TLC: The Last Call

2015 is almost over – can you believe it? – which means we’re quickly approaching the last PPV of the year, TLC. One of the things I’ve been doing regularly since the summer is going back to see where WWE’s storylines were for the same PPV (or the PPV in the same time slot) the year before.

When considering the 2014 TLC card, one has to remember the fallout of 2014’s Survivor Series: Sting had debuted, The Authority was no longer in power, and Dean Ambrose had basically given up a real finish in his match against Bray Wyatt just to plug the next PPV. Afterwards, we had a series of guest GMs on RAW including Daniel Bryan and the Anonymous RAW GM making matches for TLC.

The actual PPV itself was not a bad one, but was certainly not a stand out show. For me, the two most memorable aspects would have to be the awful finish in the main event – where poor Ambrose has a TV explode in his face – and the ladder match between Dolph Ziggler and Luke Harper. This might actually be my favorite match that I’ve ever seen either man in, and certainly one of my favorite ladder matches of all time. But I’m actually not a fan of ladder matches in general, particularly ones like the Money in the Bank match where there are more than two guys in the ring. So, this was just the right amount of chaos and carnage for me.

When I consider how lackluster last year’s TLC was, I shouldn’t be that shocked by what is happening in WWE’s storylines right now. They assume a large portion of their audience tunes out until the new year when we all start thinking about the Royal Rumble. Which is fine – maybe if WWE had an off-season, we wouldn’t have so many of our favorite wrestlers out injured right now. I must admit, I would prefer that they did just that, though. Why not actually take off? Just shut it all down for a month and let everyone take a break and refresh for the new year?

In my archaeological quest for information about last year’s TLC and what my own temperature was going into it, I found this article I wrote in December of last year. Wow. I was PISSED. Glad I’ve chilled out a (very small) bit since then. December was a strange month for WWE, as we saw the first live Stone Cold podcast on the WWE Network with Vince McMahon as his guest. This was also amidst the two podcasts of Colt Cabana’s that CM Punk appeared on. And Kevin Owens hadn’t even made his NXT debut yet. What a year it’s been. And this makes me think about what comes after TLC, about how we ended up where we are now.

I don’t think fans are angry with WWE because they put the WWE World Heavyweight title on Sheamus. I don’t even think fans are angry because Roman Reigns is being forced on us. I think that after a year of crappy PPV after crappy PPV, of unresolved storylines and repetitive feuds, of over-scripted promos and stalling drive, we’ve had enough. TLC 2014 was not good. The Royal Rumble in 2015 was a disaster. I didn’t even watch FastLane, and Wrestlemania 31 was offensive in it’s lack of imagination. Extreme Rules was forgettable, Payback was redundant and it wasn’t until Elimination Chamber, the PPV that wasn’t even supposed to happen, that I suddenly woke up from a nightmare of Cena/Rusev matches and something about kissing someone’s ass. At least that PPV saw Kevin Owens defeat John Cena, and also had one of the best tag team matches I’ve seen in a long time. But then Money in the Bank begins the steady decline once again with the set-up to Survivor Series (and I am reminded that I will likely never see Dean Ambrose as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion.)

So based on all of the research I have done, here is my prediction for TLC: It’s going to be very bad. And so is the Royal Rumble. And even Wrestlemania 32. If WWE insists on following their trend of outdoing themselves with worse PPVs each month, they are going to wake up in April with no live viewers and no more PPV buys. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me 16 PPVs running, and I have to call it a day.

The Lady J Says

Advertisements

You Think You Know Me

HALT: If you haven’t read yesterday’s post about me doing some soul-searching, I would suggest taking a look at that first.

If I’m going to re-dedicate myself to pro-wrestling, it’s probably a good idea for me to take a bit of time to figure out why in the hell I started watching in the first place. It’s not something that was handed down to me the way it is in some families. As far as I knew, no one I was related to was watching wrestling. In fact, I’m pretty sure my Mom would have flipped out if she knew I was watching it at all. She was dead-set on bringing up a daughter who knew her worth was based on more than just her bra size, and at the time WWE was still treating women like slabs of meat. But I didn’t care so much about that. I was young and didn’t know looking at something like that might have a lasting effect. Rather, my interest was in the violence.

I had always been an angry kid. Yes, I was picked on. I was smarter than most of the kids in my class. I was taller than them, too. I was skinny and fair skinned and being Mediterranean meant I had dark hair all over my body from a young age. I dressed different than my classmates because I wanted to, and I tried very hard to carry myself in a way that said “I don’t care what you think.” But people (kids in particular) can be so cruel. But on TV, not only did the weird guys get to be champion, everyone always knew exactly what to say. Everyone was pithy and smart. I wanted to be like that.

I decided to start there: with the dark haired pre-teen who used to watch SmackDown in the den in her basement. The one who had a secret picture of Edge in her diary that she ripped out of the TV Guide. She was the one who really fell in love – and I mean tumbled, ass over tea kettle – with pro-wrestling right at the end of the Attitude Era. I went back to the first match I can ever remember seeing, though I’m not sure how. The first Pay-Per-View event I ever watched live was the 2014 Royal Rumble. But the first match I can recall is the second TLC match – the one from Wrestlemania X-7. It’s possible I was at a friend’s house, and someone’s older brother was watching it. I vaguely recall a big-screen TV and an entertainment unit that still had a tape deck in it. Who knows where I was.

Watching the match 14 years later (which I’ve done many times on the network) I see so much stuff that I would never have noticed then. But I’m trying to push all of that jaded, over-analytical crap to the side and just enjoy it. So this morning I made a cup of coffee and started from The Hardy Boys entrance.

The first thing that jumped out at me is the way the audience responds to all six of the participants in the match. Nobody is asleep. I know it’s Wrestlemania, and that’s just a different, massive crowd. But the audience is in it. Nobody is looking for an opportunity to hi-jack anything. How did these same people – a group of kids wearing Ultimate Warrior face paint and socks on their hands – all grow up to be such massive jerks? (Note to self: stop being a massive jerk.) The crowd is so stoked on this match, and are invested from the entrances through the finish.

Something else I’d just like to mention: I love Paul Heyman. Anyone who has ever read just about any of my writing on WWE know how much I love Paul Heyman. But I love the Paul Heyman we have right now – the guy who comes out and says Brock Lesnar’s name funny and then cuts an epic promo. That is a different Paul Heyman, The Paul Heyman that is sitting beside Jim Ross during this show is a brat. He spends most of the show putting his ECW darlings over and barely even says Edge or Christian’s names. I give them credit as a pair – they don’t take sides the way the commentary team does now. And thank the heavens above for Jim Ross who (SHOCKING) actually calls the match. But I also got the very real feeling he was kicking Paul under the table through the whole thing.

The match itself flows in a really admirable way. I imagine it’s complicated planning out a match between two people. A tag team is even harder. A six man tag is something else entirely. This is all six guys in the ring at once with dangerous objects. They’re really lucky they all got out alive, much less put on such a stellar match. I recently watched the episode of Table for 3 with Ryback, Dolph Ziggler, and Daniel Bryan, in which Ryback went on and on about the Elimination Chamber match from this year when he won the title. That match was a rolling disaster. Nobody seemed to know where anyone else in the ring was, or what came next, or how to pick up a missed spot. The TLC II match was the opposite. Clearly every person in that ring trusted everyone else, including the three individuals who joined them later: Lita, Rhyno, and Spike Dudley. I never got the feeling I might have missed something important, or that a spot came from someplace I wasn’t watching already.

There is psychology in this match, too. The way the match starts with the Dudleys going after Edge and the Hardys going after Christian tells a story. The introduction of each team’s auxiliary members gives them all an equal leg up. Fairly early in the match Bubba Ray and Devon set up a tower of tables, and it takes nearly the whole match for Rhyno to push Matt and Bubba Ray off a ladder into (and through) the stack. There is thought behind everything – even if the thought is simply “this is going to be awesome.”

There are a number of memorable, really dangerous stunts in this match, including Edge’s famous mid-air spearing of Jeff Hardy. However, it was Jeff’s Swanton Bomb off the top of a 20-foot ladder onto Rhyno and Spike who were draped over a table below that caused me to cover my face. And in that moment, as my hands flew to my eyes, I remembered what it was like. I have cried watching wrestling matches because I could not conceive that the individual would get back up – and not in an underdog way. In a “well, I just watched that man die on live television” way. I’ve been “swerved”, been truly surprised by something or someone. But most of those times were way back then.

I knew at 14 years old that it wasn’t “real”. I mean, I knew there was no way Jeff came off that ladder and just got up and walked away – impact is impact, no matter your training. But I knew someone had made a decision on who was going to win before hand. I understood that. And still, there was a suspension of disbelief. When did I lose that? Maybe it was five months later, when everyone in New York and all over the country suddenly became adults one Tuesday morning. Maybe it was when I returned to the product as an adult who was dealing with an all-too-real situation that required my deep understanding. Maybe I just couldn’t play pretend anymore. But I think it’s time I give it a try.

My grandmother really loved As the World Turns, a now-defunct American Soap Opera. My grandfather couldn’t watch it with her. He’d say things like “why do these people change outfits so many times?” and “can’t anyone see that’s the same person and not an evil twin?” My grandmother used to laugh at him and say, “William, you just don’t know how to watch this.”

Dear fellow “smarks”,

I think somewhere between our first ever paycheck and our last electric bill we forgot how to watch wrestling. Let’s give it another try, okay?

Love,

J.

The Lady J Says

The Lady J’s “To Watch” List:

Wrestlemania 2000 – “Triangle Ladder Match” (aka TLC I), Edge & Christian defeat The Hardy Boys AND The Dudley Boys (c)

Wrestlemania X-7 – “TLC II”, Edge & Christian defeat The Hardy Boys AND The Dudley Boys (c)

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