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

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J’s Best of 2015

Tomorrow is the first RAW of the new year, and sets us up for The Road to Wrestlemania. We’ve got only three weeks until the Royal Rumble (my favorite PPV) so hopefully WWE won’t be returning to any of the nonsense they were trying to feed us this past fall. Hopefully.

While we wait for all of the excitement surrounding Wrestlemania season to begin, I thought I’d do my last reflection post and put a nice bow on all that was 2015. I feel like I tried to return to this blog with a positive attitude in October, and all of that got quickly undone by the truly disastrous storylines we were seeing every week on RAW. I even found myself wandering away from the NXT product for a while. So I wanted to try to get my head screwed back on straight for 2016 and pick my top 3 moments of 2015.

Now, I don’t speak for (or, necessarily to) anyone but myself, so this is not a list of the three greatest moments of the year. They are my favorite moments, in my extremely biased fan opinion. This list does not contain the Bayley/Sasha match from NXT Takeover: Brooklyn or the Ironwoman match from NXT Takeover: Respect, so all you smarky dorks can turn back now.

Ready? Here we go.

3. Kevin Owens beats John Cena clean at Elimination Chamber, May 31st
I have to hand it to main roster WWE here, this was genius booking. Kevin Owens was on fire in NXT, having debuted in December of 2014 and basically powering right through to become NXT champion two months later. He’s absolutely terrifying as a heel, oscillating flawlessly between a spineless jellyfish who backs out of matches that have no prize to be won and a total monster who demolishes people who get in his way. While Owens does not have quite the physical look of Brock Lesnar, he is sure to follow in Lensar’s footsteps as a heel who cannot be messed with. When Owens showed up on the main roster and insisted on a PPV match instead of giving away his gift for free on RAW, we were all hopeful what would happen next. “Wouldn’t it be great if he just beat Cena clean?” And then he did. There are moments in wrestling when you get so caught up – you can’t help but get “worked”. But this moment, this was even better than that. For once this year, we as WWE fans got exactly what we wanted: a flawless transition from NXT to the main roster, and John Cena on his back when the bell rang.

2. The Vaudevillains win the NXT Tag Team Championships at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, August 22nd
As long as I have been The Lady J, I have been a fan of The Vaudevillains. In fact I wouldn’t even be The Lady J if it wasn’t for Simon Gotch. Someone called me out on Twitter for getting down on their gimmick and Gotch and I began an epic duel. But it wasn’t so much that I didn’t like the gimmick – it was that I figured I would be the only one who did. As a fan, you don’t actually want to be a hipster smark who is the only person cheering for your favorite wrestler. You want the entire crowd to pop for them. So when NXT Takeover: Brooklyn came around and my favorite tag team was joined by the pop queen herself, Old Blue Pants, I couldn’t help but allow myself a sliver of hope that the Vaudevillains would defeat Blake and Murphy to become the new NXT Tag Team champions. I became panicked, sitting on the edge of my bed as the match went on. Was this really happening? Would Gotch and Aidan English really triumph? And then they did. I cheered. I applauded. I was alone in a room with no one to turn to and say “DID YOU SEE THAT?! THOSE ARE MY BOYS!” But they were. And they still are.

1. Dean Ambrose momentarily wins the WWE World Heavyweight Championship from Seth Rollins at Elimination Chamber, May 31st
There was absolutely no way this wasn’t going to be my number one, right? I mean, I have been excited during wrestling matches. When Ambrose won the Intercontinental title off of Kevin Owens at TLC, I knocked over half a glass of eggnog. When Bayley won the NXT Women’s championship in the aforementioned match with Sasha Banks, I screamed and woke up my entire household. But when the second ref ran out during the main event of Elimination Chamber, slid into the ring, and counted to three, I burst into tears. I mean hysterical, sobbing tears. In fact, I missed the first ref getting up, the ensuing argument, and the reversal of the decision entirely. I cried right through the end of the show and had to go back to figure out what happened. Despite currently being booked as something that vaguely resembles someone who might have been my Explicitly Violent Dean Ambrose in a past life – I am still a huge fan of his. And I will cheer for him, and watch all of his matches until he doesn’t wrestle for WWE anymore. And then I will follow him to whatever promotion he ends up at after he leaves. In fact I can’t hear you talking smack about his bad punches or silly recovery clothesline over how much I adore him. In this, my #1 moment of 2015, I was the happiest Lady J there ever was in all the land.

The Lady J Says

You Feel Me?

“I don’t want this.”

This exact phrase keeps reappearing on my Twitter feed. It’s in response to a lot of things: football scores, political debates, and – yes – pro-wrestling. Whatever the end result is – or even what it appears to be – we don’t want it. We reject it. We’re going to cross our arms and pout until we get our way.

So what do you want? You want your guy to win. You want your team to win. You want to see your values, your ideals, your hopes, all of it reflected before you. You want to be proven right. You want the media, the entertainment you consume to be a looking glass where you can see how brilliant you are. But what does that mean you’re missing?

What if your desire for something so specific causes you to miss the value of what is in front of you? Are you even seeing the whole picture?

The WWE Universe is having one giant, simultaneous nervous breakdown over Seth Rollins’ knee injury. He had to vacate the title, which we’re told will be filled via a tournament at Survivor Series. Half of the WWE Universe is despondent that Rollins had to walk away at such a crucial time in his career. The other half is elated that someone else is getting a chance to shine – a group made almost entirely of people hopeful THEIR favorite will be the next champ. These people will likely also be disappointed, because most of them will not see their hero crowned champion, and the ones whose guy does come away with the belt will likely find his story less than palatable.

I know what you’re fuming now.
“If you’re so smart, what do YOU want, J?”
Well, first of all – that’s no way to talk to a lady. I am The Lady J for a reason, and I expect to be addressed as such. Second of all, I want NOTHING. And I shall receive it, in abundance.

No matter how many times you might claim “I knew they were going to do that,” you don’t always. Sometimes, WWE surprises its audience. And that’s what I’m hoping for – a surprise. I want to be caught off guard. I’m hoping Dean Ambrose wins the tournament, goes outside the arena and promptly sells the WWE World Heavyweight title to the first fan willing to give him a case of Heineken and the Band Aids from Almost Famous. I’m hoping Bray Wyatt actually buries everyone in the tournament and uses the title belt to store the souls of Kane and Undertaker like a Horcrux. I hope Triple H comes out to win the title, insistent that he’s done trusting these young kids. I hope Ric Flair wins it to put more distance between his title record and John Cena.

All I want is for something to happen. I don’t need it to be the greatest thing to ever happen in WWE history. I just need it to make me feel something other than the desire to change the channel.

What do I want? I want to feel something – like, maybe, alive.

The Lady J Says

HIAC Predictions

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

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

 

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

The Lady J Says

What’s In a Name?

Today’s word of the day is:

KAYFABE”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lady J Says

The Stats Don’t Lie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lady J Says

 

Sit Down and Shut Up – Paul Heyman on the Steve Austin Show

(If you’re looking for a round-up on Sunday’s Elimination Chamber, stay tuned. I am still recovering. If you’re stoked for tonight’s NXT – you should be. More on that tomorrow!)

For those of you who live in the back, I am a huge Paul Heyman fan. I don’t like to use the term “mark” when it comes to Paul, because I am generally a fan of him all around. Paul was the writer for SmackDown when I was first introduced to the WWE product, so my respect for what he does, and what he has given to the business, goes back a long way. I am, however, a mark for Steve Austin, and love his podcasts. I could listen to Steve interview anybody and eat it up, but some of the best episodes of The Steve Austin Show are the ones where he interviews Paul Heyman.

On Monday, following RAW, The Steve Austin Show, featuring Paul Heyman as Austin’s guest, was broadcast live on the WWE Network. I wasn’t on social media while it was happening, because I like to just sit back and listen – when you try to live tweet something, you inevitably end up missing something. When I went back to check twitter the next morning, I couldn’t believe how many people said they were bored by what they heard, with the exception being the last five minutes. I am so disappointed that so many people completely missed how much knowledge was dropped during that interview. But hopefully the talent was listening.

Steve and Paul start off by talking a bit about their back story, which is always interesting. Paul doesn’t do a very good impression of Good Ol’ JR Jim Ross (no one does) but he does an EXCELLENT Dusty Rhodes. There is also a great story about Rick Rude if anyone is interested in just some good old-fashioned nostalgia.

The second section of questions touches on Brock Lesnar and where he’s been and where he’s going. (There’s a weird little stop off where Austin and Heyman awkwardly become political. I imagine many of the points throughout the interview that they hit on are pre-planned, but this part seems to tumble over itself and I am sure Vince gave them both a lashing for it. {However, Heyman’s history of The Jews is not, you know, wrong.}) What I think is really key here is how Paul Heyman handles his explanation of how Lesnar got to the contract he’s on now with WWE. He speaks candidly about Lesnar’s enjoyment of his last run in WWE and why he decided not to defect back to UFC – but still manages to paint Lesnar as a beast in both companies by referencing the way Lesnar beat both John Cena and Randy Couture.

Along with the section on Lesnar, Austin asks Heyman about taking on more clients besides Lesnar so we can have more Paul Heyman on TV. Heyman explains that his personal relationship with Lesnar makes their on-screen relationship work, the same as it did with CM Punk (though their personal relationship as well as their on-screen dynamic, are different from the ones Heyman has with Lesnar). This goes a long way to explain what happened with Heyman and Cesaro, without directly referencing it. Heyman also takes a minute to put Punk over here in a really genuine way – sorry, Vince.

Austin and Heyman talk the state of business today – in particular Austin has a bone to pick about selling. What the two of them have to say about finishing moves makes perfect sense to me – if people kick out of your finisher, it’s not a very good finisher, is it? It should be not only the job of the wrestler whose finisher it is, but the job of the commentators AND the rest of the roster to put that finisher over. This way, as Heyman illuminates, when someone kicks out of it at a PPV (his example was Wrestlemania) it’s a huge deal.

In the fourth section (about halfway through) Heyman drops what I feel is the most important knowledge of this whole interview – his outlook on promos. He tells a great story about an early promo he cut where he put everyone over and wears himself out just being Paul E Dangerously and when it’s all over, Dusty says “that was so very entertaining, but where’s the money”. And this is something no one seems to remember anymore – a promo is a tool, something you need to have in your arsenal as a performer to be successful. And when you use that tool, you shouldn’t be waving it around wildly. Stay focused. What are you trying to sell. A match? A feud? An incident? Just you in general? Someone else? Your team? That is more important than anything else.
Well, almost anything else. Austin and Heyman go further with the promo breakdown, and Paul explains the method behind his madness. He explains how he developed his patented introduction “Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Paul Heyman, and I am the advocate for the beast incarnate, Brock Lesnar.” He refers to that here as “engaging the audience”, which is precisely what it does. He lets everyone know who he is, what he does, and then tells them what he’s doing there that night. He goes on to say that many of the promos we see, night after night, are pontificating, are talking at the audience, instead of engaging them. JUST AS A SIDE NOTE: just prior to writing this post, I checked out the Steve Austin Show Unleashed podcast with Sam Roberts. In it, Steve refers to Monday Night Raw as “wrestling for morons,” which is a pretty dead-on label to how I have been feeling lately which watching. Considering what Heyman says about current trends in promos, it’s no wonder the audience feels like the Powers That Be consider us stupid – they’re talking to us like we have no idea what’s going on. Things are repeated 100 times, beaten into us, and because of this story lines never get past the surface level.

Austin and Heyman go on to discuss more wrestling history, and Heyman explains how TV syndication works. Let me just state for the record: if you have any interest in the business side of pro-wrestling, you should know something about this. I recommend listening to what Heyman says here, as well as what he says on his first Steve Austin Show appearance, and what Eric Bischoff says on his appearance. There are a few things on the network that also tell the story of how the territories of pro-wrestling became what we see now on cable TV.

There’s also some juicy tidbits for those of you who love behind-the-scenes gossip, including Heyman denying he ever used cocaine, a story about Austin and Rick Rude, and a frightening story about traveling while in WCW. He also discusses his dynamic with Vince McMahon. I have a lot of respect for the fact that Austin asks Heyman about the “Infamous Plane Ride”, and Heyman doesn’t give details. He even says “Vince has never spoken about it publicly, so I don’t know if I’m in the right to violate that confidence” so he just vaguely explains that they had a bad show, followed by a fight, and things ended right after.

Then they cut a promo. Heyman asks Austin if he wants to fight Brock Lesnar, and Austin (at first) casually says he’d “beat his ass”. Heyman even goes on to remind Austin that Wrestlemania 32 is in Steve Austin’s home state of Texas. They seem to be working off-the-cuff, and Heyman reads things on his phone and cracks jokes before Austin finally says “three words: Texas Death Match“. This is where it becomes clear it’s a promo, because everything that comes out of either man’s mouth afterwards is perfect. Austin becomes the Stone Cold Steve Austin we all know and love, Heyman becomes the spineless jellyfish who tries to save himself by throwing up his arms and proclaiming “I’m just an advocate”, to which Austin replies “you’re about to advocate yourself an ass-whoopin’.” They leave things hanging, the air palpable, and the audience beside themselves, as Austin signs off.

The entire podcast was brilliant. There was enough technical stuff for the nerds like me, enough juicy tales for the historians, and a promo that will go down as one for the ages. I highly recommend checking it out on the WWE Network if you haven’t already, and heading over to PodcastOne.com to listen to Paul’s other appearances on The Steve Austin Show.

That’s it for me for tonight, cats & kittens. Check back tomorrow for thoughts on tonight’s NXT.

-The Lady J Says

Thoughts Pre-Elimination Chamber: Start in the Middle

There are always things that can be better in a wrestling promotion. Sometimes it’s on the technical side – the lights, the venues, the camera people. Sometimes it’s the wrestling. Sometimes it’s the marketing & publicity. Sometimes it’s the stories. But whenever something goes wrong (and this applies to most things in life) it’s best to return to fundamentals – that’s where you find your base.

There are so many things happening in professional wrestling today, it would be hard to pick just one thing the fan base would like to see changed. Part of the reason I choose to talk about story lines and promos is because I have a background in theatre and writing, so I feel my opinion has fundamentals behind it. When I think about my ultimate fantasy, the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel goal for any wrestling promotion, it would be to build one massive story arc that every player could play a part in. I know that, too a lot of people, this sounds like War Games. I wouldn’t hate that, but I am talking even bigger. In WWE, from Wrestlemania to Wrestlemania there should be a way to trace every character for a whole year, and their role should be relevant to the promotion as one entity. But that’s hard to do when, as a company, you’re not actually paying attention to your whole roster.

I see, day after day, people holding up the NXT promotion as if it is this singular perfect thing – the answer to all of the problems of the main roster of WWE. News flash: it’s not. Everything we see weekly on NXT is great, and enjoyable to watch, but leading up to NXT Takeover: Unstoppable, we had seen symptoms of the horrendous illness of the main roster – a focus around a core group of individuals in the title picture and sending everyone else to obscurity.

Since getting into the NXT roster about a year ago, I’ve enjoyed falling in love with the characters as they grow each week. I’ve also enjoyed going back to find more about the individual wrestlers’ history and seeing where they came from. It became almost expected that every Ring of Honor darling would eventually find their way to NXT, it was just a matter of when and who would be there to be in dream matches with them when they arrived. It has been a real treat to see kings and queens of the indie scene get a chance to perform on a top-tier program with high-level production values. But it wasn’t until NXT Takeover: Unstoppable that it occurred to me NXT has come dangerously close to simply being “Ring of Honor: Now With Bigger Budgets”. Of course it’s not the same, WWE is working in a totally different box, and while there’s more money behind it, there are certain rules that can’t be broken. There is always a give and take. For me, what was being given up was the heart of what NXT was meant to be – a developmental program.

Let’s get real about some facts: Samoa Joe is a 16-year veteran. Kevin Owens, Hideo Itami, & Finn Balor, 15 years each. Sami Zayn, 13. While it’s fun to see guys with equal parts talent and experience come to a beloved promotion, they don’t really need it. Perhaps it does take some getting used to in terms of how things are run at WWE, which is understandable. But it doesn’t require an NXT title belt or a year-long run in the title picture. How are you supposed to get people to develop into characters that really connect with the fan base if the fan base never sees them because they’re clamoring for their indie favorites?

Let’s put a pin in NXT for a moment, because the problem on the main roster is not that far off. One thing I’ve brought up before (and I will keep bringing up until it stops happening) is how the main storyline for YEARS now has been The Authority vs. Not The Authority. Triple H, Stephanie and whoever is on their “side” at the moment. Currently counting among the Authority side is Corporate Kane, J&J Security, and current WWE World Heavyweight Champ Seth Rollins vs. just about everyone else in the title picture, like Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Randy Orton. Momentarily at last year’s Survivor Series we saw the tendrils of this boring feud reaching as far as Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, Big Show, and John Cena. But at the moment, none of the story lines outside of the title picture really involve The Authority at all. Occasionally, Kane comes out to make a match by the power vested in him by Vince’s Daughter and her Hubby, but you never see a real presence of the Big Bad in the mid card – and that includes the other titles. Oh, sure, once in a blue moon we do get Stephanie showing up like Lady Macbeth to stir up the Women’s Diva’s division, but most of the time they’re creating intra-division turmoil.

“So what, J? This is how it’s been for a long time.”

I am so tired of hearing that – just generally in life. Just because something is how it’s always been doesn’t mean it can’t change. When something doesn’t work anymore you fix it – or replace it. There was a definite shift in NXT after NXT Takeover: Unstoppable. The next week new story lines began to surface involving lesser-used performers. Currently Jason Jordan is getting himself more screen time, as is Solomon Crowe (who I hope wasn’t just fed to Owens to disappear again). Knowing that Owens has signed a main roster contract and Samoa Joe hasn’t yet fulfilled his contract to ROH, I’m excited to see them use more of the talent that is currently working down at Full Sail. Perhaps someone in Triple H’s office realized, if you’re going to try and sell the show Tough Enough, you shouldn’t also be advertising to the potential contestants that they’d have a better chance of being on WWE TV if they started on Destination America.

Meanwhile, on the main roster, let’s give the mid-card something to do. Right now I am glad to see how full the card is for Elimination Chamber tonight. While I’m sure many of those guys are just glad to get PPV pay days, I’m also sure they’re more likely to get over if they’re actually working. I’m not a huge fan of gimmick-based PPV events, but I think a 6-team tag inside the actual Chamber is a great way to give these particular 12 (potentially 13) guys a chance to show what they’ve got. Something like the Elimination Chamber (along with Hell-in-a-Cell and a steel cage) makes it hard for the fans to actually see, and in this case there will be so many other people in there with you, you have to go big or risk being lost. As for the IC Title match, which is a traditional Elimination Chamber match, I’m not even sure what to think, except good for R-Truth getting some on-screen time. His 5 opponents have been circling the main event picture of over a year now, none of them actually making it into the Authority’s radar for longer than a month. It’s as if the six men in question have suddenly developed their own IC division, and that’s not a good thing.

The best way to get a promotion over is to zoom out – way out – and see the whole picture. Look at your women, at all your titles, at all your story lines, and figure out where you’re going. There should always be someone for the fans to root for. If they’re not cheering or booing someone, it’s usually not the person in the ring’s fault. You could have helped to put them over with how you wrote the match into everything else. “The Brass Ring” has become like an inside joke to wrestling fans, and now every young kid with a Wrestlemania Main Event dream is dropping the phrase into interviews and podcasts. But they can’t get there by sheer will. Someone has to give them a chance to get into a place where they can shine. As a die-hard Shield fan, I’m thrilled to see three of my favorites in the main event picture at the moment. As a huge fan of Prince Devitt, I’m glad to see him as the #1 contender for the NXT Championship. But I’m not the only fan in wrestling, and they’re not the only guys on the roster.

Somebody ought to tell the powers that be – they’ve been stuck in neutral for far too long. They’d better start reaching for their own brass ring, before their ride comes to an abrupt, and silent, stop.

-The Lady J Says

The Lady J “To Watch” List  (The Elimination Chamber Edition):

1. Fight Owens Fight – Regardless of my feelings on John Cena by himself, I think this is a really interesting place to put him and Kevin Owens. The match will be solid, and it’s hard to figure how to make the outcome work in the long term. Could go either way. Stay tuned for a lot of me yelling. Neville vs. Bo Dallas – if you never saw them in NXT together, just trust me on this one.
2. #ExplicitAmbroseViolence – Hopefully it involves him and Rollins in a completely ridiculous spot that makes me cover my face, and does not involve electronics or Bray Wyatt.
3. Tag Team Match – It’s not all Bad News. Currently, the tag team division is solid on the main roster and this ought to be a barn burner. I’ll be the one on twitter shouting “LU-CHA, LU-CHA, LU-CHA!”
4. Naomi 4 Champ – Please for the love of all things good and holy.
5. Neville vs. Bo Dallas – if you never saw them in NXT together, just trust me on this one.

A Farewell at the Barn – RAW 5/25/2015

Late last week, my friend Dave texted me to ask if I had Memorial Day plans. When I told him I did not, he asked if I wanted to go to the last ever Monday Night RAW at Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. Someone he knew had won tickets via the radio and couldn’t go, so he was now looking for people to go with him. I will say the experience was MUCH different from my last live RAW experience in the Barclay’s center in March of 2014, just before Wrestlemania XXX. The Barclay’s Center is much bigger than Nassau Coliseum and I had gone with a group of 8 die-hard fans last time. While Dave is as dedicated to WWE as I am, the other two companions of ours were not, and spent a decent amount of time asking questions (or texting.)

The tone was set for those of us in the building when Vince McMahon came out between Superstars and the actual start of RAW to say that there was a lot of history in this building and that WWE had made a lot of memories there. He promised a memorable evening. He did not deliver.

At the time of writing this article, I have not watched the actual televised episode of RAW from last night. I did hear quite a bit via Twitter that the show seemed slow, and I can concur that it seemed awfully slow in the building. A lot of the matches came across as slow (the Ziggler/Sheamus match elicited crickets, I don’t even REMEMBER Ryback/Barrett, though I’m told it happened) and the promos were too long. It’s hard to decipher when you’re in the arena, though, because every time the light cues change, you’re not sure if there is commentary happening, a clip, or a commercial.

In terms of really boiling down the story lines and promos of last night (minus the Diva’s stuff, which was limited and I missed it to get cotton candy,) I think there is one over-arcing point that needs to be asked:

WHAT STORY ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL?

Currently, the biggest issue that can be found in EVERY SINGLE STORY LINE that is leading into Elimination Chamber on Sunday is that there appears to either be NO STORY, MANY STORIES, or NO POSSIBLE ENDING. I recently talked about long-term storytelling in terms of last week’s episode of RAW, but clearly that was not something they attempted to do for this week. I understand they’re in a spot: the IC title is vacant, there’s suddenly a LOT of attention on the Tag Team division again, and we need forward momentum. But, honestly – nothing that happened last night made any sense.

I could (and probably will in the future) spend an entire post talking about this Rusev/Lana/Ziggler story. It makes me simultaneously thrilled and angry. I loved how she stood up to Rusev, but don’t understand why she needs to be aligned with anyone. Hasn’t she been training? Why not have her hit Rusev with some nutty finisher a la Sable/Mark Mero, and suddenly she’s a Diva (*gag*)? Instead she stands up for herself to Rusev as a little blonde embodiment of that Destiny’s Child “Independent Women” song and high-tails it to the nearest peroxide-blonde, tan guy? Not to mention – THIS IS NOT GOOD FOR ZIGGLER. Every time Ziggler gets aligned with a woman, there’s some sort of major fall-off for him in terms of crowd reception. Most recently, he got in the middle of the Summer Rae/Layla/Fandango thing and went radio-silent for a bit. I am all for a Lana turn, but that’s not what’s really happening here. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sunday ended with Rusev as IC champ and Lana back on his arm (which is so terrible, now that they’ve established him as emotionally and verbally abusive. She’s embroiled in a domestic abuse story line, she CAN NOT go back to him without it being a massive instance of reckless story telling on the part of WWE creative.)

The tag title story is…fine? I guess? I like that they’re giving a lot of time to everyone and there’s no clear favorite (except that it’s clearly NOT The Ascension. Sad face.) But there’s no clear story line, just lots of gimmick-based talk. “These guys are heels, these guys are faces, we think.” This makes sense, as I’m not sure how you’d write a 15-person storyline (with 3 members of New Day, Nattie, & El Torrito). Plus they’re putting them in a gimmick match to, I don’t even know, sell the show? *sigh*

Diva’s: Paige used to be champion. Now Nikki is champion. Paige wants to be champion again. So does Naomi. But Naomi’s not #1 contender, Paige is. So Naomi sends Tamina after Paige. What? Where is this going, anyway? To a Naomi run-in? To her as champ? To Paige as champ again, which means in her first 18 months on the main roster she’ll be Diva’s champ more times than any other woman currently on the Diva’s roster? Either it’s time to give Naomi the belt (since Nikki isn’t even INVOLVED in the feud for her own championship) or maybe it’s time to start writing for the women like they matter. All of them.

Now that we know John Cena’s match with Kevin Owens is not a title match this Sunday, I’m not sure what the story here is, either. If Kevin Owens is main eventing the NXT shows as their champ and is wrestling the face of WWE on a PPV, where do you go from there? Is he going to be WWE World Heavyweight Champion by SummerSlam? Is this setting up an NXT invasion? That idea isn’t actually out of the question, considering how deep the NXT roster is at this point. Either they need to move some more people up (in particular Tyler Breeze & Charlotte) or they need to thin the herd. (More in this in the future, as last year’s mass WWE lay-off came mid-June.) I am not at all concerned about the level of this match – it should be a barn-burner. But what comes AFTER? If Owens loses, how does he go back to NXT and save face? He’ll be the guy who couldn’t get it done. If Cena loses, Kevin Owens becomes Brock Lesnar and John Cena is…what? The US Champ. The old guy. The veteran.

As for the main event – Dean Ambrose is not going to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Dean Ambrose doesn’t need a championship (though he WAS US champion in 2013/2014). He shouldn’t care about taking Seth’s title, except to piss off Seth. I am slightly concerned about the possibility of a Reigns heel turn, as I don’t think he is ready to be The Big Bad. He definitely doesn’t have the mic skills for it, and unless his heel turn is accompanied by a “I’m a Paul Heyman Guy” t-shirt, forget it. Where does that leave this story? A good, wild match, as Seth and Dean are wont to have, and then a Rollins win (most likely due to outside interference) and then…what? Dean goes back to mid-carding against The New Face of Boring Bray Wyatt?

Please, WWE. Even if you have to fly by the seat of your pants, put some thought into it. It was a shame to be at such a momentous occasion and be given such a bland story line. But it was even sadder to know the future doesn’t look bright for better story lines to come.

For the love of hell, prove me wrong.

The Lady J Says

The Lady J “To Watch” List

1. Rusev/Lana/Ziggler – please don’t make this into an after-school special. Let Lana be Lana!
2. Neville vs. Bo Dallas, in an actual match of NXT vs NXT. This is a feud that makes SENSE!
3. Something blowing up in Dean Ambrose’s face, hopefully not his career.
4. Elimination Chamber being over.