*Maniacal Laughter*

If you came to The Lady J Says blog looking to find out who was victorious at last night’s Survivor Series, you have come to the right place. Because the victor was me.

Was Survivor Series the knock-down drag out PPV of our dreams? No. In fact, going into the show, I wasn’t that excited. I wanted to know who ended up with the WWE World Heavyweight championship, sure, but that was about it. So how did a sullen emo kid like me end up so joyous?

I originally missed the pre-show as it was airing. But to tune is just as Survivor Series was starting and hear that Goldust is back to face his brother, that was a treat in itself! I have always loved Goldust. He is a true character – one who lends himself to variety and the unexpected. That is a great character for WWE to have in their arsenal. I am very much looking forward to a real brother vs brother feud between Goldust and Stardust. If they are given the opportunity to tell a really emotional story, I can’t imagine Dusty’s boys will leave a dry eye in the house. And, in light of recent distasteful storytelling, I hope WWE doesn’t shy away from using the real life aspects of these brothers’ relationship to make it powerful.

Lets move on to the first two matches of the main card. Both semi-final matches were back to back right at the beginning, I imagine to give the winners enough time to regroup before having their final match for the title. Strictly in terms of actual matches, I think I liked these two better than any of the other matches we saw last night. The finishes didn’t seem quite so rushed the way they did in some of the other matches, and there was still a sense of excitement because the title picture was still unfolding before us. Well done to all four men involved (particularly Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens for saving Roman Reigns from his own backstage promo.)

The traditional 5-on-5 Survivor Series match ended up being The Usos, The Lucha Dragons, and Ryback vs. The New Day, King Barrett, and Sheamus. This match was fun, of course, with New Day being out there to inject a little hellish humor into the PPV. I have to admit, once New Day carried Big E off, I was no longer interested in the match. It never eve occurred to me that Sheamus might pull out a win (spoiler alert: he didn’t) so I ended up distracting myself with other things until I heard the bell ring. It was still definitely a fun match to watch, and it was light and funny before getting back into more serious stuff with the Diva’s championship match. You know, everything that happened in the ring last night served a purpose, even if it was to break up the more serious storylines with a few light moments. And I’m not worried about what happens to anyone in this match moving forward – except maybe Barrett, who I am always worried about. I really enjoy his heel characters and want to see him in the ring more, not less.

The Diva’s Championship match is really hard for me to comment on. If you were to take away all of the context of this match, it was actually very good – something people definitely would have been into seeing on NXT. But, this is not NXT. And the context that surrounds this match ended up choking it. I still stand by my predictions for this match and would have preferred it be a squash match to go with the type of story they were trying to tell. But now I don’t know what you do with either of these women and to be honest, I don’t care. WWE’s need to blur the lines between reality and fiction basically killed this whole story and not even a solid in-ring performance could save it. Can we please have someone else in a women’s match for TLC so I don’t have to think about this whole thing ever again? Oh, and someone tell Charlotte that when she puts the figure four leg lock on someone to let THEM do the screaming.

Tyler Breeze vs Dolph Ziggler was fine. I still don’t understand why I am supposed to care about this feud, but the match itself was fun and over pretty quickly – maybe too quickly for them to really tell a story. I’m not really sure where either of these characters are supposed to go from here. I would have imagined putting Breeze with one of his old NXT opponents first would have been better and then building to what seems like a clearly brilliant pairing between him and Ziggler. But instead they blew the whole thing off in Breeze’s first PPV match and now what? I hope WWE doesn’t do to Prince Pretty what they did with some of the other NXT call-ups and figure out where this supermodel’s place is on the roster before the audience forgets why they liked him so much in the first place.

As for the Brothers of Destruction vs. The Wyatts match – I did not go into this match invested in it whatsoever. WWE could not seem to figure out how to tell this story, with week after week of contradictions and massive plot holes, which really pissed me off. If there is ONE PERSON on the roster who deserves to have solid stories, it’s the Undertaker. If that mad is given respect from literally every person on the roster, why can’t the people running creative offer him the same respect and give the man a story worth watching? That being said – I really liked his entrance. I really liked how the match was built so that everyone got something in. Bray sending Rowan in before the bell gets rid of him, Bray and Harper work a really fun program with Undertaker and Kane which could basically be called a Greatest Hits match of all the stuff you could ever want to see these two dudes pull off, and they even manage to choke slam Braun Strowman through the Spanish announce table for good measure. Was it the best match of the night? No. Was it the best story ever told? No. But it was fun and it was everything anyone could want from Undertaker at this point in his career. He’s doing a farewell tour and maybe the fans and creative should get together and make a deal: elevate creative’s level of storytelling to something that doesn’t look like the lunatics are running the asylum, and we promise to applaud and thank Taker like we’re supposed to. Okay? Deal?

Speaking of lunatics – let me just drag this soapbox over here for these last two matches, hang on a second. Okay. To everyone out there complaining about the last two matches – please pay attention. I am speaking to you.

Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Heavyweight title was set up properly. In my opinion, the match wasn’t long enough and the finish seemed a little wonky, but the basic storytelling was all there. Please go back and re-watch this match if you need to. (I’ll wait. Are you done yet?) I really like that there was no question about getting into this match, they just went for it. This is what we in the literary world call being in canon – canon being the literary version of kayfabe. It sticks with the story. These two guys, these best friends, made it clear they love each other, but they’re not going to hold back when it comes to the title. We see this play out when the bell rings because there was no lock up, they just come in swinging. Now, do I wish the match had been longer? Sure. As someone who doesn’t know nearly as much about the physical side of wrestling as I like to think I do about the story side, it looked like these two were having fun, and I believe I would have enjoyed a longer match.

Now here is the thing. When Reigns pins Ambrose and is given the belt, what happens next is the greatest thing to happen to us, the audience, in a very, very long time. After months and months of us booing Roman Reigns and hating on him up one side of the internet and down the other, we all were proven right: WWE doesn’t care what the fans want, they’re doing to do whatever WWE wants. And they put the title on Reigns. No, they don’t just give him the title, they basically mock all of us by giving him this ridiculous showing with confetti and pyro and it looks like a ticker-tape parade after the Super Bowl. It’s just silly, it looks so mocking, like Vince just stuck up both of his middle fingers at us.

It goes on forever, too. Which, if anyone remembers the finish to Summer Slam, you know sometimes WWE ends things early and just lets you sit in your misery and wallow. And just when we all start to wonder if this is really how the night ends, Triple H comes out to congratulate Roman the Champ, extending his hand to Reigns who ends up spearing the COO. Not cool, Reigns. You messed with the wrong guy. Don’t you remember who that is? That’s the guy that you and your brothers beat at Extreme Rules and Payback last year, before he managed to turn that weasel Seth Rollins against you. That’s Mr. Plan B. And he’s got one for you, right now.

Brogue’d.

Reigns manages to kick out on from the first Brogue Kick after Sheamus cashes in his Money in the Bank briefcase, but he can’t kick out of a second. And there it is – Sheamus is the new WWE World Heavyweight champion. The last image we get of Roman Reigns is his puffy-eyed face rolling staring up at the lights in disbelief before climbing out of the ring, thwarted again.

I. LOVE. THIS. There are no better words to describe my elation. This is brilliant storytelling, and we all fell for it. What’s really sad is that WWE has actually done this already. For everyone out there who’s been crying over WWE turning Roman Reigns into John Cena – do you not remember who was the first person to be cashed in on in history? Do you not remember that Cena got cashed in on successfully twice in six months? Reigns has had his dreams dashed thanks to that briefcase TWICE now since Wrestlemania 31. We all should have seen this coming! But instead, you all got angry. And this is where you lose me.

What are you so angry about? You didn’t want Roman to win. He lost! You’re still mad! “Well, we didn’t want Sheamus to win, either.” Wow. That sounds kind of bratty don’t you think? Sounds sort of like a little kid who doesn’t want to share his toys. “Now they’re going to try to force an underdog Reigns on us, but he’s no Daniel Bryan!” You’re right, he’s NOT Daniel Bryan. Daniel Bryan got cashed in on by Randy Orton in 2013, yes. But when his second chance, he beat not only Triple H, but Orton AND Batista and ended up holding the belt during a big party at Wrestlemania XXX – saw it on my TV and everything. Roman Reigns almost had Brock Lesnar – which is a feat in itself – and it got taken away by his ex-teammate. Now Roman Reigns didn’t just get close, he was HOLDING THE BELT IN HIS HANDS and got kicked in the face. Twice. He’s an underdog! It doesn’t matter if you don’t like him, he is, by definition, now an underdog. There are so many things WWE can do with him now because of this. (Note: I’m not ruling out that they ruin everything tonight on RAW somehow, but for the next seven hours there’s still potential.)

As for Sheamus – no, I don’t like him. But he’s not the same kind of heel as Seth Rollins. And regardless of his character or his wrestling ability, if you’re going to have babyfaces like Ambrose and Reigns in the title picture, the title has to be held by a heel! It’s as simple as that! Plus, I bet if they had left the title on Reigns, most of you would be praying for a Sheamus cash in before TLC. So in reality WWE is giving you what you want without your even knowing it. You can still boo Sheamus until you turn purple, and the guy you didn’t want to win did not win! There, art thou happy!

WWE is not a perfect landscape. There was plenty happening last night that was just bad or botched storytelling. But the title picture was not one of them. It’s Monday now, everyone’s had a chance to sleep. So let’s all have a good stretch and try to remember that the happier, or angrier we get as fans, the better the job WWE is doing.

The Lady J Says

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See the Whole Board – NXT 6/3/2015

I belong to a pro-wrestling group on Facebook. Someone I went to college with added me to the group and I don’t comment often, but I like to read people’s opinions or thoughts on what’s happening in the industry today. The other morning someone mentioned that they have been watching Attitude Era episodes of Monday Night Raw as well as PPVs in chronological order on the WWE Network. The thing that struck this individual was that for every amazing match involving all of our Attitude Era heroes, there are several mind-numbing matches involving people you forget quickly afterward. It occurred to me that the issue I wrote about in my pre-elimination chamber match is not a new one for this industry, and I imagine it is exacerbated on Raw currently due to the length of the program.

The issue, to clarify, is not about wrestlers who aren’t very good coming out and having poor matches. Anyone can have an off night, and there have always been people in the industry who just don’t have “it”. Also, I imagine in the Attitude Era, guys who might have been more “over” at a different time ended up falling into the shadows of the big stars of the time. What I am discovering is key in any solid wrestling promotion is the proper use of everyone on your roster. You want to have enough people at your disposal so nobody gets burnt out (or becomes prone to injure from being overworked.) You want to have a variety of characters so you can create a variety of story lines and feuds. And you want to have a variety of talent so you’re not relying too heavily on how someone looks, how someone speaks, or even how someone wrestles. Everybody has something to bring to the table; let them shine.
As someone with a background in writing, I want to see challenging, fresh story lines in pro wrestling. But the more I examine the product, the more I realize there has to be a happy marriage between creative storytelling and solid booking. This is how I am approaching this past week’s episode of NXT.
In this episode we were given four matches: Tyler Breeze vs. Adam Rose, Carmella vs. Alexa Bliss, The Vaudevillains vs. Jason Jordan & Marcus Louis, and Finn Balor vs. Rhyno. Now, post-Unstoppable, my concern was that so much attention was on the Indie Darlings (as I so obnoxiously refer to them) and there was not enough attention being focused on that talent that needs the benefit of being a part of a developmental program. Therefore, when you get two back-to-back episodes of NXT that actually feature the rest of the roster, you can’t be angry. Not every episode should be all Sami Zayn or all Kevin Owens, all the time. It’s good to put Samoa Joe on TV to let the audience know what they have to look forward to, but it should be weeks before we see hime wrestle on TV, thus creating as much hype as possible. Special attractions cannot be special if you can get them at any time.
There are three belts currently in NXT: the NXT Champion, the NXT Women’s Champion, and the NXT Tag Team Champions, and not one of these champions wrestled last week. You had a solid women’s match that furthers the tag team story line that is leftover from Unstoppable because Carmella is aligned with Enzo & Big Cass, while Alexa Bliss is aligned with Blake & Murphy (c). This is good story telling and good booking.
There was also an interesting tag team match up that created some more audience interest in The Vaudevillains and painted them as baby faces again. This, in my opinion, was where they always belonged. They are nerdy guys who have a huge following (particularly as Simon Gotch is so vocal on Twitter and interacts with their fans constantly) and never should have been painted as heels just because of their old-timey gimmick. It also brings Marcus Louis back into the picture and aligns him with a current heel, Jason Jordan, who recently ditched his tag partner, The Dillinger. This is the beginning of solid story telling and good booking.
The opener of this program really baffled me, though. What is Adam Rose doing on NXT? NXT television broadcast is not purgatory for WWE wrestlers. I was at a taping of RAW a few weeks back, and saw Adam Rose wrestle Heath Slater in ACTUAL purgatory, AKA Superstars. The match between Rose and Breeze was not particularly exciting, though it was well put together. If there is a back story between the two of these characters, it’s so long ago I can’t remember it at this point, and that’s not good. Now that Breeze is out of the title picture (he’s lost his last three shots at the #1 contendership,) they need to think of where he’s going next. If it’s up the main roster, I hope his match with Adam Rose wasn’t foreshadowing. No story telling, sad booking.
As for the main event, I was completely surprised. I don’t like Rhyno because he cannot cut a promo to save his life. I would liken him to Scott Steiner – he rambles incoherently, and always seems out of breath, like thinking is exhausting to him. I understand that a wrestler’s promos should reflect their character, but I am never cool with someone’s gimmick being that they’re an idiot – so please, speak like you understand how the english language works, as you don’t appear to be foreign. This match was mercilessly short and went well, considering that Balor is adaptable enough to wrestle Rhyno differently than he does Breeze or Neville. That just makes him more believable. Also, having Rhyno come out and gore him after the match was fun but a little silly – after all these years in the business, Rhyno the character still doesn’t understand how to be aggressive with purpose? I hope Baron Corbin was watching. Mild story telling, as Finn is the #1 contender for the NXT Championship, decent booking.
Now I am now down on the entire show. There is an upside to everything, and it’s all about where NXT is headed next. We’ve brought some inter-gender story telling into the mix – PLUS. If the Rose/Breeze match is a step to re-branding Rose and promoting Breeze – PLUS. The return of the Vaudevillains and increased relevance of current “mid-carders” Jordan & Louis – PLUS. Hopefully moving Rhyno further up the cards means he moves out of NXT faster – PLUS. Anything involving Balor – PLUS.
Of course the show also had a series of promo downsides, though. If NXT has one universal weakness, it’s promos. I’m not sure why Dusty can’t seem to help any of these kids, but whatever is holding them back is contagious. From Devin & Greg, who are doing some of the poorest interview work I have ever seen (can we say red-light fever?) to individuals who aren’t sure how to work in front of a live audience, or who don’t know how to be dramatic without taking painfully long pauses (I’m looking at you, Solomon Crowe,) it’s an outright epidemic. And even when seasoned professionals are given promo spots, they end up being poorly produced. William Regal cut a press conference style promo announcing a ridiculously awesome event in Tokyo on Independence Day in which Balor would face Owens for the NXT Title. He was speaking to an empty room and the live feed of the in-house audience was cut so he spoke to absolute silence as well. Way to bury an epic announcement. Regal ought to have been speaking in the middle of the ring to the NXT audience itself. If that wasn’t possible for some reason, they could have at least pre-recorded it in front of the roster, like a massive staff meeting so there was some kind of reaction.
There are so many components and pieces in professional wrestling, I can see how difficult it might be to get them all working at once. What boggles my mind, though, is how a company as tremendous as WWE would be unable to focus on their flaws and give them the attention they require. Even in a smaller part of the company, like NXT, there’s no reason why things can’t be kept moving forward, and why we shouldn’t be seeing people improve week after week.
The Lady J “To Watch” List

1. The Enzo/Cass/Carmella feud with Blake/Murphy/Alexa Bliss. I have high hopes for all six of these characters, particularly Enzo & Big Cass.

2. The return of the Vaudevillains. Sort of like Return of the Jedi, but with less Slave Leia. I think.
3. Hopefully the development of some new characters, including the re-booting of some individuals from the main roster.
4. A worthwhile story line for Baron Corbin – or an exit strategy.
5. Charlotte on the main roster, for Pete’s Sake!

 

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.