearance contract – to get them over a little more as the supposed elite of X div wrestlers.
  • Magnus is already walking and talking like a champ, and he deserves credit for that. They say the best wrestling personas are a vanity-free extension of a performer’s own personality, and he works well as the slightly entitled, somewhat insecure heel. His face persona was perhaps prone to being a little whiny. Of course, he hasn’t earned the championship by a long shot, and TNA have the good sense to write that into the character. It’s important that we see him put in a good shift in the ring fairly soon. Even a paper champion needs to be able to go when required.  It remains to be seen whether Magnus is able to elevate himself on the mat in the same way he has on the mike. I confess the only ring work of his I’ve enjoyed was his (brilliant) run teaming with Joe.

Overall, this was firmly in the ‘pretty good’ category. In particular, it was great to get out of Universal and back on the road again. Having the commentary position by the ring is another of the little things which make me happy. Most of all – the show made perfect sense. There were references to past events like Sting’s World Title ban, everyone behaved in a way consistent to their characters and everything built to a logical conclusion. This is something you didn’t expect with TNA a few years ago. If TNA’s future is to be a sensible, coherent show with a roster of younger (cheap!) guys, there’s reason to be optimistic.