Open This Pit Up

I spent a lot of time between the ages of 16 and 25 going to concerts. I’m not talking about the symphony, either. I’m talking about punk shows and metal shows – concerts where it’s standing room only and you’re perhaps not old enough to even be in this bar. I loved going to these shows because of the sense of community. I started seeing the same faces beside me in the audience, performance after performance. There was a specific culture that existed when I went to see my favorite bands. By far the best rule ever established for these events was that you were supposed to pick someone back up if they fell down. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the lead singer of a band stop a show just to remind everyone that when someone gets knocked down in a mosh pit you should pick them back up before you continue your mad thrashing. Now, I’ve been hurt in pits – black eyes, bruises, I even had my head cracked open once – but there was a sense of safety knowing we were all looking out for one another to prevent really dangerous situations.

The internet, on the other hand, – and, more specifically for the purpose of this blog, the internet wrestling community – is not a safe place where we pick each other back up. In fact, being a part of the internet wrestling world has become something of a battle. Not only are you one tiny voice trying to shout above the din, but if someone actually hears you there is a good chance they’re going to tell you that you’re wrong or try to make you feel badly about your opinions. After what has been a very long month of things happening (mostly in WWE) that have caused outrage in one group of people or another, and those people being shouted down, I’m thinking it’s time to get back to the punk show mentality. What the wrestling fanbase needs is a safe place, somewhere you know people will help you get back up again.

After thinking about this for a few days while snowed in, my mind settled on the part of the wrestling community that was the most closely related to my own perspective as a wrestling fan, and that is the part that is based in my gender. I am in the supposed minority as a wrestling fan (though I don’t know that I’ve ever seen any actual statistics supporting this) because I am a woman. But being a part of Twitter has connected me to a number of other women, not all of whom share the same exact opinions or preferences as wrestling fans. They are all passionate, a lot of fun to talk to, and quite different. So when I had a bit of free time Wednesday morning, I decided to open this pit up.

After tagging a bunch of these lady wrestling fans in a tweet asking about their opinions on what’s currently happening in WWE, things began to open up quickly, not unlike a sped-up video of a flower in bloom.

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It’s amazing hearing your own concerns reflected back to you: that what is going on in WWE right now is dated and dangerous. As someone who grew up with boys who used to run around the playground yelling “suck it” at everyone, it’s hard not to consider that WWE had a tremendous impact on who those boys became, which is to say the types of men we exist with today. When your most impressionable, formative years are the years in which you were told a real man was Triple H (who drugged Stephanie and married/who-knows-what-else-ed her without her consent) or The Rock (homophobic and misogynist) of course many of those standards are going to stick. What are we teaching the kids who watch WWE today, even though it’s not as mainstream of a product as it was twenty years ago? When The Rock reappears on RAW and talks at length about his sexual exploits with Lana, we are teaching people that silence is consent. It isn’t. The only thing that means “yes” is “yes”.

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What does it say about WWE – or any promotion – when the people who make these types of comments are considered the “good guys”. When homophobic comments are meant to question someone’s “manhood”, when women are treated simply as sex objects, you are not only teaching other males to behave in this way, but you are also teaching the victims of these comments to view themselves that way, and that is the kind of dangerous thinking  that can encourage to dysphoria and self-hate – two things it is tremendously difficult to undo. But it’s not just the companies or the wrestlers who are to blame. It permeates the audience as well.

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I’ve experienced this myself, particularly at a Ring of Honor TV taping back in June. When Veda (who, I will be honest, I’m not a fan of anyway) came out, the things that were being shouted at her from the audience were so incredibly vile I got up and went to the ladies room to avoid it. It made me want to fight someone. It made me want to puke. But it also made me want to hide, a feeling you never get used to. When someone is saying things that make you so uncomfortable your fight mentality is completely drowned out by the flight part of your brain, the other person has won – with their words. That is a power you can get drunk with, and these idiots were wasted.

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So we’re shouting into the abyss. Maybe our attempts at speaking out against WWE and its treatment of women or any other group seems futile. But it isn’t. Change doesn’t come from silence. It never has. We’re going to keep being wrestling fans, and we’re going to keep talking about what is wrong with the product. That is our contribution to making it better. We’re also going to support other products, like Lucha Underground, to show that a loyal and significant fanbase can be built from a product that is more inclusive. We’re not going to be silenced by people who blindly follow something because it’s “always been that way”, or because it’s not their battle to fight. It’s everyone’s battle.

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Will’s pretty much on the money here – everything, even wrestling, should be inclusive. It’s good for business, and it’s good for people to see representation in every aspect of their society. Whether it be movies or comic books or politics or pro wrestling or advertising, you can reach a wider audience by not isolating people. Making things that are “exclusive” seems cool and can be a great marketing tool, but it will only take you so far. WWE is way past that. Wrestling is way past that. They masses are here, and they want more.

So here’s my hot take. Let’s try to remember to pick each other up, because it’s going to be a cold day in hell before WWE stops the music and reminds us to take care of one another.

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– The Lady J Says

The Real Queendom: Lucha Underground

Wednesday was a long day for me – the first back at work after the epic Blizzard of 2016 that basically buried all of DC. Because there was so much to make up for, I was at the office way past closing time and missed the Wednesday night airings of both NXT and the Season Two premiere of Lucha Underground. Last night (after a really excellent bowl of borscht) I decided to check out LU and see where Season Two is taking us.

I really love Lucha Underground. It’s directly in contrast to WWE: an hour long show packed with matches and really crisp story telling. So much happens over the course of a season that it’s almost impossible to imagine how we got from the first episode to the finale. The premiere episode of season two was absolutely jam-packed with story and great matches. (NOTE: If you’ve never seen Lucha Underground, I recommend starting at the beginning of Season 1, or you may be a bit confused.)

There are plenty of things that went on in this episode that I could talk about – the way the stories and matches are paced, the way the entire program is produced, or even the fact that you need to keep watching past the credits to not miss anything. It’s as if Lucha Underground is produced not only for wrestling fans, but fans of comic books and film as well. For me, the thing that drives me back are the characters. They are so complex and can’t be fit into an oversimplified stereotype. Some of the characters are inherently good, some are inherently bad, but none of them are perfect. They make errors – some of them grievous – and they move forward from there. Wednesday night gave me a really perfect example of great characterization and better booking than we’d ever get in WWE. It happened in a very small way, but paints a sweeping picture of where Lucha Underground has built its foundation.

The final match of the episode is where everything suddenly clicked into place for me. I spent most of this episode enjoying Catrina as the match maker for The Temple. She’s very beautiful, has a very sultry voice, and manages to bring the chaos while still remaining loyal to Mil Muertes. Even though she is in charge and Mil is the Lucha Undergound Champion right now, there is nothing about this set up that feels similar to The Authority being in charge and Triple H being the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Where as WWE wanders in and out of reality with its programming, Lucha Underground very clearly exists inside of an alternate reality, complete with demons, monsters, and magic. So when she showed up at ringside for Mil’s title defense at the end of the episode, I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t even think anything of it when she didn’t administer her kiss to his opponent, and instead insisted he deliver his finisher a second time. And what happens? He doesn’t hit it. There is confusion in the ring and somehow Catrina is the one who ends up taking a spear. She rolls out of the ring to recover as other wrestlers begin to appear, and the story continues.

This is such a small moment, a tiny detail, but it’s also so incredibly perfect. Catrina is in charge, and yet she took that spear like a champ, didn’t oversell it, and let the story continue without trying to steal the attention. By the end of the episode, there were five individuals in/near the ring – and she was certainly not the center of it all. The purpose of an authority figure – of a matchmaker – is to mold the matches and guide the story. I am absolutely infatuated with the fact that the Catrina character fluidly moves between power and purpose. She appeared in almost every single backstage promo without making me feel like we were overdosing on her. Her two appearances at ringside dealt entirely with plot (and in one case a feud that doesn’t actually involve her). She’s being written strong, utilized brilliantly, and performed to perfection. If there is one thing I am confident in saying about LU right now, it’s that Catrina is absolutely my favorite character to watch. I can’t wait to see what they do with her as titles change hands and story lines evolve. You can bet whatever is next for Catrina and Mil Muertes, it’s going to be some pretty dark stuff. I say – bring it on.

– The Lady J Says

Preach

Things have gotten out of hand in the nearly two weeks since I wrote my last blog post. DC is still shut down from the blizzard, so I’ve had a lot of time to be on Twitter as well as watching old Rumble matches in preparation for yesterday’s PPV. I really appreciate all of the positive feedback I got on my thoughts as I made my way through 18 of the 28 Rumbles – y’all are too kind.

Most of you.

Some people were heard complaining that the Royal Rumble is an outdated or boring gimmick, with no place in contemporary professional wrestling. I saw a lot of tweets that people weren’t excited to watch because they knew what would happen. I think what they meant was that they knew the finish. Surely they didn’t know the intricacies of the entire match, and managed to boil down the excitement and significance of an hour long match into the last two minutes. These people should feel free to continue being the type of individuals for whom nothing is ever good enough, and really wonderful things can be spoiled by the smallest unpleasantry. Best of luck in life.

Some of the people waited until the actual PPV started and came at me about my Ambrose fandom. Yes, I am a Dean Ambrose fan. Yes, I have been unhappy with his character lately. Yes, I was extremely invested in the Last Man Standing match for the Intercontinental Championship. Even though my expectation (based on my, let’s face it, limited knowledge of how wrestling booking works) was that Kevin Owens would win, I was ecstatic to see Ambrose triumph. I was even more pleased to see him in the final two of the Rumble match, alongside Triple H. Do I think the version of Ambrose who crosses himself when he wins a title is my Ambrose? No. My Ambrose is the one who started the 2014 Hell in a Cell main event match against Seth Rollins on top of the structure. My Ambrose is more Moxley, but I want him to do well because he’s my favorite. That doesn’t make me fair-weather, or wishy-washy. If you are incapable of being flexible and enjoying the ride as your favorite wrestling character ebbs and flows, as they navigate the rollercoaster of their career, then you should do yourself a favor and get as far away as humanly possibly from professional wrestling. Do it now.

Some Twitter users seemingly exploded with glee when I went off on the Ric Flair/Becky Lynch kiss. There are people who take a great deal of pleasure in further rustling your already sufficiently-upset feathers – these people are called “Trolls”. Some of the people who ended up in my mentions really disagreed with me – those people should feel free to unfollow me. Some of them, however, just wanted to see how far they could push me before I exploded. So I had to slam on the brakes and just lay it all out there:

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This isn’t my “über feminazi” side showing through. This isn’t me being overly PC. This isn’t even about being too sensitive (what the hell does that even mean?) This is about a stupid, pointless booking decision that made a large portion of the audience feel uncomfortable with absolutely no pay-off. When WWE did the Reid Flair storyline with Charlotte and Paige you could MAYBE (and this is a big maybe) argue that at least they got sizable media attention from all the heat. But it was still gross and bad, because it’s real (and we all know it’s real) and wrestling isn’t. What makes this incident so egregious is that there has always been a sense in the community that Ric Flair has a wandering eye; that it would wander to his daughter’s ex-best friend, a woman 38 years his junior who has in ABSOLUTELY NO WAY invited his advances is disturbing. Maybe Flair is the schmoozing promo-cutter, maybe he is the dirtiest player in the game, but neither are appropriate here. Are you suggesting that Flair is a hapless, drunken old pervert, or are you suggesting that he is a vicious, aggressive rapist? Regardless, are either of these suggestions that belong in a product that is supposed to be considered TV-PG? Of course not. They will likely never discuss it again (it didn’t come up on RAW, Flair stayed at the top of the ramp when Charlotte ran in to break up the Becky/Sasha Banks match) and poor Becky will have had to subject herself to that for no reason.

Speaking of RAW, some of you called me a turncoat for waking up to the reality that The Rock is a bullying, disgusting character that I wish Dwayne Johnson would put down like a ten-ton sack of shit and walk away from forever. Being a conniving smooth talker is fine – I like Paul Heyman. Being an unapologetic dick is also fine – I like Kevin Owens. Being a clown in a unicorn horn is even tolerable. But watching one of the most successful people in the world return to the place that made him a star and start running his mouth like nothing he says has consequences makes me wish he’d stay away forever. Rock’s 25 minute promo made my skin crawl. I wanted to change the channel, but I wasn’t the only person watching it in my house. I thought I was a Rock fan. He was never really around when I watched all those years ago. He wasn’t on SmackDown when I was watching and I never caught RAW back then. When I returned to the product in 2013, Wrestlemania was already over and I’d missed him. I caught him the few times he was on WWE TV since I came back, but it was always a short, focused (in Lana & Rusev’s vile) attack on someone and then he was gone again. I felt unprepared for how repugnant he is, and want him off my TV as quickly as possible. You should feel free to disagree with this opinion, but you should also know that the Earth is, indeed, round. Society is changing, evolving, and people aren’t tolerating nonsensical prejudice and hate-speak anymore. Not even from fictionalized television characters. If you want so badly to relive the Attitude Era, you can do so whenever you choose on the WWE Network. That time is over, and I don’t want even the slightest trace of it in WWE programming today.

And then, some of you people are the actual problem – the top of the food chain-type heinous villains. When RAW started and Triple H joined Vince and Stephanie out in the ring, I was thoroughly enjoying the nuclear heat that he got by saying he was going to keep the WWE World Heavyweight Title as long as he wanted, because he’s the COO and he can. Until, of course, I realized that what he was saying was completely true and completely poisonous to the entire company. I have been saying for a long time (and hearing it from others as well) that the main issue with last year’s Rumble match being won by Roman Reigns was with WWE creative and not the wrestler himself. If we all know Vince and Triple H make the decisions, and their on-screen characters are heels, then anyone they decide to push should also be a heel. So if Reigns is getting the push and wins the Rumble, he’s The Authority’s chosen one and deserves to be booed. It’s a vicious cycle that was masterminded by the perpetuation of The Authority as kayfabe storyline characters. If we never saw Stephanie (which would be a shame) or Triple H on TV anymore and let the heels and babyfaces have no on-screen interaction with the business side of WWE, we could maybe start viewing them in a more clear way. Instead, we’re forced into this weird fiction/non-fiction cycle controlled entirely by the people in charge. If they really want us to stop getting on the internet and pretending we know how they’re going to book the show, maybe they should stop showing us how they do it. Imagine if the head writer of your favorite TV show wrote themselves into the story as the main villain. Good luck unraveling the knot that comes of crossing reality with fabrication. Not only is it confusing and infuriating, it makes it nearly impossible to enjoy the program. Now I loved watching Royal Rumble. But none of the matches the proceeded the actual Rumble had anything to do with the Authority. It wasn’t until the Rumble itself happened that we were reminded the real Big Bad of WWE isn’t Brock Lesnar – it’s Vince.

So to all of these people, know this: you are not going to ruin this thing that I love, not for me and not for my friends. We are not going to let you. I will wait in the tall grass for all of you, because it’s people like you who are killing professional wrestling.

– The Lady J Says

Spoiler Alert

(NOTE: this blog post DOES NOT contain spoilers, but may entice you to go looking for them elsewhere. Fight that urge. Please.)

I am not a fan of spoilers. This probably harkens back to Christmas ’96 or ’97, when my Mom figured out I was snooping for presents. She stopped hiding them that year and left them out in her bedroom. If I was so desperate to ruin the surprise, I would have nothing special to experience on the morning of December 25th. Needless to say, I stopped snooping. (Smart lady, that Mama of mine!) I suppose it was necessary for me to get a repeat lesson, which I learned last week. I read SmackDown spoilers on Tuesday evening, but tuned into the taped broadcast on Thursday just to see Mauro Ranallo’s debut. I immediately regretted the decision, even though I felt that Ranallo is such a good announcer that you forget already knowing the finish. I know I would have enjoyed the program more if I didn’t know what was going to happen.

But we live in the Internet age where things get ruined. Someone retweets something they think is fake, or they don’t fully realize what it is at the time and – whoops – spoiled. What do you do, stay off the internet? I suppose you could, but I, personally, enjoy writing this blog. I enjoy tweeting (usually in all caps) at my friends during wrestling programs. I like listening to people smarter than me discuss wrestling on podcasts. Also, I run an online literary magazine, so the bottom line is that internet and I are not breaking up any time soon.

When something from tonight’s SmackDown taping showed up on my Twitter feed (and quickly disappeared again – a telltale sign of a spoiler) my first response was to get angry. Then I checked myself. “J,” I thought, “are you angry that it got spoiled or are you angry because it’s not what you want to have happen in the storyline?” The person who tweeted the spoiler wasn’t trying to be a jerk (I don’t think) so I can’t really be mad about that. And while what actually happened isn’t my cup of tea, not everything that happens on WWE TV will be, so I can’t get mad about that either. Maybe I’m mad that WWE hasn’t figured out a way to do nothing but live programming in 2016 so we don’t have to deal with spoilers at all. If you don’t watch it live, it will be spoiled – them’s the rules. Except for the fact that live television is both incredibly difficult and insanely expensive to produce. I can’t blame WWE for wanting to send their B-show to tape.

This begs me to repeat – why am I angry?

It turns out, as a matter of fact, that I’m not. What I’m feeling is not anger at all, it’s that other thing, the thing that is so often confused for anger. It’s fear. I’m afraid. When I returned to my wrestling fandom in 2013, it sort of saved me. It became my safe haven. On Monday nights, for three hours, I was not to be disturbed. I could yell and scream or cheer however I wanted to. Nobody was expecting anything from me. When you’re a caregiver, having a moment to remember who you are in any other definition besides that word is incredible. I was living vicariously through characters who fought their way out of bad situations to achieve something. I watched CM Punk give Paul Heyman a beating. I watch Daniel Bryan become WWE World Heavyweight Champion. It was all very gratifying.

Now I am not a caregiver anymore. I am beholden to no one but myself. My life isn’t perfect – no one’s is – but I am no longer desperate for an outlet. Instead, I find myself trying to approach WWE and wrestling in general from other perspectives. I’m not just a fan, but a writer, and someone who studied theater in school. These are just different lenses to view the product through, and none of them seem to be helping. I don’t want to become one of those people who walks away from the product, either. I know there will be tiny perfect moments scattered among all of the bad writing and worse booking. There will be stellar Paul Heyman promos. I would miss the beginning of Ranallo’s announcing career. Some of my NXT favorites may even find themselves on the main roster soon. But at a time when I am usually the most invested (pre-Royal Rumble) I am actually the least invested I have been since I moved away from New York. And I’m afraid of what that means.

So here is your spoiler alert: I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know if there will be a blog post here tomorrow. I don’t know if I’m going to continue to try to schedule my life around watching RAW on Mondays or making sure I don’t miss Pay-Per-Views. I like to think it won’t change. But that’s life. You never know what’s going to happen. Until you do.

– The Lady J Says

Vienna

I had a very interesting experience yesterday. I was getting ready to go and meet a friend, and I was listening to a playlist of Billy Joel songs. I’m a Long Island girl by birth so I have heard his entire discography over and over again. And yet, here I was, a New Yorker in her Virginia bedroom, listening to “Vienna” and actually hearing it for the first time ever.

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If someone had asked me to quote lyrics from that song, the first ones that would pop into my head (and, surely, many people’s heads) are “Vienna waits for you.” But, out of the context of the rest of the song, that sounds like Joel is telling us that the whole world is available to us, just waiting to be experienced. Get out there and grab it, kid! But that’s not the purpose of the song at all. “Slow down, you crazy child,” he sings. “You’re so ambitious for a juvenile. But then, if you’re so smart, tell me why are you still so afraid?” This is not a song about running out and experiencing all of life as fast as possible. It’s a song about remembering the slow burn – to savor things, to give them (and yourself) room to breathe. It’s a song about learning how to live with yourself, and how to love yourself in those quiet moments. Everything else can – and will – wait for you, not the other way around.

It’s about patience.

Patience takes hard work to cultivate, and even more hard work to properly exercise. In professional wrestling, we seem to have completely demolished the idea of patience altogether. We don’t want to wait for anything. I suppose this is not unique to pro wrestling as an industry – we exist in an instant society, and we want everything right now. As the days and weeks stretch into months and years, it becomes more and more clear that WWE in particular cannot teach itself patience.

The slow burn of Daniel Bryan going from angry “short” guy to WWE World Heavyweight Champion was the last time in WWE that I can pinpoint as having a successful and satisfying long-term storyline. Granted, the past three months have been injury-plagued for WWE, but their inability to plan or plot anything out in advance makes it impossible for fans to become invested deeply in the stories being told.

Kate, of the Raw Breakdown Project, and I were talking about the Diva’s division on Twitter tonight. She was commenting on the fact that we got roughly four minutes of this division during RAW this evening. I thought this was because there ended up being no match, but thought the four minutes we DID get definitely progressed the Diva’s championship story involving champion Charlotte and Becky Lynch. When Kate suggested we could have benefitted from a match earlier in the night, I mentioned the Sasha Banks/Becky Lynch match from a few weeks back, which wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination but was booed by the Brooklyn crowd. WWE fans don’t want to watch matches just for the sake of seeing wrestling. If you want to watch solid matches with less storylines, you should absolutely support your local indie promotion. If you are watching for the big, intricate storylines, you come to WWE. But they’re currently refusing to deliver even on that. There is no reason why there can’t be two concurrent, though unrelated, women’s feuds happening in WWE. Except to say that doing so would require thoughtful planning, which WWE seems to be allergic to.

As a fan, it becomes hard to get invested in anything, as all storylines are subject to change for no apparent reason. And the other side is that, should fans start to show interest in something, it is likely to be done over and over again with very little change, in an effort to “keep fans happy.” That becomes stale and the fanbase will likely tune out from storylines and matches that grow old. What would make us the most happy are evolving storylines that move and generate slowly over time so that we can naturally deepen our investment in them. Great turning points – things like Seth Rollins’ heel turn on The Shield or Roman Reigns hitting everyone with a chair at the end of TLC last month – are important, and WWE does them well. But a turning point is worthless without a story that eloquently builds to it.

I don’t know if WWE has a real slow-burn story in them right now. I think they’re gun shy of planning ahead with all of the random injuries plaguing them. I think it’s always hard to see past Wrestlemania. But I also think even such a big event can benefit from some long-term storytelling. A pay-off at Wrestlemania, like Daniel Bryan’s, is epic and will never be forgotten. But a pay-off at Summer Slam can be equally as satisfying if we have been denied a moment of glory for long enough, while still telling compelling stories along the way. If WWE can take a step back from what it thinks is best, look at all of the moving pieces they have at their disposal, something glorious might just present itself. It will, however, take patience. And never forgetting what Billy Joel said:

“Vienna waits for you.”

-The Lady J Says

 

 

 

A New Voice Above the Din

If I had sat in the audience for the SmackDown taping this past Tuesday, January 5th, I would have been missing something.

The thing about seeing a live WWE event is that you don’t get the commentary. There is a chance that you might miss something, some storyline continuation, without being able to hear what the commentary team says. But the other side of the coin is that there are special, small things that happen in a live arena that never make it to TV. In this case, it would have been a great misfortune to sit in the audience the night Mauro Ranallo debuted on the announce team for SmackDown and not have been able to hear him.

I knew very little about Ranallo before I turned on my TV this evening. I knew he was debuting, I knew he had seemed excited about this opportunity, and I knew people were buzzing about it. But I had honestly never heard his voice before and knew nothing about what he might bring to SmackDown. I don’t know if being more educated about him as an announcer would have prepared me for what he was going to do for me as a fan of professional wrestling – but I doubt it entirely.

My favorite moments in wrestling are the ones in which I forget about everything else and just enjoy the show. That’s how I chose my favorite three moments of 2015. They were times when I forgot about how wrestling programs are put together, when I forgot about the Internet Wrestling whatever, when I forgot about myself and just rode the wave. It’s hard these days, being a “grown up” and all, because we’ve stopped suspending our disbelief. We’ve gotten so sucked in to the idea that the audience is “smart” to something – with the dirt sheets claiming certain things are going on behind the scenes, or intentionally ruining a program for yourself by reading spoilers (note: stop reading the spoilers, J.)

Tonight, the main event of SmackDown was a match we’ve seen before, several times. We’ve already seen Kevin Owens facing Dean Ambrose. In fact, I’ve been complaining about this feud for two months, which is quite a bit of time on this blog, because it features the complete breakdown of the original Dean Ambrose singles competitor character. They’ve turned him into Any Other Wrestler, while simultaneously giving Owens the opportunity to hone his dead pan monster of a heel persona. As a tremendous Ambrose fan, it’s hard not to hate to watch all of this, and I actually would have turned the TV off before it even started. But there was Mauro Ranallo.

He was so excited for this match. He had already elevated the entire program by actually calling the matches. He even referred to the title in the women’s match as “the prestigious WWE Diva’s championship” and you know what? I believed him. When there wasn’t any actual wrestling happening (leading to video packages, or coming back from commercial breaks) Ranallo’s voice never felt put-on or forced. He came across as focused and elated, both of which were infectious. I was suddenly so engrossed in the match and was even aggressively cheering for Ambrose again! Even when the end of his sentences would get lost in the roar of the crowd as a big move was hit, you never got the feeling that he was off-script or confused. He was calling it as though he really didn’t know what would happen next (and, this industry being what it is, it must be very difficult to pull that off.)

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It is a gift to be able to give someone back their faith in something. It is a gift to be able to instill a spark in someone whose light has faded out. While WWE did a splendid job of getting Roman Reigns over at the end of the year, it did appear as though the rest of the roster suffered for it. I imagine it to be difficult to bail out a sinking ship when you can’t see from where all the water is coming in. But in just the same way that it was a thing of beauty to see Reigns win back the Philly crowd the night he won the WWE World Heavyweight championship, it is truly beautiful to see Mauro Ranallo silence a bunch of internet dorks into actually watching SmackDown, and loving every second of it.

Thanks, Mauro. Welcome home.

The Lady J Says

Take Care

I waited just long enough to do tonight’s blogpost that I managed to end up on just this side of the news that John Cena is now on WWE’s injured list. For those of you playing along at home, he joins girlfriend Nikki Bella, former WWE World Heavyweight champion Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Randy Orton, Sin Cara, and Tyson Kidd. I did intentionally leave out both Sting and Daniel Bryan, as I don’t particularly believe we will ever see either of them in a WWE ring again.

We’re already seeing the expected deluge of nonsense online, with people calling for the return of CM Punk, or even Goldberg. I’m not sure what these people are smoking but it seems like pretty good stuff if they think there is a planet on which Vince believes Goldberg could help him make Wrestlemania 32 the most successful of all time. I am not a booker, and I don’t have any experience running a wrestling promotion, but I am very confident in my assertion that this a bad idea for business.

What I am interested to see now is where they DO take the storylines. While there hadn’t been any actual laying of groundwork for what would eventually be Cena’s match for the Show of Shows, it’s easy to assume he had already been factored in. John Cena has been on every Wrestlemania poster for the last 11 years. In fact, the last time Cena wasn’t on the card was Wrestlemania XIX, back in 2003. As much as some of us (i.e. me) love to hate him, he is such an integral part of what WWE does that the idea of a show without him (especially one that resembles the last quarter of 2015) gives me the vapors. I am certainly not equipped to hypothesize what WWE will do with this gaping hole in the biggest event of their year, there is something about this that does set my gears turning.

It is of no great shock to anyone that I get upset when wrestlers get injured. I understand it is a hazard of the job, and that they their injuries are tended to by some of the best doctors in the western world. They rehab with top specialists and are already in peak physical conditions to bounce back faster than the average bear. But it wasn’t always like that.

I always said I would tell this story one day. I think maybe today is that day.

I have a huge problem with the way WWE treats the events that surround the murder/suicide of Nancy, Daniel, and Chris Benoit. I know this is a hot-button issue for some people, so maybe (trigger warning) before I go any further. I don’t know enough about concussions to really get into the science of a person’s damaged brain. I am very interested to see the movie Concussion when it comes out, though. The reason I bring up the particular incident involving Benoit and his family is the report that was released after a second autopsy was done. In this report, a doctor compared Benoit’s brain to that of an 85 year-old Alzheimer’s patient.

As someone who lived with a parent who suffers from Early On-Set Alzheimer’s Disease for four year while I served as her primary caregiver, I can tell you that a brain that suffers from that kind of damage is scary. It’s downright terrifying, in fact. We don’t know nearly enough about the brain to fully comprehend what happens to a person who suffers from that kind of dementia. It’s heart-wrenching to see fear register on my mother’s face when she doesn’t recognize me or her surroundings. But nothing can be more horrifying than when someone you love, someone who has always known you, someone who literally gave you life, turns violent against you.

My mother began having psychotic hallucinations in the summer of 2013, and had her last one around Christmas 2014 when she was eventually hospitalized. It started as crying and screaming fits, and eventually escalated to violence. When you have to tackle your own mother to the ground to prevent her from reaching a projectile or a sharp object, you have reached a new circle of Hell. Who knows what someone with that kind of dementia thinks is happening to them, but they surely believe they are in grave danger if their base instinct to fight to the death has kicked in.

I can not, in good faith, climb up on my soapbox and claim that WWE should apologize to Benoit’s family and wipe the slate clean. There are too many other people involved. And, at this point, Benoit’s actions are so intrinsically tied to him that any mention of him or appearance on the WWE Network causes people to chatter. Which, in my opinion, is it’s own kind of sickness. How do we turn a vicious sickness and the horrendous deaths it caused into water cooler fodder? How do we, as fans, not insist that WWE take responsibility for their part?

We know now that WWE takes concussions very seriously – if they didn’t, we would have Daniel Bryan back on television already. We also know they have been forced to take the physical well-being of their wrestlers more seriously, too. It was reported, I believe, not long ago that wrestlers would be randomly asked to prove they maintain accurate health insurance in order to take care of themselves. While I don’t doubt that John Cena would be capable of paying for any medical attention he could ever require directly out of pocket, it’s a little reassuring to know he is prepared for the toll his job takes on his body.

It will always deeply sadden me to know it took a truly gruesome sacrifice to force WWE into taking this issue into their own hands. And I will never, ever stop advocating for lifting the embargo on Chris Benoit’s name.

The Lady J Says