A Flashback for Friday

In honor of it being Halloween tomorrow, I thought I would share a “costume” story.

Every year, my friend Diego holds “DiegoCon” for his birthday. Diego is known as menswear officionado “Dandy in the Bronx”, so people usually come to DiegoCon in their best suits and ties. But this year, a mutual friend asked me what I thought playing to one of Diego’s other strengths: his love of wrestling. So back in May at DiegoCon 2015, my friend Katie and I donned some wrestling apparel and presented Diego with the World DiegoCon Championship belt. It was a shining moment, and we know he will do great things as the champ. And when he’s ready to turn heel, he knows who to call:
  
 

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And They All Went to Sleep For A Thousand Years

Hello readers – sorry to have left you hanging after RAW on Monday. Been a strange past few days. I’m back on track now, though! We’re going to have a guest post coming up soon (be gentle, would you please?) and I’m even working on the logistics of a video post. I used to do them a while back, but my hair is much better now.

I actually watched last night’s episode of NXT in its normal time-slot, and even the subsequent episodes of Table for 3 (which featured former NXT champions Bo Dallas and Adrian Neville, along with current NXT talent Samoa Joe) and CultureShock (featuring excellent cosplay of The Vaudevillains by some friends of mine, Dan & Diego!) Now, I didn’t have any problems with the matches per say, but I was thoroughly unimpressed by the stories being told.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately that “NXT is in a transitional phase”. Which, I have to admit, doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. They already HAD a transitional phase in building the NXT brand to what it was not three months ago. There is no reason why they should be floundering in the way that they are right now. In fact, the NXT brand is experiencing the complete opposite of the main roster at this moment.

Right now on the main roster, they are missing three of the big names that are usually draws for the company in Brock Lesnar, John Cena, and Randy Orton. Post-Hell in a Cell they also temporarily eliminated the Undertaker, and during RAW, we saw the demise of Kane. We’re now looking at a depleted roster – or are we? One day – in the not-so-distant future – all of those guys will be gone. What we’ll have left is a roster not entirely unlike what we saw on Monday. And how did WWE deal? They created a tournament for the #1 contender spot that actually made sense: put all the winners from HIAC in matches together, and the winners of those matches go into a fatal four-way for the chance to face Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. And it was great television as well as great wrestling. (NOTE: I’m not claiming this is normal on the main roster, or that they’ll maintain this for next week.)

On NXT, however they seem to have lost sight of their purpose. I will give them this much: they’ve been bled a little dry. With Sami Zayn and Hideo Itami out on injury for months, and Adrian Neville, Tyler Breeze, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch all called up to the main roster, it’s been hard to fill the void. But there is currently so much new talent down in NXT and so little TV time that the product is making very little sense from week to week. It used to be that when people were going to be debuting on NXT they were hyped – there was some sort of commercial we’d see a few weeks before they finally appeared in the ring. Now people are just showing up left and right without warning. It doesn’t seem to fair to them to get swallowed up in a whole crop of new faces – especially the people who have been in the business forever. Every once in a while springing someone new on us could be fun, but the hype for Kevin Owens was so palpable when he finally appeared on an episode of NXT, people were climbing the walls. I want to get that excited for people as a fan, but I need some help from the NXT marketing team.

As far as the actual programming goes, it seems they don’t know what they want. We’ve heard that Triple H listens to the fans as he focuses the direction of the NXT product (though I hope that doesn’t just mean the live audiences, because I’m beginning to hate them more than I hate live main roster audiences.) NXT is constantly making adjustments, which is understandable – but make them during the live events, not on TV. I like Jason Jordan and Chad Gable a lot, but I don’t want to see the “talented guy looks for scrappy new tag partner” trope one more time. And while I empathize that the women’s roster was shaved down quite a bit by the main roster call-ups, but I’m tired of watching indie girls get fed to actual contracted talent. I think it’s great that NXT is trying to diversify their audience, but the new WWE Network program Breaking Ground shows us there are plenty of people who could use the air-time, even if it’s to job to Emma.

I’m not going to give advice to a publicly traded company on how to do their job. I’m sure Trips will get the swing back in NXT eventually. But in the meantime, how about a request: more stories and less filler. You’ve got plenty of heat brewing in your roster, just open the lid and let it go.

The Lady J Says

Look at the Whole Board

I don’t know anything about chess. I know it’s extremely complicated and that it dates back to the 6th Century C.E. I have watched many people play, in parks and on breaks at jobs. I’ve even seen some people play online, though the magnificent physical pieces have always struck me most. A phrase I’ve heard before when more experienced players are trying to teach novices is a reminder to always look at the big picture: “see the whole board.” This phrase is something I try to keep in mind for all I do in life – don’t get hung up on the little things. Look beyond them. And it works in wrestling, too.

Now that Hell in a Cell is over, the whole landscape of WWE has changed. We now Brock Lesnar (with a win over Undertaker), John Cena (with a loss to Alberto Del Rio and missing his US championship), and Randy Orton (with a shoulder injury) are all out for the rest of the year. Every single feud was put to bed on Sunday’s paper view. There were seven matches (not counting the pre-show) and all seven ended in a clean finish. Even the main event, which technically was capped off with an appearance by the Wyatt Family, didn’t see usurpers appear until after the bell had rung. So tonight, it was time to start some new feuds.

Working backwards from Hell in a Cell, Bray Wyatt came out and cut a bizarre promo in which he referred to the Undertaker’s soul as being ripped to pieces and asked the audience to give him a moment of silence. Afterwards, Kane came out, and was promptly ambushed by Wyatt’s minions before being carried out, crucifix-style, by the Family. I imagine this is leading to some kind of Survivor Series match in which the Brothers of Destruction (and partners) face The Wyatt Family.

You also had a #1 contender’s match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. After four matches, the winner of each was entered into a fatal four-way, the winner receiving a match for the title against Seth Rollins. The clear winner was Roman Reigns, though I had hoped before he could get there we’d see a Dean Ambrose heel turn. The fatal four-way was an excellent match and built so that I was actually surprised for a moment when Reigns won. Then he and Seth stared each other down til the show went off air. I imagine this match will also happen at SurvivorSeries, though I can’t imagine how they’ll sustain it for another four weeks. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we’ll see the match before the PPV, and that’s when Dean will turn and it will be Ambrose vs. Reigns at Survivor Series and Rollins will have something else to do. Like laugh.

As four Reigns’ other three opponents in the fatal four-way, it looks as though there are some other stories there as well. I’m not sure who they’re going to be throwing at Del Rio in the future, but his gimmick seems all screwed up. I think, in light of what caused him to leave WWE in the first place, the best thing to do would have been to bring him back as a wily, hungry heel and let him climb over everyone. Instead they’ve paired him with a reformed Zeb Colter and let him comment on the immigration of UK-born WWE wrestlers. How on earth anyone thought this was a good idea is beyond me. Someone save this gimmick before the man defects back to Lucha Underground where he belongs.

Dolph Ziggler is clearly headed into a Battle of the Blondes against Tyler Breeze and Breeze’s new valet/girlfriend, Summer Rae. I have no doubt these two will put on excellent matches together, but I’m not sure what the story is. The Dolph is older? By 8 years. That would be like Triple H telling Stephanie she’s too young to understand. What? How silly. Why can’t the storyline just be that Tyler is from NXT and he wants to make a name for himself so he’s going to go through everyone, starting with The Showoff. Why does it ever need to be more than that?

Finally, Kevin Owens qualified for the fatal four-way against Cesaro. Now we’ve seen these two battle it out before and these matches are incredible. In my opinion, that was the best match of the night, hands-down. I wish they weren’t blowing these matches on RAW. These are definitely two cats I’d like to see in an iron man match for the title and it would probably blow everyone else on the card out of the water. But I’d like to see them work with someone else for a bit. Maybe Cesaro take the US title off of Del Rio. Maybe they should put Owens in a match with a heel like Sheamus or Barrett (who desperately needs a feud worth watching before we all forget how good the Bad News Barrett gimmick was. Remember BNB on his podium with his gavel? BNB. Oh forget it.

Even the women managed to move the story along, albeit in a really obnoxious way. I don’t know why Charlotte, Becky, & Paige had to lose to The Bella Twins and irrelevant Alicia Fox just so Paige could predictably turn on Charlotte and Becky. Can we please now disband all the women’s teams and just let them beat the crap out of one another? That’s all I want. No more story lines. Just fighting. Lots of actual fighting. Force them all to get good at that by not giving them anything else. Then make everyone on the creative team read a book, watch some non-WWE TV and a few movies before they’re allowed to write again.

As far as the tag team champions The New Day go, I have no idea what is in store for them. But if they keep showing up on my TV and cutting promos that actually make the guy in the ring that they’re cutting the promo on LAUGH, then they can stay tag champs. Forever.

New. Day Rocks.

The Lady J Says

The Lady J’s To Watch List:
1. Alberto Del Rio – who knows where this is going.
2. Cesaro – always watch Cesaro. One day they’re going to give this man his dues.
3. Dean Ambrose – sneaky sneaky right here – something is up his sleeves. Other than his arms.
4. Kevin Owens – dude needs a solid opponent, other than a possible returning Sami Zayn.
5. Survivor Series main event – what is going on with The Wyatts and The Brothers of Destruction?

HIAC Predictions

We are finally here – PPV day! Before the show starts, just wanted to share my predictions. Make sure to leave yours in the comments or @ me on twitter.

  1. Pre-show: Dolph Ziggler/Cesaro/Neville vs. Rusev/Sheamus/King Barrett
    Prediction: the faces go over. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a MITB cash-in gone awry from Sheamus tonight, so I don’t think it’s important that the heels win. This show also has a lot of loose ends to tie up, so I’m sure most of these gentlemen are due for new feuds. Ziggler/Cesaro/Neville win
  2. Kevin Owens (c) vs. Ryback for the Intercontinental Championship
    Prediction: This match requires outside interference. It was a clean win for Owens at Night of Champions but if he wins again and retains (which he needs to) it’s not good for Ryback to seem that weak. Plus a run-in sets up the next challenger. Owens retains
  3. Charlotte (c) vs. Nikki Bella for the Diva’s Championship
    Prediction: The only acceptable outcome is for Charlotte to retain. I imagine a little outside interference from Paige wouldn’t be shocking, but it won’t cost Charlotte the belt. Would like to see the Bellas moved out of the title picture. Charlotte retains
  4. The New Day (c) vs. The Dudley Boyz for the Tag Team Championship
    Prediction: As much as I’d like to see The New Day retain, I don’t think WWE is that smart. They’re hot right now and they didn’t need the Dudleyz to put them over – they just ARE over. It would be unfortunate to take the titles off a great heel stable to put them on a team who’s been out of the WWE for 10 years, but I think that’s precisely what might happen. I hope I’m wrong. Dudley Boyz win
  5. John Cena (c) vs. Mystery Opponent for the U.S. Champsionship
    Prediction: I’ve been avoiding social media all day because I don’t want to know who the mystery opponent will be until the last possible second. If it’s Tyler Breeze, great. If it’s Sami Zayn, even better. I’ve been hearing Cena is going away for a bit from TV, so I’d like to see him drop the title to whomever and have them continue the open challenge. It makes the title more fun knowing it could change any episode of RAW, because it’s always on the line. A fighting champion is the best kind of champion. Mystery Opponent wins
  6. Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt inside Hell in a Cell
    Prediction: I don’t really care to be honest, but I hope it involves interference from Dean Ambrose as payback for last year’s HIAC main event debacle. Particularly if he appears in a puff of smoke. Don’t count out Luke Harper, Erick Rowan, and the new guy, what’s his name – Burt Stoleman. Could be a high body count. I hope they make this more interesting than it sounds. Dean Ambrose kills everyone (more likely Roman Reigns wins. *yawn*)
  7. The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar
    Prediction: If Taker wins, I will be sad because it means no Heyman promos for a while. Also, what a weird thing to do to Brock Lesnar and I don’t know where he goes from here. If Taker loses, I never want to see him again. That’s it. He couldn’t beat Brock so he’s done. UNLESS he somehow gets involved with a story with his brother and the last two matches here are intertwined leading to The Brothers of Destruction in a Cain and Abel match (which I just invented and am now patenting) at Wrestlemania XXXIIUndertaker wins
  8. Seth Rollins (c) vs. Kane for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
    Prediction: If Kane wins, we should all kill ourselves. And if there is a run-in from Sheamus, he should lose. Please. Seth Rollins retains

 

There you have it folks – Lady J’s predictions for tonight. See you at the matches!

The Lady J Says

Hell in a Belt

I’ve been thinking about something lately. It’s sparkly and has butterflies on it – the Diva’s Championship belt. This belt has been bothering me for since I returned to watching the WWE product. It is, of course, tied to the fact that they now call it the Diva’s division. I have never been sure why it was necessary to delineate the men from the women at all, much less call them something entirely different (as though what the women were doing wasn’t wrestling. I’m pretty sure there’s always been a word for the women involved in storylines who don’t wrestle, and it’s “valet”.)

If WWE is serious about a revolution, they should make sure it ends on the other side of the Diva’s term – as in putting it in their past. On the heels of the Iron(wo)man Match that Sasha Banks and Bayley had at NXT Takeover: Respect, I think it’s safe to say we no longer need to use the qualifier “for girls” when saying “that was an amazing match”. So maybe it’s time to stop referring to the women using a word with such a negative connotation that not even Queen Bey herself could take it back.

If we can all agree (and I’ve just decided we all can – live with it) that the term “diva” is outdated and asinine, maybe it’s time to also give these incredible women a belt to match. Something more in the vein of the WWE World Heavyweight belt. Speaking of which…

Remember back when the big gold belt was still a thing? Back in 2013 when Randy Orton started carrying around both titles, I started wondering how long it would take them to unite the physical belts. I, personally, think it’s more impressive to carry two titles. But if you’re actually looking to unify the two titles into one, you should have one belt. After Brock Lesnar took John Cena to Suplex City at SummerSlam in 2014, they finally debuted the current WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt, and it is befitting a champion. It also represents a whole new caliber of champion.

If WWE is ready to make a change in their women’s division, perhaps it’s also time to change the look of the belt. While I never felt that the old Women’s Championship was particularly spectacular to look at, at least it didn’t look like it was made out of plastic. There is an element of pretend that I associate with the Diva’s title – it looks like a girl is holding a fake belt and pretending to be WWE World Heavyweight champion. That’s a ridiculous image to have associated with a title whose division is populated with athletes that regularly blow the main roster men out of the water.

I don’t imagine we’re going to see a new belt any time soon – but maybe one day when it’s on Sasha Banks (where it belongs) she can see to it that she has a title fit for a real champion.

The Lady J Says

Keeping Up with Kayfabe

Yesterday I wrote about how I feel the best thing for “kayfabe” would be to redefine the term – separate the actual human beings from the characters and the storylines. It’s one thing to hypothesize about these things. It’s something else entirely to put it into practice. So let’s talk for a minute about the logistics of big change in WWE.

It’s not like it’s never been done before. WWE is measured throughout its history by big changes: going from The New Generation to The Attitude Era, moving away from a TV-14 rating, turning FCW into the NXT brand. It’s not impossible for WWE to drastically change its image. It just takes a lot of work.

When writing any sort of work of fiction, whether it be a novel or a script or a comic book, the greatest advantage the author can have is knowing their characters inside and out. Many writers craft intricate character charts with personalities and backstories so they know exactly how their character would behave in any particular situation. This presents that dreaded phrasing that someone is behaving “out of character”. That should never happen in WWE unless there’s an explanation – someone is possessed by a demon or put into a desperate situation. Creating characters for the WWE that are separate from their actual human counterparts would require a lot of imagination and a lot of work – on the part of both the creative staff as well as the performers themselves (who one would THINK would be consulted for this process.)

Once the parameters of everyone’s in-ring characters are defined, you could put them in any number of scenarios with ease. From there, the writing staff should go about creating the kinds of stories people can identify with – the kinds of stories that people tune in week after week to watch. In the Attitude Era, the storylines involving the blue collar Steve Austin and his ruthless boss Vince McMahon resonated with people. What sort of stories are resonating with TV audiences right now – stories of survival against insurmountable odds? Love stories? Stories of betrayal? Stories of inner struggle? Pretty much everything falls into one of the four basic types of conflict, but finding the right one for your audience takes some nuance.

Keeping a wrestler’s real life out of the ring is also important. Did it work for Edge and Lita? Sure. But I don’t think it worked for Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt – bringing Reigns’ real-life daughter into the storyline proved to be pointless and overly suggestive. (NOTE: I, personally, think any storyline that even implies a grown man is going to kidnap someone’s young daughter is in VERY bad taste and isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. /rant)

“But J!” Yeah, I know where this is going. “Some of my favorite wrestlers only became my favorite after I learned something about their personal life that they shared in the ring! They went to the same Wrestlemania as me when we were kids! They also had a troubled youth! They went to the same University as me! I know these people.”

I think this is where the plus side really is. Being able to separate the individual from the character creates more opportunity. Should Emilia Clarke be disinvited from participating in charitable organizations that benefit children just because she’s naked a lot on TV? No. Of course not. And being able to distinguish a wrestler from his character could be beneficial to the performer in terms of their opportunities outside of the ring. There’s a strange stigma, which I never really understood, that goes with being a wrestler. Perhaps if the format for the TV products were more closely related to actors performing on scripted TV shows, it wouldn’t be as such.

But there’s still one hurdle to jump. After making such a drastic change to the product, someone, somewhere, is going to ask “wait, why are Triple H and Paul Levesque suddenly two different people?”

And someone is going to have to say “because wrestling isn’t real.”

The Lady J Says

What’s In a Name?

Today’s word of the day is:

KAYFABE”

A few things ran past on my Twitter feed earlier that got me thinking about kayfabe (KAYFABE IS DEAD! LONG LIVE KAYFABE!) The first of which was this review of the new WWE doc on Sting, Into the Light, and the other was a quick series of tweets between Chris Jericho, The Rock, and Bubba Ray Dudley.

I love this stuff. I love behind-the-scenes things like the forthcoming Breaking Ground program on the WWE Network. I love that Twitter gives us a chance to see our favorite wrestlers interacting with one another. In a society where we are obsessed with more – more information, more images, more content, more violence, more insight – it’s grew to have a combination of well-produced and off-the-cuff things to give us a peek behind the curtain. But in an industry that is built on the separation between the real and the imaginary, what are these behind-the-scenes moments doing to the product?

In the movie world, actors are different from characters. Sure, there are actors who are synonymous with their characters, but most of us do not think those actors live inside their character all of the time (or at least I hope we don’t.) We don’t assume Christian Bale is really Batman, or Michael J Fox is really Marty McFly. Most of us know that Charlize Theron has both of her arms and Kate Winslet was actually born 63 years after the sinking of the Titanic. So why is it necessary for wrestlers to keep in character all of the time? Why can’t wrestling be fictional television?

We’ve all heard this school of thought before – the only way that WWE can compete and get out of its ratings slump is to start treating itself as in the same vein of the scripted fictional television it is aired alongside. What if we lived in a world where people didn’t call out to Seth Rollins in an airport, but rather Colby Lopez? What if wrestlers left their personas in the ring? What if, when they left the arena, they walked away from the stories the same way actors in a play leave their characters on the stage?

Sure – people might be less interested in a documentary on Steve Borden than they are on Sting. But that’s marketing and not the real meat of the issue. If you want to know about someone’s family, or their past, you’re not asking about the character. If WWE wanted to make up an origin story for their characters and do movies the same way comic book characters get whole arcs dedicated to their beginnings, that would be really cool. Randy Poffo’s story would be way different than Randy Savage’s.

If C.J. Perry was allowed to post pictures of herself on Instagram with her engagement ring in a separate account that wasn’t associated with Lana, it wouldn’t matter who her fiancé was – the stories are totally different. It wouldn’t, of course, solve all of WWE’s problems. If someone behaved in a way that was considered inappropriate (or illegal) as their own identity and not as the character, it wouldn’t matter – it would still reflect badly on the company if the person wasn’t reprimanded or punished. The person is the employee, and as an employee they portray a character. What they do in their personal life or as themselves doesn’t have to affect the storyline, but it can affect the public’s opinion of a company that would employ such a person.

One of the things that separates pro-wrestling from scripted television programming is that it does blur the lines between reality and fiction. Unfortunately, at this point, I think that fact is hurting the product more than it’s helping. It would absolutely prove difficult to create separation for people who work in the company under their own legal name (like John Cena, Randy Orton, and Paul Heyman for example) but I think working to make this possible in the future could only be helpful to the company. If the characters were truly separate from the individuals, the WWE could control everything about the characters and story lines, and possibly even protect the traditional secrets of the business by creating a new kind of veil over it.

What do you think? Is kayfabe dead – or does it just need a new definition?

The Lady J Says

The Stats Don’t Lie

Sometimes you need a reality check to get back into the right headspace. After yesterday’s post, it occurs to me that it’s not my job to make you love wrestling again. If watching it and seething with anger is what you prefer to do every Monday, then by all means – jack that blood pressure way up! I, personally, find it’s bad for my complexion. And I do love a good dissenting opinion. So if you disagree, please feel free to tweet me or leave a comment. Just know that I do practice dark magic and I can turn you into a reptile or a piece of antique furniture.

In reviewing the card for Hell in a Cell, I began to wonder how we even got here. How did the WWE end up giving us these matches? The same way that watching last year’s show paints a very early picture for what we have now (or does it?) I thought it would be useful to go back and consider the progression of the story lines by PPV, starting from SummerSlam. Before we get to that, here are some stats (which I love. Maybe you do, too.)

39 individuals were in matches at SummerSlam
19 individuals were in matches at Night of Champions (plus Demon Kane & Sheamus for 21)
13 people are scheduled for matches at HIAC (not counting the kick-off match with Ziggler, Cesaro, Neville, Rusev, Sheamus, and King Barrett for 19 & the missing match between Ambrose, Orton, Harper, and Strauman for 23) {note: the previous 3 stats do not include valets, but do include all 3 members of The New Day, regardless of who was in the match}
10 matches were held at SummerSlam
7 matches were held at NoC
7 matches are scheduled for HIAC (again, this does not include the 6-man tag match for kick-off)

Hell in a Cell is made up of:
17 wrestlers with the unknown opponent for John Cena (not including the kick-off match)
13 of who wrestled at NOC and
13 of who wrestled at SummerSlam,
3 rematches from NOC
1 rubber match following Wrestlemania 30SummerSlam
1 singles match created by pulling one face and one heel from a tag match at NOC
1 match with a mystery participant (we had this at NOC as well, before Chris Jericho came out to join Reigns & Ambrose against The Wyatt Family)
1 gimmick match we’ve seen in this gimmick before (Lesnar retained the WWE Championship against Undertaker inside the Hell in a Cell structure at No Mercy in 2002)

The Undertaker/Lesnar match is the easiest to trace. Undertaker came out during an episode of RAW in May of 2014 to begin a feud with Brock Lesnar that lead to their Wrestlemania 30 match. After Undertaker lost, he disappeared, and Brock went on to become the WWE World Heavyweight champion. Undertaker reappeared a year later when he answered the taunts of Bray Wyatt and beat him at Wrestlemania 31. After reasserting himself, Undertaker called out Brock Lesnar for flaunting his conquering Undertaker’s streak, and they had a match at SummerSlam with a Dusty finish. Now they are going to settle the score inside the Hell in a Cell structure.

The WWE World Heavyweight championship match goes back almost as far. Seth Rollins turned on the Shield in June of 2014, and joined up with the Authority – a heel faction that already included someone we’ve come to know as Corporate Kane. Kane ran a great deal of interference for Seth Rollins by being ringside at his matches or even in some of them – including the ladder match at Money in the Bank, stopping Dean Ambrose from getting the briefcase before Rollins could. But Rollins never seemed grateful for Kane’s presence, and after Brock Lesnar broke Kane’s ankle before Money in the Bank in 2015, he seemed to disappear. That is until NoC, when Demon Kane reappeared and set his sights on Seth Rollins – though Corporate Kane has no recollection of such events.

These two matches I can see as having an appropriate build-up. Though, I’m not sure how any outcome for either of these matches will help anyone move forward. What do you do with Demon Kane if he loses? There is a match stipulation that if Demon Kane loses, then Corporate Kane loses his job – so what do you do with The Big Red Monster? Hopefully the outcome is a win for Rollins, as I don’t think a champion Demon is such a great idea. But I think, perhaps, if Undertaker beats Lesnar (though I can’t imagine how) then Undertaker and Kane can feud leading to Wrestlemania 32 in Texas.

The three rematches don’t really interest me at all. I can’t see Charlotte losing her title to Nikki after only a month. It’s too important to the Women’s Division that Charlotte move on to a feud with someone else from NXT. Thought what do you do with the Bellas once that happens? I’d also like to stop seeing the use of the teams when someone is in singles competition for the title. Charlotte is not from Team PCB as a champion – she’s just the champ. Though I do still enjoy Team Bad (minus Tamina.)
Kevin Owens v. Ryback is so incredibly boring. Owens is not elevating Ryback by having a rematch. The last one was not one of Ryback OR Owens’ better matches, so why do we need to see it again? Because that’s what we do now – we give rematches when a title changes hands. How boring is that? The fact that there are three of these on the card (even though I have no idea why The Dudley Boyz are getting another shot at the tag titles) is ridiculous. It makes HALF of the PPV completely pointless and boring. Maybe if the Diva’s match was the first with women inside the HIAC structure? But of course not – not yet, anyway.

If there is one thing to be said for the three rematches over the WWE World Heavyweight Title & the Main Event match is that at least the rematches are set up with someone for us to clearly cheer for. Those matches have heels (New Day, Nikki, Kevin Owens) and faces (Dudley Boyz, Charlotte, Ryback). The other two matches have no clear faces or heels. Brock Lesnar always seems to be a heel these days, but he was wronged in the last match – Undertaker hit him with a low blow which is textbook heel behavior. Both Seth Rollins and Demon Kane are aligned with the Authority, which is a heel faction as I’ve already said, so is there even a face in this match? Who do we want to win? Rollins, I suppose, as Kane is truly a monster.

This is really where the problem of what I wrote about last week comes into play. When we were younger, there usually were heels and faces – there were people you were expected to cheer for, and people you were going to boo. Has there ever been anyone as polarizing in pro-wrestling as John Cena? We now live in a world where the WWE Universe is so divided all the time. Maybe that’s part of the process when booking these matches – nobody knows what the WWE Universe wants because we all don’t want one thing. We want indy darlings and old heroes. We want hot girls and talented workers. We want high flyers and grapplers. As the WWE tries to figure out how to satisfy their whole audience, they are going to leave everyone disatisfied along the way. It might take as long as years to figure it out. But until then, maybe they could at least change the matches from PPV to PPV.

The Lady J Says

 

A Pack of Blessings

It’s Tuesday, and I managed to watch RAW last night! I think the last time I blogged about an episode of RAW was when I went to see it live on Long Island – the go-home show to Elimination Chamber, I think. My how things have changed (and not changed at all.) Before I continue, I’d like to give everyone a quick disclaimer: I’m trying to use less exposition, so I won’t explain everything that happened on the episode. If you haven’t seen it, you might not follow.

I would say I managed to stay pretty calm through most of what happened last night. I mostly enjoyed seeing some old faces – though I’m pretty over Ric Flair coming out and babbling incoherently about anything. Also, I don’t think Paul Heyman was given enough time to cut as scathing a promo as he is capable of. He managed to put a pretty great button on the conversation leading into SummerSlam – “You may have sold your soul to the devil, but your ass belongs to Brock Lesnar”. Absolutely brilliant. For a rubber match set in such an epic gimmick arena, we are getting some really lame promos from Heyman and Undertaker. It’s like everyone’s run out of ways to make the “Hell in a Cell” phrase work in a promo. In fact, as much as I liked the story for the main event last year, Ambrose and Rollin weren’t finding the right phrasing for that match, either.

There was a lot going on in my house last night, so I did end up walking away from the TV a few times, so I’m going to preface this next section with this question: how much of what went on last night surrounding the missing wrestlers seemed like it was happening in the moment? What I ended up catching seemed very off-the-cuff. I could be wrong, but it seemed to break down as: Randy Orton is not here, so Ambrose will face Harper and Strauman alone. Then it was Erick Rowan who came out with Wyatt and Strauman during the Flair/Reigns promo. Then suddenly, Dean and Roman were in a handicap match against Wyatt, Rowan, and Strauman. As a fan of Harper in particular, I’m not going to fall into the speculation going around – but I do hope he is alright and whatever kept him off TV was not something too tragic. I will say this: it is incredibly difficult to write live TV. Assuming that what is being reported about Randy Orton’s shoulder injury is true, and that whatever kept Harper away from TV last night was an emergency, WWE would have been in an impossible situation. Regardless of the audience involvement/interest in this ongoing storyline of Ambrose and Reigns vs The Wyatts, when you schedule six men for two matches and a third of those men suddenly aren’t available, what do you do? It makes sense to fill Harper’s spot with Rowan, but who replaces Orton as Ambrose’s partner? This is a fairly high-profile feud and I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head that it makes sense to add.

This leads us to what ends up being the main event of the night – Seth Rollins, Ambrose, and Reigns vs Wyatt, Rowan, and Strauman. I know a lot of people were disappointed with this decision, and trust me I understand why. A Shield reunion is going to be amazing – one day. One day all three of these guys are going to be working heel or working face and end up back together in some epic battle against a tremendously strong trio – probably one that hasn’t even been created yet. So why on earth did we need to see them together last night? Because when the audience gets wild and the show starts to fall apart, you get the headliner to go out there to play the hits until the kids calm down. In reality, I’m not sure why everyone was so upset. Did everyone really think the three of them were never going to end up in the same place again? I didn’t hear this kind of groaning when they were in a fatal four way with Orton earlier this year. So what’s the problem? Because they were in a six-man tag against the Wyatts, their old trademark match? We knew, as an audience, there was no way Rollins was going to play nice. He was going to manage to weasel his way out. But for a few seconds, in the middle of the ring, we got a brief glimpse of what was and what could be again. One day. Just not now. And regardless of all of that, it told a story – that those wounds aren’t healed yet. So there is still more to come.

I was saying earlier to a friend that I don’t think anyone in the WWE fandom will ever be satisfied, or even happy, with the product. We’ve almost programmed ourselves to hate what we see each week. So I think everyone out there needs a huge hug. And I’m going to offer one to you. In Act III, Scene 3 of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is whining to Friar Lawrence about being banished for killing Tybalt. And Lawrence has just about had it with him, and starts listing all of the good things – like, um, not being put to death, for example. He ends each line with the same phrase, basically driving home the point of Romeo being an ungrateful wretch. For the purposes of this exercise, the part of Friar Lawrence will be played by the Lady J.

An entire generation of 20- and 30-somethings obsessed with nostalgia still get to see some of their childhood heroes wrestle on television. There art thou happy.
A completely separate product has been designed to not only raise the standard we hold talent to, but is also training a new generation of fans to recognize a higher level of product. There art thou happy.
Paul Heyman is cutting promos on TV. There art thou happy.
The only title not currently held by (at least one) someone who has been through NXT is the US Championship. There art thou happy.

Sunday is the last time we ever have to watch Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker in the ring together.

There art thou happy.

The Lady J Says

Seth, My Brother, You are Scum

For those of you who were following along all of last week, thanks so much! I will be attempting to apply all of the stuff I talked about regarding re-learning to watch wrestling during tonight’s episode of RAW. If you don’t follow me on twitter, you should – if for no other reason than to watch me inevitably come unglued. Tonight’s show is packed with old heroes – aka plenty for J to get angry and rage about.

Alright, breathe.

In preparation for Sunday’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view(PPV), I decided to re-watch the show from last year in Dallas, TX. Wait, that’s weird. Isn’t tonight’s RAW coming to us live from…well, never mind. Anyway, I’m not going to talk about the entire thing right now, because there’s a lot of important points and I want to save some of it for later in the week (also to use as examples for what TO or NOT TO do after tonight’s RAW is over.)

When someone says Hell in a Cell, most of us conjure up that image of Mankind coming off the top of the structure during his match with Undertaker at King of the Ring in 1998. Times have changed a great deal and there’s a lot of things the wrestlers aren’t allowed to do anymore – namely attempt to turn themselves into a slimy puddle of innards as Mick was apparently trying to do that night.  But watching the 2014 main event of Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins showed that sometimes a great story can be beautifully seated inside a brutal and unforgiving backdrop.

In my opinion, the story involved in this match and previous PPV matches was what made it the match it was. For those who have since forgotten, a Rollins/Ambrose primer: Seth Rollins turned on his Shield brethren in June of 2014 after their successful defeat of Evolution at Payback. The following PPV, Money in the Bank, saw Ambrose and Rollins both participating in the Money in the Bank ladder match for the MITB briefcase, which Rollins won only after Ambrose was intercepted by Kane. It was only natural to put Rollins and Ambrose head-to-head in a singles match at Battleground, though we were forced to wait for it as Ambrose was ejected from the arena before the match could begin. Delayed gratification can be well worth the wait, though, as Ambrose and Rollins finally faced off in one of the greatest Lumberjack matches I have ever seen at SummerSlam, with the entire match managing to make the stipulation seem not only important but the right match for the participants. The next time we saw these ex-brothers together was at Night of Champions, when Ambrose emerged after third Shield member Roman Reigns was forced to forfeit (IRL – Roman suffered from a hernia that required immediate medical attention and could not participate in his planned match. Wonder where that story was supposed to go…) Which lead us to HIAC.

There was real pain in this match, and not just from leaping off the side of the structure. Before that it’s fun (though maybe not for the guys involved. Well, possibly for them too) and trick-heavy. It’s definitely entertaining, but it’s sort of a “how can we out-do what has come before us” sort of thing. Ambrose sets the bar high – very high – by climbing to the top of the structure and forcing Rollins, along with Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury, to come and get him. By the time the bell is actually rung, we’ve already had our violence quota met. But it gets better.

After throwing Rollins off a stretcher and into the side of the cell, Ambrose gets himself and Rollins inside and screams for the refs to lock the door. Once Rollins is actually in the ring, Ambrose gets his moment. He picks up a chair, unfolds it and sits down, watching Rollins struggling to get up. And at this very moment, there is beauty in the breakdown. He’s screaming at Rollins, spit flying from his mouth, his hair matted with sweat.

“Now you pay for it, Seth, now you pay for it. You stabbed me in the back you son of a bitch.”

He stands quickly, folds the chair up, and hits his one-time comrade right in the back. Rollins falls, screaming and flailing, and as Ambrose readies himself for another hit, there is such a conflicted look on his face. This is his right – this is his catharsis. But in a way, it doesn’t seem cathartic at all. In this moment, you get the feeling that Dean Ambrose would have been much happier riding the mid-card with his buddies if that’s what they were destined for, than main-eventing to exact revenge against his best friend.

Now that is good story telling. The match that comes after is excellent – they work so well together it’s more like dancing than wrestling. The finish manages to leave a very sour taste in the audience’s mouth, sure. But in between the mayhem and the drudgery, there is a story that is incredible.

And there is nothing like that on the card for Hell in a Cell 2015.

These kinds of stories don’t write themselves. Not only do you need to plan it for a long time before you can have something that epic play out in a match, you also need two performers who clearly have a deep-rooted connection to make every moment, every motion, as real and as palpable as possible. We root for Dean Ambrose because we’ve all been hurt by our friends – been let down and disappointed. We’ve all had a moment where someone we love chooses their best interests over ours. It’s painful, but it’s more painful to lose the friendship, and that’s what we saw last year.

Saying that I understand how hard it is to craft something like this is not a pass for the creative team at WWE. What I expect from them is to rise to the occasion and create as many stories like this as possible. It’s not easy, it takes a lot of creative minds, and a deep understanding of the wrestlers and their abilities and connections. Never overlook two people who have chemistry, even if you think no one will buy them in a feud. You never know. People latch on to what they can feel – and a year later, we’re all still feeling Ambrose vs Rollins.

The Lady J Says

The Lady J’s “To Watch” List:

Ambrose vs. Rollins (Lumberjack Match) – SummerSlam 2014

Ambrose vs. Rollins (Main Event) – Hell in a Cell 2014

Ambrose vs. Rollins (Championship Match) – Elimination Chamber 2015