Under My Auspices

Listen, WWE. I’m sticking with what I said yesterday – that it’s still you and not me, but now I have a really good example of why.

I watched Monday Night RAW last night. I know I said I wouldn’t, but then my phone blew up with people screaming about the return of Shane McMahon so I had to find out what in the holy hell was going on. I ended up watching almost the entire episode (I will admit to missing whatever happened with Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch because a friend needed a ride, though.) But three segments on this show that I did get to watch gave me some big things to consider in regards to what I was arguing in yesterday’s post.

After taking some time to digest it, the feud between Brock Lesnar and Dean Ambrose is absolutely perfect. In fact, I’m shocked that WWE has managed to give us something this good, considering how badly they’re struggling with just about everything else on the program. When you stop to consider all of the components of this particular storyline, it’s hard not to be enthralled by the potential. The story they created leading to the triple threat match at Fastlane was never REALLY about Dean and Roman’s relationship. It was about the Lunatic Fringe getting into the head of The Beast – a job Ambrose has pulled off magnificently. Brock Lesnar is not a person who is frightened of anything – he has no reason to be, he’s the baddest dude in any room he enters (including an arena full of a 100k screaming fans) so there was no chance Ambrose was going to intimidate him. The only thing the unpredictable ex-Shield member could bring to the table was the element of surprise. Imagine what was going through Lesnar’s head when Ambrose kept asking for more. He climbed into the ring and got in Lesnar’s face before Fastlane, he took F5’s just to find out what they felt like. He caught a serious beat-down before RAW, and then came back to challenge Lesnar to a match that (while Dean’s choice) doesn’t favor the former Intercontinental and US champion one bit. He’s going to be beat to a (hopefully bloody) pulp and continue to get up. I have absolutely no idea how Lesnar’s going to beat him, and that makes me ecstatic, not just as an Ambrose fan, but as a fan of good wrestling psychology and storytelling. Oh, and if that didn’t sell you, we’re going to get five weeks of Ambrose/Heyman promos. I may not even survive until Wrestlemania 32 – my heart my explode from joy before then.

ON THE OTHER HAND

Shane McMahon is back on RAW after six years away. I could not believe my eyes when I turned on my TV – Shane O Mac, in the ring with his father (who is apparently shrinking, I don’t remember him being shorter than Shane) and his sister. Not something I would have predicted, to be honest, and being surprised (as my friend Nat says) is better than the show being predictable. The boss’s son cut a killer promo on his sister, and then demanded control of RAW from The Chairman, after Stephanie left the ring. Of course this was an opportunity to make a deal, so Vince told Shane he could have RAW if he participated in a match where Vince chose the venue, the day, and the opponent, which Shane agreed to. That’s when it was announced that Shane would face The Undertaker inside Hell in a Cell at Wrestlemania 32.

Wait. What?

This match – this program – is in forty days. There is plenty of time to lay out a solid story and get everything we need to become hooked as an audience. But that’s not what WWE did, so now we’re left speculating. Why on Earth would Undertaker take this match? Because Vince said so? Nothing we know about The Undertaker in recent years leads us to believe that he is beholden to Vince in any way – he has chosen his own opponents as far as kayfabe is concerned. He picked Brock Lesnar. He agreed to take on the challenge put forth by Bray Wyatt. Why would he fight Vince’s battle for him? Surely this will be explained, but it shouldn’t HAVE to be explained – it should be clear from the beginning. Part of what makes the Lesnar/Ambrose feud so brilliant is that the feud is a natural product of who the characters are. Lesnar is a beast who likes to cause pain, and Ambrose is a masochistic freak who is always looking for a fight. Really, they were MEANT for one another. Now, it’s fair to argue that a portion of the WWE Universe probably has no idea who Shane McMahon is, aside from what his promo told us, and doesn’t understand the history (google him, people) but there are certain details that those of us who are long-time fans know. And we all know who and what the Undertaker is. There are plenty of ways this whole thing could have made more sense. The first one that comes to mind is having Vince tell Shane he gets RAW if he wrestles in one match on one night, but doesn’t tell him when or against who. You could end the episode with Vince frantically trying to think of who to use, going back to his office where we see that he is in obsession of The Urn, the one guaranteed way to control Undertaker. Maybe the following week we get a backstory that Undertaker traded The Urn to Vince in order to get Lesnar as an opponent at SummerSlam in 2015. But WWE hates backstory – or through lines, for that matter. So instead they force themselves into a situation of setting matches/feuds up and then having to explain to us why they make sense. Have you ever heard of anything more backwards? But it’s not even the worst thing they’re mucking up. The number 1 ongoing feud in WWE is:

WWE vs. THE AUDIENCE

If I was the kind of person who understood how to make memes, I would take a picture of Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls and write the phrase “Stop trying to make Roman Reigns happen. IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.” I’m not sure why they refuse to give in to the audience, but creative is locked in one hell of a stalemate against the WWE Universe. In the past, some of the greatest character developments in the history of the company have come from creative turning the character (or allowing the character to turn naturally) in accordance with the response from the crowd. But they are either going to get Reigns over as a face or absolutely kill his career in the process. They have glimpses of success (the RAW after TLC comes to mind) but they are so inconsistent in booking him that they can never sustain his success. In an attempt to repeat what they had back in December, Reigns is embroiled in a feud for the WWE World Heavyweight championship against Triple H (who has thankfully shed his Brooks Brothers look to return to The Game persona we all know and love.) Trips has been a heel for a long time as part of The Authority, so it seemed a clear win to put him squarely in Reigns’ path and allow us to cheer him. Except that the loudest people in the audience aren’t kids who want to see Reigns overcome, it’s the adult fans who are nostalgic for the cocky badass version of The Game that we’re clearly getting now. He’s our hero, not the guy who can never be successful for more than five minute increments. Who wants a champion like that? Who wants to watch Roman Reigns overcome THE AUDIENCE? Not those of us sitting in it, believe that.

One thing that’s clearly an issue with the opening and closing segments that isn’t an issue with the Lesnar/Ambrose feud is that the characters themselves are not clearly defined. Who are these characters? What do they want? Why do they want it? How are they going to get it? Shane McMahon has almost all of these questions answered, but it’s not clear what he was willing to do to get it back BEFORE his father set up the match at Mania. The Undertaker really only has the “who” part answered. Reigns has always been vague for me on his “who”, but we know that he wants the title in order to provide for his family (I think.) His “how” keeps changing in terms of what he’s willing to do to get what he wants. Triple H has a huge problem in his “who” because sometimes he’s Corporate Trips and sometimes he’s The Game and sometimes he’s NXT Dad and that’s a problem. Because all three of those characters have different answers to the “what/why/how” questions.

As Shane O Mac put it last night, we can’t know what we don’t know. But know this: if WWE could clearly lay out for us the characterization of these four men, the feuds would tighten up as a natural result. It happened so easily with Lesnar and Ambrose; just let the plan fall into place.

– The Lady J Says

 

 

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It’s All About Perspective

Here’s a little tidbit about The Lady J that will shock absolutely nobody: I like to argue. I don’t meant to say I like to fight – I’m not looking to hurt anyone. But I like when my opinions or ideas clash with someone else’s and we can have a healthy debate. In the world of mud-slinging politics, I know this sounds counter-intuitive. What is a healthy debate anyway? I’m talking about being respectful but thorough. I’m talking about actually listening to other people when they speak. I’m talking about being open to something new. As a firm believer in the phrase “smart people surround themselves with other smart people who disagree with them,” I think it’s important to consider new or opposing concepts in everything I do. I wasn’t on a debate team growing up (though you can bet I would have if my school had one) but I know one of the key exercises in debate is to argue opinions or ideas that aren’t in line with your personal beliefs. It’s not just a strategy exercise, it opens up your mind to new perspectives.

In between fainting over excellent Ambrose promos and wanting Michael Cole to catch an actual beating during RAW last night, I decided to try to spin my perspective around on a few things that were happening during the program. I received a bit of push-back, so I wanted to further explain myself. Try as I may, my writing style simply does not lend itself to a 140 character limit. (Note: a time limit in a debate might have also taught me to get to the point faster. Thanks NYS public school system.)

First of all, let’s be clear on one thing: I am usually not analytical during episodes of RAW. I like to let myself get sucked in when I can. Starting the show off with a promo involving Paul Heyman and then adding in Dean Ambrose was a perfect way to get lost in the excitement of being a professional wrestling fan. What both men were saying felt very organic, as though neither of them were given a script. You can bet they don’t tell Heyman what to say, but there is clearly a difference between promos where Ambrose is scripted and ones where he gets to go out there and shoot from the hip. Anyone who follows me on Twitter can tell you I was pretty much beside myself with glee during the whole thing (which didn’t even last a full ten minutes. News flash: good promos don’t have to take up a sixth of the show.) I was also excited by the possibility that WWE was actually booking women has level-headed human beings by letting Sasha Banks leave Team B.A.D. to chase the Diva’s championship while still maintaining a friendship (or at least a modicum of respect) with Naomi and Tamina. It seems we’ve been saying forever that it’s offensive for women to only be portrayed as catty backstabbers, so here was an opportunity to show a strong woman going after the title while not burning every bridge she’d ever built along the way.

By the end of the program, I had come full swing on both angles – from completely stoked to utter disappointment when all that came out of it was Sasha getting jumped (and Becky Lynch getting herself involved) while The Lunatic Fringe found himself on the receiving end of an F5 to close the show. I walked away from my TV not feeling great about the whole thing (not how you want to be left feeling after watching three hours of programming) so I decided to give myself time to decompress and let my mind wander. I came out on the other side of two new perspectives in the process and today I feel a lot more like myself and less like a petulant brat.

As a woman who has been constantly aggravated with the way others of my gender are treated/portrayed in WWE, it’s hard to take a step back from the crusade. But what we are fighting for (in and out of professional wrestling) is equality. We want balance. The issues that we complain about within the women’s division are often echoed with the men (though that stuff with Ric Flair is next level – that’s it’s own thing and very specific to women.) The WWE fanbase is often disappointed with how quickly feuds are changed or discarded entirely. We are often frustrated as characters rapidly move through alliances, with no clear build or establishing of relationships. In the women’s division it’s more pronounced because there are just fewer individuals and because there is already a stereotype that exists that women behave this way outside of the wrestling universe. Is WWE intentionally trying to perpetuate that stereotype? I’m not entirely sure. I think it is more likely that they are trying to do what they do with the men with the women and it’s failure is simply more amplified.

Was Charlotte turning on Becky Lynch shocking? No. Was it useful in getting Becky Lynch over? Yes. Is separating Sasha Banks from Team B.A.D. going to be good for her in the long run? Yes. Now it seems there are three female individuals running on their own (Charlotte, Becky, and Sasha, 3/4 of the NXT Four Horsewomen) and three female teams (Brie Bella with Alicia Fox, Naomi with Tamina, and Paige with Natalya – only one of whom actually came to the main roster from NXT.) When you consider this, WWE has actually set up a brilliant design to the women’s division. They could, in theory, pit Charlotte, Becky, and Sasha against each other in different ways for several months, keeping the championship at the heart of everything. Meanwhile we could get separate team-based story lines from the other six women (and hopefully Paige, Naomi, and Natalya can elevate the skill level of the other three, but that’s a whole other issue.) At the very least, Sasha Banks being on the wrong side of her Beautiful And Dangerous sisters could eventually spell a complete split and bury the team concept within the Divas for good. Is Sasha going to have to wrestle a program with Naomi to get there? Probably. But it certainly isn’t going to be a bad match.

As for the main event of Fastlane, you have to be willing to tumble down a really dark Lady J rabbit hole for this one.


  
  
  

It’s easy to watch what happened on RAW last night and assumed WWE managed to build and kill my favorite character in one three hour period. But part of that assumption is based in this concept that WWE is trying to screw its fanbase. I’m not sure when we got into the mindset that WWE hates us. I know it may seem like they do, but what good what that do them? WWE might be trying to tell everyone that they’re catering their product to a different audience – to families, to the mainstream – but really, they’re nothing without people like us. They need fansites, they need bloggers and podcasters. They need those of us who still remember how to get worked and are begging them for it. What if we all stopped waiting for them to screw things up and instead start looking for how good it could possibly be?

I believe they call this optimism. It’s still new to me, too. I’ll let you know when I get it comfortably worn in.

– 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

Playing Favorites

Happy New Year, dear readers! I hope y’all enjoyed whatever way you rang in 2016 – and aren’t currently nursing too nasty of a hangover. While trying to prep myself for returning to work next week, I found myself trying to skirt a mountain of laundry by scrolling through my twitter feed. That’s where I stumbled across this post from Cageside Seats’ Geno Mrosko talking about his current favorite wrestler – Becky Lynch. It got my own gears turning, as Wednesday’s post makes it seem I have forsaken my go-to favorite Dean Ambrose.

While I am inclined to agree with Geno on first glance, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t overlooking someone just to support my favorite female wrestler currently on the main roster. I mean that, too – I am not as big of a Sasha Banks fan as others, though I always enjoy her when she appears on my TV (or my Tumblr feed.) For me, what is holding back Becky from being my favorite is that we haven’t seen her shine yet on the main roster. I am certain she will rise to the top when the moment is right, but the moment hasn’t yet come for her. And any good wrestler needs an equally gifted opponent, so I’m sure when it’s Becky’s time it will somehow also be Sasha’s. I expect big things from both of these ladies, especially when they are given the chance to develop a solid feud and eagerly anticipate that time.

If we’re talking about wrestlers who you love despite the lack of push from WWE creative, I’m going to have to go with Wade Barrett. I love to watch Barrett wrestle, and I absolute adore everything he’s done in terms of promos. He is terribly injury-prone, though, and that has put quite the damper on the past year for him. Every time he heals up and reappears in the ring, I am thrilled. There was a short period of time earlier in the year where it seemed he would be getting a storyline with Dean Ambrose and my mind ran wild at the thought of those promos. But injuries sidelined that concept and things moved on while Barrett was gone. Now he is the occasionally-snarky, non-active member of the League of Nations. I am waiting for the day when Barrett gets the chance to get into a really solid promo-battle with someone who plays on his level – there aren’t many.

Of course my favorite promo in WWE at the moment is Paul Heyman – will always be Paul Heyman. No one is better than Heyman, and together with Brock Lesnar they create a monster of epic proportions. Lesnar’s cold attitude and looming presence in the ring makes him neigh untouchable, and certainly nobody can touch his advocate on the mic. It is a perfect marriage. However, history proves that the machine only functions when both parts are in unison – Paul Heyman doesn’t advocate as strongly for anyone (save perhaps CM Punk) as he does for Lesnar, and Lesnar is missing a limb without Paul as his voice.

I think a favorite would have to be someone who you think is supremely gifted, both in character and wrestling ability, and is being booked appropriately for both. As far as I’m concerned, there is only one person in all of WWE who is precisely where they belong – at the exact intersection of those three things – and that’s Luke Harper.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Harper wrestle live several times now, and he never disappoints. He’s fast for a big guy, and does it all. It’s not just well-produced television either, boys and girls, this dude can move. I will never, ever forget his match against John Cena at a RAW in Brooklyn almost two years ago. It was a PPV-level match, and I kept looking around at my fellow audience members. We were all shocked by what we were seeing.

We haven’t seen much in the way of promos from Harper – maybe that’s because he’s not so great at them, I don’t know – but his Wyatt Family character is chilling. The way he looks out into the audience with his wide eyes is jarring, and trouble is always sure to follow. Even when he and Rowan broke away from Bray Wyatt late in 2014, he held his own. I was so shocked when he won the Intercontinental title that fall, but his involvement with that title led to a fun series of matches between him and Dean Ambrose in the late spring. He has always stayed true to his character, too – a big creepy dude who is going to shock the crap out of you with what he can do.

Even now that the Wyatt Family is back together, he is really the glue that holds it all together. Bray’s job is to talk, Braun Strowman’s job is to be big and scary. Harper’s job is to keep it all moving, and he does so effortlessly. If he has any talent on the mic, I think he would be a natural to eventually turn on Bray one day (a thing I didn’t even know I wanted until just now.) I’m not worried about Harper getting “buried,” or disappearing either. He’s just too good to stay off my TV for too long.

So there you have it, readers. Lady J’s favorite wrestler for now is Luke Harper. I wonder what 2016 will bring for him – and for me. Stay tuned!

The Lady J Says

What Makes the Man

“Dress rehearsal”. What does this phrase conjure? Usually people think of the last touches before actual performances start: they think of lights, sets, and – ah yes – costumes. When most of my time was spent in the company of theatre professionals, I heard many an actor commenting that they didn’t feel that they had complete understanding of their character until they were in costume. Costume pieces can affect an actor’s movements and posture, thus choices made in rehearsal may be altered. Things just seem to fit into place. And when you’re performing in costume it is easier to remove the costume and with it, the character, when the performance is over.

In WWE, ring-attire is more important than we realize and can signify a lot about someone. Steve Austin has mentioned that he had been asked at one time in his career to wear a singlet and he refused. Now, there are few things as iconic as the image of Austin in his black trunks and boots, smashing two beers together. Would Stone Cold Steve Austin still have been the same character or achieved the same success if he had given in to pressures to alter his ring attire? One could argue that Austin’s personality would have shown through no matter what he wore, but his outward appearance may not have been as commanding in different gear.

Paul Heyman talks about what costumes mean to in-ring performers in his interview last year with Ariel Helwani on the August 5th, 2014 episode of The MMA Hour. He goes into great detail explaining how he uses what he wears on TV not just to represent something to the audience, but sometimes to get himself into the right headspace for whatever he needs to achieve in his promos. (NOTE: This is also just generally a great interview, which you can and should watch right here. The stuff about his suits is in the first 5-6 minutes.)

One of the most notable things about Ric Flair in his heyday was the way he flaunted his wealth in his promos. He would talk at length about how much his suits cost, how much his watches cost, and how many of them he had. So much of his heel persona was defined by what he wore, not just in those backstage promos, but the opulent robes he went to the ring wearing. They were a large part of what made Ric into a larger-than-life character.

There are a lot of things contributing to the total catastrophe that is the WWE product right now. But when we talk about characters (and I promise, another character analysis is coming later this week) we should also talk about their look. It is often discussed who has “the look” WWE tends to go for in terms of stature or build. But what is their gear saying about them?

Currently, a major issue with this is that when they’re not wrestling (and even when some of them are) wrestlers in WWE aren’t just wearing their gear, they’re wearing their merchandise. From a business standpoint, this sells products. If someone sees their favorite wrestler in a new t-shirt, they’re more likely to go and buy said t-shirt than if they had to stumble upon it in a store or online. But when merchandise is constantly being updated and changed, when some marketing person is trying to create catchphrases instead of letting a wrestler’s natural ability on the microphone catch on with the audience, it becomes detrimental.

On Monday, during the opening segment we had some notable costume changes. We saw Sheamus come out in a suit, which has become the chosen way to distinguish members of the Authority from Everyone Else. When Kane became part of the Authority, he became suit-clad Corporate Kane. Even Seth Rollins’ first appearance after turning on his Shield brethren involved a sport coat. So naturally, with Sheamus aligning himself at Survivor Series with Triple H after defeating Roman Reigns for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, he needs to suit up.

A suit has always been a sign of wealth and power in professional wrestling. The Million Dollar Man was always dressed in those over-the-top tuxedos. When we think of Mr. McMahon, we conjure a picture of him in a suit. Paul Heyman always comes to the ring on behalf of Brock Lesnar wearing a suit. What is it about the suit that automatically spells trouble in our minds? Whatever it is, it works – but it might be over done at this point.

Another issue with gear on Monday was that Roman Reigns came to the ring during Sheamus’s celebration wearing his new t-shirt that is for sale through the WWE shop. Now Reigns’ normal attire means his boots, black cargo-type pants, and S.W.A.T.-style vest. To have him come out in a t-shirt means to forgo part of his signature look. Maybe I am a nitpicker, but it was noticeable enough for me to mention it on Twitter instead of talking about what was actually happening story-wise.

What a wrestler wears to the ring can absolutely make or break them. It can be the difference between connecting with the audience and not. But if you’re not actively making a change in the character or their storyline, don’t mess with their look.

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

A Pack of Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There art thou happy.

The Lady J Says

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