The Joker is Dead

If you came here looking for a recap of my experience at the SmackDown taping last night, you’re two days early. I don’t believe in spoiling things for people for no good reason, so that post will go up on Friday.

I will tell you that I got to see a decent number of matches – some that were even longer than I thought they might be. The group I was with was extremely satisfied with the main event of the evening, which feature (among others) current Intercontinental champion Dean Ambrose. It brought about a lot of feelings for me, as I have been a huge Dean Ambrose fan since The Shield was still together but have lately been unhappy with where his character has gone.

When The Shield broke up and Ambrose became a singles competitor, his character was clearly on the verge of becoming The Joker. (If you’ve never heard me expound on this concept, I suggest you check out this piece I did for Cageside Seats a year and a half ago.) He was wild, unpredictable, and single-minded. He was out to destroy his ex-brother, Seth Rollins, and he didn’t appear to care what else happened on his way to achieving that goal. With no regard for his own well-being, The Lunatic Fringe would go to great lengths to ensure Rollins’ received his comeuppance for betraying his teammates.

This hungry, man-driven-mad character got Ambrose over in a big way. There are definite points between June of 2014 and June of 2015 where it is clear that he was more over than his Shield-mates. His propensity for killer promos and a devil-may-care attitude struck a chord with fans. More and more chants could be heard each week for him on episodes of RAW and SmackDown. By the time he “won” the WWE World Heavyweight championship from Rollins in the main event of 2015’s Elimination Chamber PPV, it had reached a fever-pitch. After that, we started getting Ambrose as the hot-tag man in all the main event tag matches that WWE could create, and was certainly the start of the path he walked to becoming Intercontinental champion.

What we see now on TV isn’t even a shadow of that character. I think even before Rollins’ injury led to Ambrose vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE World Heavyweight championship at Survivor Series last month, we had started to see The Lunatic Fringe become some version of a douchey dude-bro who cares about nothing except a killer party and his brothers. While he’s old single-mindedness was appealing to me as a fan, his lack of caring about ANYTHING now, coupled with interviews in which he seems to be trying to convince us he cares about titles (why, I do not know) makes him hard to take. He’s doing interviews that make him sound like everyone else. If his voice wasn’t as distinct as it is, it would be easy to close your eyes and assume his promos belonged to Dolph Ziggler or any other babyface on the roster.

For me, the absolute rock-bottom of this descent into obscurity came when Ambrose won his current championship title off of Kevin Owens at TLC earlier this month. His celebration afterwards included crossing himself (?!) and thanking the ceiling. His last “title celebration” at Elimination Chamber was wilder and far more in character – a look of shock, and then a great deal of laughter. In that case, his win was short-lived but there was purpose behind it. What he really wanted was to take something from Seth Rollins. Why wouldn’t they use a similar premise for his win over Owens? Kevin Owens is a prize-fighter, who has gone around the bend since losing his title to Ambrose. Why is Ambrose not baiting Owens with the title, making it clear he doesn’t care about it at all and just doesn’t want Owens to have it?

Here’s what makes me angry: Ambrose is a fan favorite. He was over as a crazy babyface with the fans. Why did the powers that be look at that and feel the need to alter him in any way? It’s as if they said “well, the fans love him as a babyface, so let’s change his character to be our version of a babyface.” How does that make any sense? If someone’s character is already über-over with your fanbase, the LAST thing you should do is change that character in any way! Plus, it’s completely unbelievable at this point that Dean Ambrose is beating Kevin Owens clean. If Kevin Owens is beating John Cena clean, he’s certainly not losing a traditional wrestling match to Dean Ambrose, who throws the most ridiculous punches possibly in all of WWE at this moment. Why not walk that line we all love to see messed with and have him behave like the insane pseudo-heel he really is. He can outthink Owens, for sure, as Owens anger gets the better of him. Why would Ambrose ever put himself into a situation he couldn’t win? He loves a fight, but he loves messing with his opponent more. Win the belt by whatever means necessary – you’ll get all the fighting you could dream of.

It’s hard for me to wear my Explicit Ambrose Violence hoodie now, though of course I still do. I’m hopeful the more Moxley side of Ambrose will return one day. Until then, Champbrose is barely recognizable as my Joker dream.

The Lady J Says

Reality Check

The first ever live WWE event I attended was Monday Night RAW at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY. It was two weeks before Wrestlemania XXX which meant there were a lot of big stars in attendance that night. I was with a big group of friends and we all found ourselves sucked into the chants that erupted, like the first ever “Let’s Go Harper” cheers for Luke Harper who was wrestling John Cena that night. I had such a great time.

As a native New Yorker watching episodes of RAW that are being held in Brooklyn on TV, I hate the crowd. That’s the same crowd I sat in nearly two years ago, but it’s also not. It appears the “joke” of hipsters in Brooklyn is not entirely untrue, and only furthers my distaste for an audience insistent on getting itself over. How does this audience dare to call Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch “boring”? It took them almost the entire six-man tag match to start a boring chant, and that match was more drawn-out and painful than waiting of Novocain to kick in before dental surgery. There is, of course, no real fix for this. You can’t control thousands of New Yorkers (many have tried) so you have to find a way to combat their masturbatory tendencies with a quality product.

That’s not, however, what they did last night on RAW.

Now don’t get me wrong; there were good parts to the show. I am all for R-Truth coming out and getting confused. I am all for Becky & Sasha to throw down. I am all for Kevin Owens to demolish people. But that’s not enough to make the show good. Maybe it’s enough, in some people’s eyes, to keep it from being a complete train wreck, but it’s not enough to make it good. As far as I’m concerned, there was so much rotting awful on this program that this blogpost could be pages and pages of me gutting it out like a pumpkin. But I won’t do that to you, dear reader. Let’s just focus on one thing.

The opening segment of the December 28th, 2015 episode of Monday Night RAW involved Vince McMahon throwing some serious derogatory comments at Roman Reigns that were based on Reigns’ ethnicity, and then Vince getting angry (about what I’m not sure) and putting his hands on someone portraying a police office for the segment. Vince was subsequently “arrested”, and tossed into a police car while his daughter shrieked about police brutality. Those are the plain and simple facts of this segment. I know a lot of people were getting down on the PC Police last night, coming in to ruin wrestling by saying what’s allowed and what’s not. Here’s the thing, though. It was a bad segment.

There was no way to rewrite this segment and have it not be bad. The Chairman and his brat daughter were not on their game last night. The segment was slow, the dialogue seemed bizarre and out of place, and as a viewer I couldn’t for the life of me understand where any of it was going in terms of the storyline between Mr. McMahon and the WWE World Heavyweight champion. In terms of a professional wrestling promo, it was badly done. It appeared as though they decided (for the third week running) to change the opening segment in the last moments leading up to air. The past two weeks this has worked to WWE’s advantage, but still was clearly identifiable as off-the-cuff and unrehearsed. This week took that concept to a whole new level and had me regularly questioning if everyone in the segment actually knew what was going to happen next.

When you also consider the societal implications, it was in truly bad taste. On a small scale, the relationship between the New York Police Department and the people who actually live in the five boroughs (not the white-collar commuters that regularly push in to the city Monday through Friday) is one matchstick away from a bonfire. Also, in light of the news which came out within the hour leading up to RAW that no charges would be handed down in the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, it’s impossible to consider this whole section of the show entertaining as it is in direct contrast to reality. WWE is a fictional, scripted product that has regularly connected with its audience in an intense (and lucrative) way by commenting on the state of our society. Part of what made Stone Cold Steve Austin such a beloved character was his standing up to The Man, and refusing to be held down by his boss. Why, then, would WWE attempt to stage the arrest of an affluential white billionaire at a time when the reality of our society is that people of color live in fear of the constabulary, and more specifically black people are regularly being killed. Art imitating life is one thing – art spitting in the face of life is something else entirely.

The Lady J Says

 

Return of the Mack

Well, look what the cat dragged in.

Your resident sass-machine is back in action, after a long (TOO LONG) trip back up north for the holiday. I hope Santa brought everyone exactly what they asked for. I’m rocking my new studio headphones right now to drown out everything but the music that pumps me up to write these posts for y’all. There’s a lot going on with the year coming quickly to a close, so let’s jump in.

Even though I was out of the house for most of the day on the 23rd, I did manage to catch a fair amount of the NXT episode that aired. I’m glad to have Sami Zayn back on NXT TV, and thoroughly enjoyed his match against Tye Dillinger. I don’t know that I’m as into the Perfect 10 gimmick as the London audience was, but Dillinger is a lot of fun to watch in the ring. I don’t know that anyone else would have made Sami’s return as positive for me – there was not real storyline involved, it was just a solid reminder of why we love Zayn and why it’s the best thing to happen in months on NXT that he’s back. I do think Dillinger deserves a more prominent spot on NXT programming and would like to see more high-profile matches for him.

I’m also really excited to see what happens next with NXT programming. Most of the big feuds were tied up after NXT Takeover: London, so we’re going to need new challengers for all of the titles, and new storylines moving people forward. Also, as NXT is headed to the midwest in January, we’re going to get hotter crowds as the NXT gang heads out of their Florida comfort zone to conquer more of the world. I look forward to what they’ll bring us at Wrestlemania 32 in Dallas.

Speaking of Dallas, I think it would be silly of me to skip mentioning The Rock’s announcement today that he’s going to be involved with the event this year. It was a fairly vague announcement; he never came right out and said he’d be wrestling, but I like to believe he will. I’m sure there are detractors out there who argue that The People’s Champion being in a match means someone who works hard all year won’t get a spot. But when you think how many people are out injured right now, and will likely still be at Wrestlemania 32, I think there’s more than enough room to go around. (Maybe if Triple H can keep himself off the card, for example.) Whatever The Brahma Bull’s involvement in the Showcase of the Immortals ends up being, it will certainly be worth the price of admission.

I missed most of last week’s live SmackDown on Tuesday because I was up to my elbows in cookie dough. I did get to watch the main event, though, which I thought was alright. I’m not usually a huge fan of triple threat matches, as they tend to involve one person being inexplicably absent at various points in the match, but it was entertaining. And yes, it involved Dean Champbrose, so I was thrilled. The end of the year is typically a slow season for storylines because we haven’t quite gotten into Wrestlemania season yet, and most of the things post-TLC have been tied up. Plus, the programming around the holiday is usually more lighthearted.

That being said, I am interested to watch RAW tonight. It’s been announced that Vince McMahon will be on the program this week, which makes sense if you think of what happened the last time we saw him. The last image we were left with of Vince from two weeks ago was his body being shoved off the ring apron to the floor by Roman Reigns, who had just Superman-Punched the Chairman before pinning Sheamus for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He’s not just going to let that go. I do hope the story between Mr. McMahon and the champ ends tonight, though, as the more we see of Vince, the less special his appearances become.

In other news, tomorrow I’ll be blogging about tonight’s RAW in the afternoon, and then heading off to SmackDown here in Washington D.C. at night. If you follow me on Twitter, I will make a concerted effort not to spoil anything for you. I will be going with two other fan friends, and a friend who has no idea what she’s getting herself into. A good time will (hopefully) be had by all – and yes, I’ll be wearing my Explicit Ambrose Violence hoodie (over my I’m a Paul Heyman Girl t-shirt). Expect a full review of that on Friday, so I don’t ruin anything for those of you who like to actually watch SmackDown.

That’s all for now, gang. Let’s see what the last RAW  of 2015 brings us. Check back tomorrow for the rantings and ravings!

The Lady J Says

Revolutionize or Evolve?

Many of you know that late last year into early 2015, I was writing NXT round-ups and op-eds for FightBooth. I had to take a step back when I took on an internship in Manhattan, but I maintain a good relationship with the boss over there, Dave, and the rest of the staff. (Some of them even read this blog – hey y’all!) I was still kind of surprised when Dave sent me FightBooth‘s pro-wrestling year in review ballot; I even asked him if he’d sent it to me by accident. But as someone who had written for the site in 2015 (even for a small portion of the year) I qualified to vote. So I did, making sure to keep my comments more concise than I had last year (where I held a streak for making picks that no one else did.)

In the ballot, there were a lot of categories and it took me the better part of an hour to work through the whole thing thoughtfully. Toward the bottom, there was a Woman Wrestler of the Year category that asked me to rank my top three, which I did. Then there was a Wrestler of the Year category that asked me to rank my top eight, which I also did, including individuals regardless of gender. I did it on purpose, knowing fully well what Dave had meant, but was trying to prove a flaw in the wording.

A wrestler is a wrestler, regardless of gender identity. It doesn’t matter to me that men have traditionally been booked above women in professional wrestling. If you ask me to list my favorite wrestlers of all time, you’re going to get a mix of genders. Dave was quite gracious in accepting my sassy attitude because he knew I was coming from a serious place. In fact, he renamed the last category, letting everyone on the panel know it had been altered via email. I was pleased with that, and felt proud, and then I saw he had shouted me out for bringing his attention to this issue on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 2.56.53 PM

I was flattered that he gave me credit, though none was necessary. The choice of wording in that tweet set the gears in my mind turning, too. “Revolutionized.” Had I really made that big of an impact? It seemed hyperbolic, though I knew Dave’s intentions were good.

When you add to this situation that Nikki Bella, the woman who is claiming responsibility for the Diva’s Revolution for reasons passing understanding, won the 2015 Slammy for Diva of the Year on RAW last night, you can see how a Revolution sounds like quite a hot-button word to use. Nikki even took the time in her acceptance speech to thank all of the women in her division, in the women’s division in NXT, all of the women who work behind the scenes, and all of the female fans who cheer her and her colleagues on. That was nice. I guess.

What even is a revolution anyway? Assuming we’re not talking about the revolving of Nikki’s heavenly body around the central star of WWE, John Cena, what we mean is radical change. Radical change. We haven’t gotten a Diva’s Revolution in WWE. What we’ve gotten is a Diva’s Evolution – a process of gradual, peaceful growth. Don’t get me wrong, I am in favor of most kinds of change in the women’s division of WWE, or anywhere for that matter. I have been a screaming lunatic in favor of women being treated better in professional wrestling since The Lady J became a thing. Perhaps my argument seems based in semantics, but it is largely a difference between what is needed and what is actually happening.

Over the past year and a half, I have written for three different pro-wrestling sites before starting this blog. I have sent out 9,553 tweets as the Lady J. I’ve written 15,000+ words on this blog alone. I cannot begin to tabulate how many different kinds of negative responses I have received. I am very lucky that since I started this blog back up in October, the comments I’ve gotten here have been respectful. But I’ve had to block a lot of people on Twitter. I’ve had certain people comment more on what my Twitter avatar looks like than what my content says. I’ve been called just about every disparaging word for a woman that exists – a few, I think, I even had to google. I don’t for the life of me understand why men feel so threatened by the presence of women in professional wrestling, but some of them are particularly skilled at being heinous, heinous human beings.

A week ago, Stephanie McMahon came out to open RAW and nearly killed me with some thinly-veiled anti-feminist bullshit about not appearing on TV that night as the aggressive bitch people normally view her to be, but rather as a wife and mother. Wow. Apparently the only way to be a woman in power in business is to be a bitch. I’ll make sure to keep that in mind, Steph, thanks for the heads up. I don’t know how we could ever have radical change for women in pro-wrestling when this is how we’re talking about ourselves – as either the bitch or the madonna. The slut or the prude. Either you’re dorky pun-loving Becky Lynch, or Nikki Bella who, coincidentally, was getting more comments on how tiny her shorts were than for her improved wrestling skills before she left to nurse a neck injury. And that’s our Diva of the Year. I wonder what everyone’s voting criteria was?

I’m going to say it right now – there is never going to be a Diva’s Revolution. You’re never going to see all of the women of WWE united, refusing to go out on TV until their storylines are written stronger, until their matches are booked longer. You’re never going to get the WWE universe unified behind them, either, demanding main event matches for the women they support and burning the butterfly belt in protest. The best we can hope for is a Diva’s Evolution – a slow, methodical plodding until change can actually be seen, comparing one year to the next. Increased match times stretch from four minutes to five, seven, and maybe even ten. The division gets bigger, and more time on RAW and SmackDown has to be delegated to women to account for the percentage that makes up the roster. The fans will evolve, too. There are already guys wearing Bayley and Sasha Banks t-shirts instead of Brock Lesnar or Undertaker t-shirts. There are going to be plenty of Match of the Year lists this year that put Bayley vs. Sasha at the top (I know I did, anyway.)

And while we wait to see these minute changes become measurable ones, I’m going to be right here, Wile E. Coyote with a map, insisting you change the name of your Wrestler of the Year category and other things that seem too small to matter. They do matter. And if you’re going to be call me a feminazi or an angry bitch on the internet, just keep one thing in mind.

You have absolutely no idea.

The Lady J Says

Takeover – Break’s Over

Did you miss me?

It’s been a whirlwind past few days in the House of J. Since returning home to New York on Wednesday afternoon just in time to watch NXT Takeover: London, I’ve basically been going non-stop. Lots of family and friends to see before I head back to the land of warmer temperatures and politics next weekend.

A few things have been on my mind over the last 72-ish hours, so forgive me if I jump around a bit. The first, of course, being that Takeover program. I was never worried that it was going to be bad show – none of the Takeover shows have ever been bad – but it was certainly anti-climactic in the wake of what TLC and Monday Night RAW brought to the table for WWE fans. Plus, I have my own personal biases that the NXT roster isn’t giving us what it once did in terms of storylines.

Bailey vs. Sasha Banks is going to be a feud that every other women’s feud (and men’s, for that matter) in NXT will be compared to. Now, as the leader of the division, she’s trying to bring the rest of her colleagues up to her level, but they’re not there yet. I commend her for the work she did in the ring with Nia Jax. I’m also very interested to see where Nia’s career goes, as she is so physically different from the rest of the roster. But I think the stand out match of the show was really Asuka vs. Emma. It was paced well, it told a good story, and Asuka is just the most compelling person to watch in the ring. She’s wonderfully weird in backstage promos, effectively overcoming the language barrier with her amazing facial expressions and bizarre gestures. In the ring, you cannot take your eyes off of her. That doesn’t mean Emma didn’t bring her own level of talent to that match – it might have been different with a lesser opponent (it certainly would not have been as exciting.) I could honestly watch Asuka wrestle anyone and everyone, week after week, and never get tired of her. She constantly changes things up and comes across as unpredictable. That’s just good TV.

I am always cheering for Enzo Amore and Big Cass, but there was no point at which (during their feud or during this match) that I thought they were going to win the Tag Team championships from Dash and Dawson. It’s not easy to stay invested in a title match when there doesn’t appear to be any real possibility of the challenger winning. I liked the false finish, but the camera being on Carmella was a dead giveaway that it wasn’t really over. Perhaps I’m just nitpicking, but as a big supporter of this team it is disheartening when a feud isn’t actually built to go anywhere. We all know  Gable & Jordan are next in line for a title shot, but I’m worried where Enzo & Big Cass are headed next.

A match I was really happy with was the Baron Corbin vs. Apollo Crews match. I have been a fan of Corbin since his return to the NXT ring in September of last year. I like his character, and I prefer him as the strong silent type (see also: stay off the microphone, kid.) Now that the feud between him and Crews is over, I look forward to his next opponent. I have hopes it’s someone who is as interesting to me as he is, because Apollo Crews does nothing for me. He seems like a nice guy and isn’t bad in the ring, but he’s kind of boring. No, he’s not “kind of” boring – he IS boring. And I don’t know what you do about boring. Give him more interesting storylines? I don’t know that there’s any way to repackage him to make him appear more interesting. He’s just sort of forgettable, and that’s like a death sentence to a wrestler. As someone who never followed his indie career, NXT has not given me a reason as new fan to Crews to tune in and watch him. I’m actually more interested in Tye Dillinger, whom Crews beat in his first televised match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn than I am to watch more from Apollo Crews ever again.

I’m not going to spend too much time on the main event of NXT Takeover: London, because I really enjoyed the match and wasn’t entirely sure who would win in the end. I like both of these guys, and am actually finding lately that I prefer two very different styles of wrestlers together. It keeps the audience on their toes, and impresses us when one of the wrestlers reaches into a new bag of tricks to get on his opponent’s level. What I do want to talk about is the Finn Balor entrance.

I love the body paint. I once “accidentally” fell into a black hole of Prince Devitt’s entrances in a variety of different body paints and costumes. (If you have some time to kill, I recommend starting here.) So when we first saw The Demon entrance at NXT Takeover: R Evolution, I was impressed, but I knew it would evolve over time. It was not so perfect that there was no room for change (for example: PLEASE GET RID OF THE STUPID FAKE DREADS I HATE THEM.) I enjoyed watching Balor at each new Takeover special, knowing his body paint and costume would be different. So naturally, in London, the Demon had morphed yet again and was now Balor the Ripper, in his top hat and coat. Suddenly – the internet went wild.

“Is WWE really suggesting that Balor is a murderer of prostitutes?” “Does whoever put him in that getup even know the story of Jack the Ripper?” People? Get a grip. Please go back and watch Balor’s entrance for this show. He is in London, and the crowd goes completely insane. They don’t suddenly notice his garb and go “oh, now that’s just – that is inappropriate. No no, absolutely not. We can’t have this.” It’s their history, so if the Brits (who we’ve all made fun of for being stodgy, don’t lie) can enjoy the entrance without being offended, I think we can, too. I really like the idea that the Demon Balor and the Finn Balor we see on weekly TV are separate things. The Balor the Ripper entrance brings forth the idea that the Demon persona might be even more dangerous than we know. But I feel confident that no one at NXT was trying to subliminally tell the audience that Finn Balor is a murderer. Please stop reading too far into these things, you all give me such a headache.

Moving away from Balor in particular, I just wanted to point out that this was a low point for NXT in terms of the excitement factor. The card itself was not that thrilling – but it was still a good program. When the main roster low-balls their programming, they tank. It’s god-awful. But this, while not as good as something like NXT Takeover: R Evolution, is certainly still an entertaining and worthwhile show to watch. I would like to see less of the one-off indie wrestlers on TV and give more time to the people still currently toiling away at the performance center waiting for their spot. If they tank, they tank, but you don’t have to draw your audience in with names from other promotions who are only going to do a job and leave. WWE is already showing us faces of people we’ve never seen on NXT TV with their program Breaking Ground. Why not let their story play out that way and at the end bring them out on an episode of NXT? Seems like a plausible way to get someone over – or at least have a crowd know who they are when they walk to the ring. Regardless of how they do it, I’d like to see NXT get themselves out of this slump they’ve been in since so many of the women, Neville, and Owens were called up.

In other news, the Slammy Awards are happening in 48 hours on Monday Night RAW. I would like to know why WWE gets to decide when NXT exists and when it doesn’t. And if maybe we could all agree to redefine kayfabe as an object, like – say, a cast-iron frying pan. And then maybe I could smack someone over at headquarters around with it. NXT EXISTS. IN FACT, SOME OF THE PEOPLE ON THE MAIN ROSTER WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER OFF STAYING THERE (that’s another post, J, calm down.) Why, for the love of all things wrestling, is NXT not on any of the ballots?

No, you know what, I know why. Because they would wipe the floor with the main roster. Match of the year would be Bayley vs. Sasha Banks (at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, though the Ironwoman match is a close second,) feud of the year would be Zayn vs. Owens – the list goes on and on. But to try and find “best of” moments, when for most of the year the Best of WWE was happening in NXT is laughable. Maybe WWE thinks it’s a good idea to hold an award segment like this when all of the best thing they’ve done this year happened in the last week. At least that’s fresh in our minds.

The holidays are a nutty time of year for everyone, and I can’t promise I’ll be watching RAW on Monday instead of spending time with my family. I CAN tell you I will be back to it on the 28th with my newly converted fan friend who watched TLC with me. She’s very stoked, and I’m very stoked to have someone new to the product making me excited to watch. I hope to be able to post a few more times before my return to the DMV next weekend, but forgive me if they’re not daily. Also, leave me some snarky comments about the Balor entrance stuff, I want to know what y’all think. That really bothered the crap out of me.

I need to run out for more eggnog. See you kids on the flip side.

The Lady J Says

The Hero-Maker

After making such a huge deal out of Vince Russo poorly promoting his appearance on Jim Ross’s podcast, The Ross Report, I felt I had to listen to it. And I did – the whole thing. Russo is grating to listen to, but not always wrong. I certainly agree with his point that it would be beneficial for WWE to return to a format wherein entire segments happen between commercial breaks. I’m getting REALLY tired of commercials interrupting matches. It doesn’t make me want to come back when the break is over, it makes me want to forgo the end of the match. Russo did make me want to scream when discussing why he doesn’t like Kevin Owens, though, so I’m not a convert – don’t worry.

I also listened to Steve Austin’s podcast, The Steve Austin Show, featuring guest Wade Keller of PW Torch. I certainly enjoyed Keller more as a guest than Russo, but found issue with his views, as well. I’m not entirely sure why he thinks putting the diva’s title match as the penultimate match at TLC makes it important. It came in between the Intercontinental championship surprisingly changing hands and a killer main event. If memory serves me, the women’s match at Wrestlemania XXX came in between a huge upset (Undertaker vs. Brock Lensar) and a massively cathartic main event (Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan.) Did that elevate the diva’s? No. It swallowed them. While Keller was discussing the match, I actually had to go look up the finish because I forgot. That doesn’t make it “almost-main event” status. That means it wasn’t important.

What I did learn from both of these podcasts is that these gentlemen who host the podcasts are running at a distinct disadvantage. In trying to crank out podcasts that are produced at a certain quality that we expect from them and podcastone.com, they’re forced to work within certain time constraints. By the time both of these podcasts aired, RAW had already happened, and the storylines had already changed. Maybe it would be beneficial for them to air later in the week – or in Austin’s case, air something else on Tuesdays and a recap show on Thursday. Just a thought.

Back to RAW. After the TLC PPV on Sunday (which was not only a good show, but a really fun experiencing sharing it with someone who had never watched a PPV before) I was certainly concerned that I would not have as good of a time watching RAW the following night.

When the show opened with Stephanie McMahon starting a promo vaguely turning her nose up at feminism, I nearly shut the whole thing off. She may be a great promo, but she regularly manages to make me feel like being a woman is somehow something she has to overcome and it makes me want to beat her senseless. But then Roman came out. I was already on social media basically BEGGING WWE not to let him sleep. I would have been totally satisfied if Steph fired him without ever letting him appear on TV, and keeping him off-air until the Royal Rumble at the end of January. Instead, he came out, wished his daughter happy birthday (because he’s a good Dad, we’ve all seen the ads) and then told his boss to go ahead and fire him.

She didn’t.

What she did do, though, was slap the crap out of him (props to those two for making it both believable and uncomfortable. I don’t care that this is pro wrestling, your boss should not smack you around.) On top of that, because of our society’s issues with gender, there was nothing Reigns could do to retaliate. He just had to take it. Then Steph set the mood for the rest of the night by letting us all know that Vincent Kennedy McMahon was on his way to the arena.

I saw a really great meme after RAW on Twitter of Vince sitting in a chair at ringside during the main event and it said “I’ll just get him over myself, damnit.” This is basically what happened. I don’t know that I’ve seen anything as good from WWE as we saw last night since Daniel Bryan left. That’s a shame, too. But it takes a really long time to build to a payoff like RAW gave us. And I don’t think it was entirely planned by WWE creative.

What do you suppose the chances are that WWE knew Reigns would get booed out of the building at the Royal Rumble in Philadelphia, PA in January? What do you suppose the chances were they knew the audience would fight Reigns every step of the way after that? Do you think they knew the harder they pushed him, the harder the pushback would be? Did they see a RAW in Philly on the schedule and think they could get an even bigger pop if Reigns managed to win back the crowd that tried to destroy him? Do you think this was the plan all along? I don’t.

I think this was a happy accident. After having to return to the drawing board with too many people (particularly WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins) away from the company for a while, I think they tried to re-invest in Roman Reigns and made a tremendous mess out of it. I think that WWE had no choice but to dig way back into their arsenal of plot devices to come up with something the WWE Universe didn’t even know we wanted. To see the Vince McMahon character we all loved to hate one more time.

I believe I’ve mentioned in one of my blog posts that I once heard someone hypothesize that the reason we refused to put Reigns over is because we knew the powers that be (the McMahons and Triple H) were pushing him, and they have always been heels inside of WWE’s storylines. Thus, we as an audience should boo Reigns. You could argue that Reigns has basically always been facing off against the Authority, though, save for The Shield’s heel-alignments at the beginning of their run as a main roster faction. But you basically never saw Roman Reigns interact with Vince McMahon – the true power behind WWE. Vince will always be bigger than any storyline – bigger and more powerful than Stephanie and Hunter could ever be, maybe even after he shuffles off this mortal coil. If they really wanted to get Reigns over with the crowd, it makes complete sense to pit him against the biggest boss WWE has to offer.

All of the biggest stars in WWE have needed Vince as their opponent at some point. Steve Austin surely did. Triple H did. The Rock did. Mankind, The Undertaker, Bret Hart…they all did. The greatest character that WWE ever placed before us is Vince McMahon – he’s a star maker. I guarantee we will look back on this time in Reigns’ career and say that, if not for Sunday’s TLC finish, and if not for Vince’s appearance on RAW, Reigns would never have become whatever it is he is now heading for. And I don’t know who will make heroes out of boys when Vince is gone.

The Lady J Says

Cautious Optimism

Okay, so I’m not pissed off.

I think the appropriate term for how I’m feeling right now would be “cautiously optimistic.” Last night’s TLC PPV was surprisingly entertaining. Watching it with someone who has only ever seen one wrestling program before (last Monday’s episode of RAW, at that) meant I got to talk over the parts that didn’t interest me in the slightest, filling her in on the information I thought was important for her to have in order to enjoy it. (P.S. Yes, this is the same person whose quote appears at the end of this post. Looks like she changed her mind!)

I was wrong in three of my eight predictions yesterday. I am sorry to say that Becky Lynch did not triumph over Sasha Banks, but at least she lost to legitimate heel tactics. Though, I am not enjoying the New Day-type of antics that Team B.A.D. are getting up to. I like them as strong, sassy, arrogant women – not as caricatures. I was also sorry to see that the Lucha Dragons did not triumph during the opening ladder match for the tag team titles, but the match itself was so damn good, it almost doesn’t matter. The Salida Del Sol over the top of one ladder onto another has to be the craziest spot I’ve seen in a long time. In fact, after that match I showed my companion Edge speaking Jeff Hardy in mid-air and it didn’t seem quite as gnarly as a move whose landing was on a ladder. Ouch. But it certainly did cement, for me at least, the necessity for WWE to find a place further up the card for Kalisto – he works hard, he’s entertaining as hell, and he clearly wants it badly (or he wouldn’t be putting his body on the line like that.)

Obviously, my other prediction was for Kevin Owens to retain the title, and I was wrong. I WAS WRONG. Dean Ambrose is currently the Intercontinental champion. I actually watched almost all of TLC twice last night because I felt I missed some things. Re-watching the IC title match, it really was well done. But I still couldn’t believe my eyes when the ref counted three. To the great dismay of my companion (and the utter delight of my dog) I knocked over a half glass of eggnog jumping up on the couch in excitement during the first viewing. I’m not going to lie – I am very happy as an Ambrose fan. But I’m not entirely sure what you do with an Ambrose champion going forward. Owens will assuredly get a rematch and I hope he doesn’t just take the title back (have they done something like that in a while? Might be overdue. Oh lord, my little icy heart…) I know some of you are also concerned that Ambrose will have an IC title run similar to his run as US champ, but that seems unfounded. When he was US champion, he was also a part of the Shield. There was a lot of things he was involved in at that time. Right now, he has nothing going on (though I wouldn’t be surprised if he was going to receive punishment for what Reigns did after the main event. Poor Ambrose. I’m just breaking my own heart now.)

In the matches I did accurately predict, I wasn’t really disappointed by anything. The Rusev/Ryback match was short enough that I didn’t feel like I was suffering through it. Hopefully that feud is now over. The US championship chairs match was also just about as long as it needed to be, and I had no real complaints about it at all. What I thought was so interesting was the fact that Zeb Colter didn’t appear at all during the match – I don’t even remember if they mentioned him on commentary. Even if he’s not “gone,” hopefully he’ll just return as Jack Swagger’s manager and leave Alberto Del Rio to move on to a more interesting (and less potentially inappropriate) opponent. I do want to take a second to give ADR props on selling his leg injury. As someone who spent four years of college studying performance, you’d think I can tell when someone’s faking an injury. He really had me there when the match was over and he couldn’t climb the turnbuckle. But then again, with all the injuries WWE has seen recently, it might also have been fear that made me worry.

Speaking of selling, somebody needs to sit Charlotte down (preferably NOT her father) and explain to her how selling works in the ring, because the concept seems to have eluded her completely. I know we all make fun of people like Dolph Ziggler all the time for overselling, but there is an actual difference between taking your bumps to the next level and just looking like you’re faking it. And Charlotte looks like she’s faking it. I don’t know why she doesn’t understand how ridiculous that makes both her and her opponent look. When she is on the receiving end of something, she screams as loud as she can, regardless of what it is that’s happening to her. When she’s got someone locked into a submission maneuver, she yells almost as loud! It must be pretty hard to sell for her when she’s drowning you out with her own mindless shrieking. Seeing as how I don’t like her promos either, it might be best if Charlotte just stop making sounds altogether. I think at this point I’d prefer Becky Lynch end up in a feud with Paige than Charlotte. Oh, and get rid of Naitch, he’s grating on my nerves.

When I watch a TLC match, I expect a few things from the participants. I expect them to utilize all of the props in ways that make sense for them as individual performers. This means I don’t want people who aren’t high flyers suddenly jumping off of ladders when they clearly have no idea what they’re doing. I expect them to not to forget to wrestle. This shouldn’t be something I need to say, but some people are bothered when TLC matches don’t go straight into the crazy stunts and that is just silly – it’s still a wrestling match! Wrestle! I also expect the stakes to be super high – as high as they can be. We all knows as fans that these are the matches where people can (and do) get badly hurt. Knowing not only that the WWE World Heavyweight championship is dangling above the ring, but also no matter what the guys in the ring do they WILL leave in pain sets lofty stakes. Roman Reigns and Sheamus gave us a match that nestled so perfectly into these parameters: they didn’t forget what they do best, they didn’t forget to actually wrestle each other, and they knew they had to basically kill each other in order to win.

What more do you want from them?

A better storyline leading to the match. Different people being in the feud. This guy being pushed less, that guy being better on the mic. You know what? This isn’t perfect. In fact, this entire show – not just the match – could have been a slow and painful death for everyone involved. Instead, it peaked nicely in the appropriate places, kept you on your toes, and the main event paid off better than I could have hoped for under the circumstances. Yes, a League of Nations run-in was predictable. Yes, Sheamus retaining was predictable. You know what wasn’t? Roman Reigns going apeshit and beating the crap out of Sheamus with a chair. Then he turns on Triple H and quite literally leaves him lying in a puddle on the floor. I was satisfied. I was more than satisfied, I was shrieking with glee, totally beside myself.

It’s entirely possible that tonight’s RAW could undo everything that was good about last night. If you remember, dear reader, I was super stoked on Sheamus successfully cashing in the Money in the Bank briefcase at the end of Survivor Series – and I wasn’t wrong to feel that way. Even though the RAW the next night (and all subsequent nights) was trash, it paid off last night. I also did a whole post about how Roman Reigns is an underdog because we won’t cheer for him, and I wasn’t wrong about that either. He wasn’t a Daniel Bryan underdog, he was hated by the fans more than he was hated by The Authority, and he knew he could never get over with the way he was being booked. And unlike John Cena, who was once begged by Paul Heyman to give him a solid beating and let all that aggression against his oppressors and an unforgiving crowd out, Roman Reigns took matters into his own hands. He went into business for himself, which is exactly what we always wanted. It’s satisfying, it’s cathartic.

Stay tuned. I know I will.

The Lady J Says