Manic Monday (Night Raw)

A host of things have been whirling around, creating something like a tornado of both pleasant and not in my personal life. I got to spend the weekend finding places for all of the random items strewn around my room, and in the process helped to find homes for all the random thoughts floating around inside my head. One of those thoughts was about this blog, and about wrestling in general. I was thinking about how much I look forward to Lucha Wednesdays (as I’ve taken to calling them) and not just because I get to spend my evening hanging out with the hilarious and lovely Sarah Slam. I actually enjoy the Lucha Underground product. For one hour every week, I’m just a fan, getting sucked into an entertaining program. How Sarah and I discuss the show afterwards on our podcast, The Facelock Feministas, is more analytical, but we work within the limitations of our knowledge. We speak as wrestling fans, not as bookers, and we also speak as women. Our opinions are colored by the experiences we have had in life.

This week, I tried (once again) to go into watching of Monday Night RAW with a new attitude. If you follow me on Twitter (which you should, as I am wont to do silly things like recording videos of myself lip-syncing to oldies music) you know that when I get excited about something, I cannot be stopped. I am likely to tweet curse words (sorry children, please unfollow Auntie J) and things in all-caps. But in those moments, you can be certain I am a happy wrestling fan. Whether or I am angry or thrilled, anything that instills that kind of extreme emotion in me as a fan is good.

The emotion I experienced most watching the opening segment between Shane McMahon and his father was nostalgia. I remember watching the younger McMahon when I was in middle school – doing crazy stunts and fighting with his dear old dad. I am not opposed to the story line currently running between them because I like Shane. I like his promos and he works well with Vince. I don’t imagine his match against The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 32 will be bad. Whatever the prodigal son and The Deadman cook up will be exciting to watch. As I’ve mentioned before, the real issue for me with this feud is the use of ‘Taker as The Chairman’s minion, fighting someone else’s fight. It makes no sense and has yet to be satisfactorily explained. Also, it has been years since we’ve seen Mr. McMahon and The Phenom interact, making it impossible to infer motives based on characterization. While this is a glaring issue (one that is epidemic throughout the WWE as a whole) it is not enough of a deterrent to keep me from smiling when Shane-O-Mac’s music hits, or when his promo is interrupted by the ominous sound of a gong.

Another thing that broke out a tremendous grin on my face was a ring occupied by former NXT champions Neville, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn. There is no combination of participants in this trio that creates a bad match – ever. Owens and The Man Gravity Forgot put on a clinic last night (complete with a phoenix splash off the second rope executed with ease and a moonsault off the top rope that stopped my heart) and after the Intercontinental Champion picked up the win in typical heel fashion, the UK high-flyer was saved from a nasty beating by none other than Shinsuke Nakamura’s NXT Dallas opponent, Sami Zayn. Seeing the potential of these three being on the main roster could make any dedicated fan proud. We have been waiting for a long time to see the next generation of top-tier talent, and this is it. Three different styles, all of them at the top of their game. My hope is that, as a unit, they can get themselves over in a big way, and then move on to elevating some other NXT talent, or people further down the card on the main roster. A feud between Neville and fellow-high flyer/current US Champion Kalisto could be a stunning program, though potentially dangerous. What I did take away from this match (and the aftermath) was that the “newer” guys are choosing to push the envelope by expanding their move set, and working in different styles. While I had been feeling lately that the WWE was shorter on high-flyers than they had been in the past, I forget that big guys like Kevin Owens, Luke Harper, and Ryback have been experimenting lately with more aerial moves. Assuming they are being trained safely and only attempting moves they have become comfortable with, it will certainly make for an exciting future!

I want to make sure I talk a bit about the women’s matches we seem to be setting up for ‘Mania. We already know for sure that Diva’s Champion Charlotte will be defending her title in a triple threat match again Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks. As a whole, this has been set up well. WWE successfully “broke up” the friendship of Charlotte and Becky (not without its misogynist shortcomings, of course AND I AM LOOKING AT YOU RIC FLAIR) over the past few months, and when Becky lost her title match against Charlotte at Royal Rumble back in January, Sasha injected herself into their story in a natural way. The Boss had her sights set on the title, and knew how to get an opportunity at it. When The Boss and The Irish Lasskicker ended their number one contender’s match last Monday with a double count-out, we all knew they were setting us up for a triple threat that would likely bring Dallas to its knees. Regardless of the outcome, these three women are going to set the bar for Wrestlemania 32. I can’t imagine them being out-done by anything else currently on the card in terms of sheer ability. They are elevating not only the level of match everyone should be having in WWE, they are also raising the profile of women’s wrestling for the masses. I am very proud of them.

On the other hand, there appears to be another women’s feud heading into the Showcase of the Immortals – something is brewing between Brie Bella and Lana. Last night, Lana made her way down to the ring after Brie lost to Summer Rae and hit the Total Divas star with one of her own finishers, a sitout face-buster. But why? Even the commentary team seems mystified, continually reminding the audience we have been given no reason for this feud whatsoever. There is no motivation, and (to my knowledge) Brie and Lana have never crossed paths in character before. Typically, I would take a moment to lament that WWE seems capable of only creating ONE fully-developed story for women, but they don’t seem to actually fully-develop ANY of their stories anymore, so maybe the fact that we got one whole women’s feud is a Mania Miracle.

In terms of wrestling that really had me enthralled, I would have to say I found myself mostly glued to the fight for the Tag Team Championship – that is, right up until the end. I thought the match itself was exciting and fun, and made me cheer Chris Jericho for once (amazing, really.) But it also seemed natural that The New Day, who have been a tag team for well over a year, would triumph over Y2AJ who have only been together for a half of a second. I am not such a fan of Jericho’s turn on AJ Styles after they lost the match, though. I’m tired of Y2J – I have been for a while. And to think that The Phenomenal One seems trapped in some sort of never-ending program with him is infuriating. Unlike Shane McMahon, Jericho does not bring me warm, fuzzy waves of nostalgia. He has shown up too often on WWE programming to ever really make me miss him. On his regular stops back in WWE from playing rockstar with his band, Fozzy, Jericho inevitably overstays his welcome. I cannot wait for him to leave us again, and for Styles to move on to what is my dream feud for him: Styles/Owens.

Someone on Twitter asked me my thoughts on the fact that WWE seems to be keeping Roman Reigns off of TV lately. The truth is, I didn’t notice. Two weeks in a row, the guy who Triple H is wrestling in the Mania main event – the last guy to hold the title – wasn’t on TV. And I forgot. I forgot I was supposed to care, or be worried, or tweet about it. Instead, I was focused on the beautiful promo work happening between Trips and my boy Dean Ambrose. Granted, I feel sure The Lunatic Fringe (who lost at Fastlane) is doomed to lose both this Saturday on the WWE Network’s program Fastlane against The Game for the title and in his No Holds Barred Street Fight against Brock Lesnar in Dallas. But watching him kill himself trying to so much damn fun. Before he gets his ass beat, he is surely going to be a massive thorn in the side of both Triple H and The Beast, and we are sure to see him verbally spar against Paul Heyman (which, lets face it, is a dream The Lady J has had before.) Is Ambrose’s feud with these men doing anything for his Shield brother? No. Is it possible that keeping Reigns off TV and giving the audience a chance to fall in love with Ambrose going to keep them from booing Reigns when he returns? Absolutely not. If anything, the fire against him will be hotter. If WWE has any sense they’ll either turn him heel, or at the very list, let Shane bury him when the brand (hopefully) splits. Roman Reigns is pretty, and arguably better in the ring than my Explicitly Violent favorite, but he’s no John Cena. He’s not even polarizing the way Cena is – the vast majority of the people showing up for RAW hate him. Vince can push back against the WWE Universe all he wants, we’re just too loud.

All told, I enjoyed my three hours of RAW last night. Would I rather it be shorter? Yes. Would I rather never have to look at Chris Jericho (or listen to a promo from Ryback) ever again? Yes. Was it fun? Absolutely.

Is it Lucha Underground level awesome?

Hell no.

– The Lady J Says

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Ring Of Honor TV Taping – 6/20/2015

When I started watching SmackDown back in 2001, I had know idea how many companies or promotions there were in the industry of pro-wrestling. I had no idea how far it spread or how many people were involved in it. I really didn’t know anything at all. I am far more aware now, but I have never advertised myself to be an expert. There are plenty of names I don’t know and things I’ve yet to experience. Back in January, I attended a Pro Wrestling Syndicate show called Frozen Fallout in New Jersey, which was a lot of fun and featured a lot of recognizable names. But this past Saturday, I decided last minute to take a short train ride into New York City for the Ring of Honor TV tapings at Terminal 5.

Let me start off by saying two things: first, I will not spoil anything for anyone who is trying to avoid what will happen between now and Death Before Dishonor in July. Second, I really knew next to nothing about Ring of Honor going into this event, so these are fresh eyes and ears taking it all in.

My mindset waiting on line outside of Terminal 5 was just that I wanted to have a good time – and also that I didn’t end up in a fight with some of the morons standing near me. I will say there were some ridiculous people in the audience that night who were trying very hard to ruin the experience for everyone else, but we all know this is not a promotion-specific, or even an industry-specific phenomenon. For those of you out there who get your jollies off of ruining an evening for everyone sitting around you, karma’s coming for you. And I don’t mean the wrestler.

Once we were inside, we were sent to the balcony, which provided seating that was excellent for viewing the ring and the entrance way. I couldn’t believe how great the set-up was – not sure there was a bad seat in the house. We couldn’t have been hanging out for more than 40 minutes before streamers were passed around, announcements were made, and the show began.IMG_1367

The thing that is, unfortunately, going to stand out the most about that night is that I watched over five hours of wrestling, and we were at the venue for six and a half hours, total. I understand this is how they maximize the dollar – you pay everyone (wrestlers, crew, venue, insurance) once for the whole night, and you get all of your programming done from now to the next iPPV. But by the end of the night we were all tired, and more than a little cranky (this is New York, after all. We get bitchy.) I’m not sure if there isn’t a sacrifice in terms of the audience for the price put on the evening. Though I must say, as someone new the whole experience, it was a great way to get a crash-course in the roster. By the end of the night you’d seen pretty much everyone wrestle at least twice, so you knew who everyone was, became well-versed in their gimmicks and story lines, and had formed clear favorites.

Over the course of the evening, I saw fifteen matches. FIFTEEN MATCHES. For reference, this year’s Wrestlemania (with pre-show) was five hours and only featured nine matches. Granted, a Wrestemania Main Event match can clock in at over 15 minutes, but that’s still ridiculous. The thing that I think is important here is PACING. And I don’t mean how the matches go. There isn’t a lot of down time at a Ring of Honor taping until you get to intermission after the third episode is done. They are constantly moving on to the next thing, which is great. It’s harder to get bored that way. It wasn’t until we were well into the fourth episode that the crowd started to come unglued (but I’ll get to that).

Because I follow a variety of people on Twitter, I have been exposed to a lot of different wrestling fans. I’ve heard a lot of the ROH roster’s names before, so it was easier for me to figure out how everyone fit into the bigger picture. The design of the whole event was, clearly, very different from a WWE event. There were no backstage segments projected to us from the big screen. I actually liked this much better, because I got to spend more time getting to know the wrestlers by their interactions with each other, with the crowd, and by their in-ring performance.

There was very little promo work to speak of. There was an interview between Nigel and Jay Lethal (Lethal had just won the ROH World Championship the night before at Best in the World 2015) that was short and sweet and set up Lethal’s next opponents for each belt that he now holds. I think it was very obvious, even from that short promo, why Lethal is with Truth Martini – promos are not his strong suit. But he was great to watch in the ring. We saw another few short promos from the likes of Dalton Castle (this was GREAT), The Addiction, and The Kingdom (mostly from Maria.) But towards the end of the night I witnessed an absolute train wreck, a promo courtesy of BJ Whitmer of The Decade – prominently featuring the Terminal 5 audience.

This got really ugly. Up to this point, the yelling of particularly nasty or derogatory things were limited to a small group of obnoxious guys sitting ringside with a “Moose Crossing” sign. As a group of three or four, they were easy to ignore. However, Whitmer received a boo from the entire crowd that was so intense that it snowballed into him basically being cursed out and kept – at all costs – from even uttering a few words. This went on. And on. And on. It continued until I thought for sure he would end up just leaving the ring, promo scrapped. Eventually he was forced to try to tune everyone out and bulldoze through. I didn’t really even know what was happening until more people joined them in the ring and it became clear what the original purpose of the promo was, as I still hadn’t heard a darn thing he said.

Now, there were three possible failings here. First, I think they underestimated how ridiculous New Yorkers are. This is not a market to screw around in, especially when we’ve already been hanging out for four hours. I wouldn’t compare this to something like this past January’s Royal Rumble in Philadelphia, as the problem wasn’t that the audience wasn’t getting what we wanted (though, to a point, it was that we were all waiting around to see Samoa Joe’s last match and this was taking up too much time). But I think it’s fair to compare the two markets as areas where you don’t want to piss people off, because they CAN and WILL take over your show. The second problem was clearly that Whitmer not prepared to deal with that response. He kept giving in and dropping the mic from his face, which is surrender. He’d give it another go, the crowd would scream obscenities, and he would cave again. Maybe he suspected the crowd would eventually give in – wrong. Third, there was obviously no one in the ring with him at that moment able to do anything to help him out. Maybe his companions were inexperienced with that sort of reaction, or just aren’t able to think on their feet, but no one was doing anything but watching the disaster unfold.

Was this whole situation avoidable? Maybe. If the promo had happened half an hour to an hour earlier, I think the reaction might have been less aggressive from the audience – we’d already seen The Decade out once before and no one booed BJ quite as fervently as they did upon his second appearance. I also think if everyone in the ring had been thinking on their feet, they could have powered through it. Regardless of how loud the in-house crowd is, the guy with the microphone can always be heard by the television audience. If Whitmer had just kept going, everyone at Terminal 5 would eventually have to give up and listen (or would have at least been distracted as the promo moved on and more personalities were added to the mix.)

The highlight of the night is hard to pinpoint. Was it Samoa Joe’s final match – sure, maybe. That was great to watch and we were all on our feet for the whole thing. But a LOT happened that night. There were a lot of different types of matches, which kept my interest. I can understand why some people say that ROH is currently too “flippy” (what a ridiculous word) but there are plenty of people who don’t wrestle that way. I, personally, enjoy how many factions they have – regardless of who you’re wrestling there are clear alliances and rivalries. This also made it easy to keep track as we moved from tag matches to singles matches and back again. I, personally, preferred the tag matches, because you got to see a lot of sides of characters – it’s not just about your feuds, but how you work with your partners.

My favorite thing about this show, though, was by far the fact that the wrestlers were wandering around the venue when they weren’t working. I ran into two at the bar, exchanged pleasantries with Nigel while passing on a stairwell, and saw several of them spread out around the balcony, watching other matches. This investment in their product, and their willingness to interact with the fan base on a casual level is really impressive. I particular loved watching interactions in which guys came off stage, appeared in our area a little while later, and began passionately discussing wrestling with audience members – fans, all. There is not “us and them” mentality there. There are exceptions, of course, as we didn’t see the entire roster out wandering the room, but a good portion of the did.

All in all, it was a really positive experience that I would be happy to repeat at any time. And I have to admit, it definitely further took the flavor out of watching Monday Night Raw two days later. All of the production value of WWE can’t compare with an experience where you really feel a part of the whole show. I would highly recommend a TV taping to someone who is just getting into Ring of Honor – it’s a great way to learn about the company in one evening.

And if anyone at Ring of Honor needs help with their promos – you know who to call.

-The Lady J Says