Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Monday Night Raw - April 8, 2013

Doesn't WWE sometimes put the Raw after WrestleMania on the Mania DVD? I really hope they do that this year.

An explosive Raw kicked off with new WWE Champ, John Cena addressing his adoring fans in East Rutherford, NJ. Cena really set the tone for the night, basically telling them, "I know you don't like me and sometimes I don't like you, but let's have fun tonight." Cena reveled in the boos and despite being worried about where Cena would go from his Mania win, he definitely seemed rejuvenated last night. "How about a little dance? Maybe a heel turn?" Brilliant.

And though he wound up merely being a red herring for another story, I loved the addition of Mark Henry to the segment. "You got them laughing, I ain't laughing!" Booker T set up our main event, Henry vs. Cena in a non-title match, with a future shot guaranteed to Henry if he could win. I kinda hate that premise, especially when a bad guy is in the role of challenger, but a minor gripe.

In-ring action kicked off with a half-rematch from Mania, Daniel Bryan vs. Big E. Langston and I am officially a Big E fan. There's nothing particularly new coming from Langston, it's not like he's the first big ass-kicker in WWE, but something about the way he moves and hits his moves makes me really dig him. It might actually be a smidge over-the-top, but being in there with The Dazzler made it work. Big E gets an impressive win for his Raw debut after finishing Bryan off with the Big Ending.

Wade Barrett vs. The Miz was a WrestleMania pre-show rematch (how dare they give it that away, I paid a hard earned $0 for that!) and wound up being one of, if not the, best match that either guy has had in a WWE ring. Miz has had some fun over-the-top brawls, he was on his way to becoming the master of the falls count anywhere match, but last night was the first time in awhile that Miz has had a fantastic straight-up wrasslin' match. Barrett's neckbreaker on the apron was particularly gross, but the whole match was hard-hitting, fun and the crowd was into it, what more do you need? Oh how about a title change for good measure?

I know some people were annoyed by Miz dropping the belt right after winning it, but I didn't see the harm. Barrett's not gonna break the Honky Tonk Man's record, so an interrupted reign doesn't hurt him and a little bit of unpredictability goes a long way.

So after decisively defeating Jack Swagger at WrestleMania, Alberto Del Rio had to face him again, this time in a 2-on-1 handicap match with Zeb Colter added to the mix. This was not nearly the clinic they put on at Mania, very much an hour 1 Raw main event, but the purpose of this wasn't to be an jaw-dropping wrestling match, it was a means to an end.

After being locked in the Patriot Act for an extended amount of time, Del Rio managed to escape and lock with the Cross Armbreaker for the win, but the damage was done and Dolph Ziggler struck.

I just re-watched the segment, I couldn't tell you the last time I heard a crowd EXPLODE like they did for Ziggler heading to the ring. They were already begging for it, so by the time "I'M HERE TO SHOW THE WORLD!" hit, they were practically orgasmic. The match itself was one of the better mini-matches in the history of the Money in the Bank concept, I still had some doubt that Ziggler would win the thing, but of course he did. Dolph Ziggler is finally, FINALLY, World Heavyweight Champion, he deserved a moment like this and here's to long and well-deserved reign.

I was a bit surprised The Undertaker appeared on Raw, but it got me a bit more hopeful that Taker would be sticking around. As I said in my Mania review, he looked like he was ready to get back into the ring more frequently and The Shield interrupting his moment seemed to confirm that. Hell No rushing to the ring to make the save was super fun and the crowd loved it, but how couldn't you with the awesome image of Daniel Bryan standing between Taker and Kane? The Shield vs. The Dazzlers of Destruction seems like a natural fit for Extreme Rules and a needed evolution for The Shield, so I really hope that's the direction we're going. Taker working some tag matches here and there, maybe SummerSlam and then the Mania build would get no complaints from me.

Zack Ryder, Santino & R-Truth vs. 3MB... next!

Although Ryder, Santino and R-Truth would make for a fun 3-Count reboot.

Sheamus & Randy Orton were arguing over who got to fight the Big Show after their WrestleMania implosion, WWE made this seem like a bigger deal than it was, and the NJ crowd was having none of it. The two had a match to determine who got the "privilege" to get in the ring with the World's Largest Athlete, but they were met with a series of chants that had absolutely nothing to do with the match: "RANDY SAVAGE!" "MIKE CHIODA!" "COTTON CANDY!"

I felt bad for Sheamus, they clearly had no interest in even giving the match a chance, but it's not like two guys in creative limbo were going to put on a barn-burner with the story of "who's gonna wrestle Big Show?" I was a bit torn on the whole thing, the "WE ARE AWESOME!" chant was particularly bad since once you say you're awesome, you kinda stop being awesome (unless you're The Miz), but at the same time, WWE gave them something they didn't want to see and they gave them grief for it. At the end of the day, they paid to be there, they can chant whatever the hell they want. I wish more crowds had this kind of fun.

Fandango vs. Kofi Kingston barely got started before Chris Jericho interfered and kicked Fandango's ass, but forget about the match, let's talk about the new sensation that's sweeping the nation: Fandangoing!

I've been watching wrestling for close to 30 years at this point and I can honestly say I've never seen a crowd hum a guy's theme song throughout the match. I've been skeptical about Fandango, but this needs to become a thing; if you're going to Raw next week, sing and dance along! Don't be afraid to look stupid, don't be too cool, have fun.

Tons of Funk & The Funkadactyls vs. Rhodes Scholars & The Bella Twins got bumped from WrestleMania, which is a shame for the performers involved, but getting to go in front of this crowd, not having to follow something like Punk/Taker or HHH/Brock and having the benefit of indoor arena acoustics, it turned out to be a pretty fun match last night. They still were probably rushed through since the show was running long, but I'm glad they got to do their thing.

Since the show was running long, John Cena vs. Mark Henry never really got started before Cena won by count-out. Obviously they weren't going to let this Raw end on a count-out in front of this crowd, so they were setting up something... enter Ryback. Ryback roughed up Henry a bit, but his true target was the WWE Champion and Raw came to an end with Ryback Shell Shocking John Cena and posing over his body with the WWE Title held high.

Cena vs. Ryback is fine, they missed the boat on Ryback being the next big good guy, so let him be a villain for awhile. Some folks are saying it wasn't a turn, just Ryback being Ryback, which is possible, but the announcers seemed to treat it like one. A little uncertainty might be best for Ryback though, he doesn't need to be tied down by the concept of good guy or bad guy, his whole shtick is "FEED. ME. MORE." so his opponent's disposition should be irrelevant.

Ryback started losing when he started teaming up with people, maybe he becomes this Stone Cold-esque loner who fights any and everyone?

This Raw was spectacular. I don't think we're in for a drastic change in direction or anything, but with some new faces for Cena to work with, Daniel Bryan hanging with Taker & Kane and Fandangoing, I'm excited for the post-Mania run. I'll have more thoughts on the raucous crowd later in the week, but if you want more Raws like this, buy a ticket and make some damn noise.

Brock Swift

Best thing you'll see all day:

via reddit.

Monday, April 8, 2013

WWE WrestleMania 29

This was an interesting year, it could perhaps even be described as experimental. The set was absolutely beautiful, MetLife Stadium looked packed to the gills, but WWE didn't treat it like an over-the-top spectacle, it was very much all business last night. Aside from a very brief an inoffensive performance from Puff Daddy P. Diddy Diddy Sean "Diddy" Combs, WWE played it straight, which I don't recall ever happening at WrestleMania. There were no guest ring announcers, no backstage skits, no "DAMN!" moment, no racist Mamasaurus time-killer, John Cena didn't even do a special entrance, this was a wrestling show. That doesn't automatically mean it was good though.

The Shield vs. Randy Orton, Sheamus & Big Show was a great choice for the opener and the first time since 26 the show didn't open with the World Heavyweight Title match. I'm still not sure what the point of The Shield is since they've split off from CM Punk (what "injustice" are they currently fighting?), but getting a win like this at WrestleMania is really big for these guys. It didn't even matter that the match was essentially the same one we've seen them in every time they've wrestled, it was still a defining moment, they won at WrestleMania. I'm not sure where this leaves Orton and Sheamus, two guys in desperate need of something, anything to stay relevant, but at least Big Show got to reaffirm the fact that he's a bad guy and shouldn't have bothered wasting his time fighting this battle.
Predictions: 1 for 1

Mark Henry vs. Ryback wasn't the match I was hoping these two would have, but there was some fun to be had, like Henry crushing Ryback after a failed Shell Shock and pulling out the biggest surprise win of the night. Naturally, Ryback got his revenge after the match and hit the Shell Shock no problem, but the record book will forever say Henry: 1, Ryback: 0. That plays to Henry's character well too, he's tough, he's dangerous, but he also doesn't really care about proving anything when he doesn't have to. Not the slobberknocker I was expecting, but could've been worse.
Predictions: 1 for 2

Hell No vs. Dolph Ziggler & Big E Langston was just fantastic, best Tag Title match at WrestleMania since "TLC" became a thing. At WrestleMania, there are matches and there are MATCHES; this was one of the better matches in recent WrestleMania history, a true undercard classic in an era where anything below the top 4 matches on the show is usually forgettable. And it wasn't all thanks to Bryan and Ziggler; Langston looked like a beast in there and ol' Kane showed why he can still a reliable hand after all these years. The crowd was super into it (okay, that was mainly thanks to Bryan and Ziggler), the action was fast-paced and most importantly, it was just a really fun match. This could've easily been a throwaway match on Raw, but just a little buildup and a grand stage made for something surprisingly special. You need to see this one, not a second of the 7 minutes is wasted here.
Predictions: 2 for 3

Fandango vs. Chris Jericho, on the other hand, was underwhelming. I had high hopes for this one, thought it was one of the best-built matches on the card with its simple story and colorful characters, but it just didn't do it for me. Fandango didn't play up the gimmick enough, but also didn't look serious enough to be a formidable opponent for Jericho at WrestleMania and if you can't have a good match with Chris Jericho at WrestleMania, it sure as hell isn't Jericho's fault.

I didn't mind the surprise ending, didn't mind that Fandango won, but he just didn't look like he belonged in there. All the hype, all the delays, and this is what Fandango brought to the WrestleMania stage? It wasn't like he was Kizarny or anything, but to get to have your much-hyped debut at WrestleMania and to turn in this performance against one of the greatest in-ring performers of all-time? Meh.

To be fair, a lot of folks seemed to really dig it, so maybe I'm the crazy one, but it just didn't do it for me at all. And it was probably the match I was most excited for behind Punk/Taker.
Predictions: 2 for 4

Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger was a clinic though. I knew these two would gel, so I'm not surprised it was a really good match, but I have to admit I was bummed that Ziggler didn't cash-in. Was the perfect opportunity to do it, he could be the first guy to do it at Mania, this match was short enough that Del Rio could've put up a believable fight and it would've been a really cool moment. Sadly, it was not to be, but luckily Del Rio and Swagger made up for it that was helped by the side-characters at ringside. I don't think the Zeb Colter shtick has much life in it after this story, but it was fun while it lasted and very well may have saved Swagger's career... or sank it, not sure yet.
Predictions: 3 for 5

CM Punk vs. The Undertaker... wow. Okay, before we get into the match, can we just admire this for a second?

image: WWE.com

That is why I watch wrestling.

I'm occasionally asked who is my favorite wrestler and I don't have a single answer. Depending on when you ask me, I may be feeling nostalgic for Hulk Hogan, who is the reason I got into wrestling. Maybe I'll say Shawn Michaels, whose matches have always been among my favorites of the last 20+ years. Maybe Stone Cold, who had a brief, but unmatched run at the top of WWE during the most fun era to watch (at least at the time). Maybe Chris Jericho, who is just wonderful.

But ya know what, after last night, I finally have an answer: The Undertaker is my favorite wrestler. Period. His mere presence does more for me as a viewer than most matches, his matches have transcended the idea of good and bad, it's now just a matter of how legendary they will be and The Streak is the coolest accolade in wrestling history. I'll do you one better: if The Undertaker isn't your favorite wrestler, you're wrong!

Taker and Punk absolutely killed it last night. And I'll tell you what, for a "broken down old man," Taker looked like he was ready to start doing this every week again. Obviously that's not going to happen, nor should it, but Taker hasn't looked like this in years. Is that credit to Punk or the once-a-year schedule? Or is Taker just that badass? Whatever the reason, the only bad thing about Taker at this point is there's no way to make anything in wrestling seem as special or even remotely as important. It's not his fault, he's not intentionally overshadowing anyone, but Taker is a god and it's tough to be a mortal when he descends (well, ascends in his case) to our realm.

The sit-up in the Anaconda Vice... THE SIT-UP IN THE ANACONDA VICE! I CAN'T EVEN!

It's why it boggles my mind that WWE bothers with anything following The Undertaker at WrestleMania. I thought they learned their lesson with "the title has to go on last!" when Rock and Hogan stole the show at WM18, then they put Orton and HHH on after HBK and Taker at WM25. They learned their lesson at Mania 26, but forgot it again this year. WWE: stop putting matches on after The Undertaker, there's nothing the crowd will care about more, I guarantee it. It was one thing when he was wrestling Mark Henry at Mania 22 or Kane for the third time at 20, but if he's getting in there with a Shawn Michaels, Triple H or CM Punk, there's very little that can follow that.

And this match was impossible to follow, Punk and Taker unsurprisingly stole the show and more than made up for their forgettable encounters years ago when Taker was hurt and Punk was very, very new to the main event scene. Punk was no slouch either, managing to look like a believable threat to The Phenom without veering into the over-the-top territory of the last two years. Everything about this match was excellent and if you missed it, you need to see it right now.

The. Goddamn. Undertaker.

Predictions: 4 for 6

Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar, as mentioned, had a tough act to follow, but they got off to an excellent start... unfortunately they came to a screeching halt about five minutes in. Shades of their disappointing SummerSlam encounter were all over the place, luckily they managed to bounce back with an absolutely brutal finish, but it wasn't enough to call this one great. Good? Sure, which I worry is all we're gonna get from HHH these days.

Jason Mann brought up the excellent point that maybe the crowd just wasn't that into it because they're just not that into Triple H? HHH is the Bob Dylan of wrestling: he's been around forever, we all agree he's a legend, everyone says they like him, but play his record at a party and the crowd starts to thin a bit. "Oh yeah, I know I'm supposed to like this and all, but can't we just listen to Foghat?" It's not a knock on Triple H, I don't care that he won, it's not like Brock Lesnar needs help keeping his "heat," but the well has perhaps run dry. He had a great run, I'm fine with him wrestling here and there, but his days of being "the man" are long gone, if they were ever really here. There's absolutely no shame in a Triple H wrestling career, even 10% of a Triple H career, but he'll never be The Rolling Stones.
Predictions: 5 for 7

I'm not really sure what to make of The Rock vs. John Cena. It certainly wasn't as bad as pockets of the internet are making it out to be, but it wasn't good either. This match disappointed me last year and I expected them to crank it up this year, they didn't, so it failed to deliver, but let's not act like it was the wrestling equivalent of a late-term abortion.

I was not a fan of the crowd chanting "BORING!" early on. Sure, they were working chinlocks and headlocks, but I feel like that kind of impatience sets an ugly standard for the slow-burn wrestling match. Unfortunately, they never really picked up the pace until it was too late, they never really fought and then a clunky finisher exchange at the end just felt awkward, rather than epic.

There was fun to be had, the callback to last year with Rock getting an AA after trying the Five-Knuckle Shuffle was cute, Cena luring in with what cost him the match last year was cuter, but it never really had that "oh wow!" moment. Even after the match, the "passing the torch" moment didn't really have that special vibe, and not just because Cena's already been on top of WWE for eight years. Hogan had been champion for several years straight and was undoubtedly the biggest thing in when Andre "passed the torch," but it still felt like an exclamation point on Hulkamania, this felt like a question mark for the Cenation... what's next? More importantly, what's left?
Predictions: 6 for 8

You could tell Vince wanted to let the guys on the card sell WrestleMania this year, rather than celebrities and spectacle. Sure, The Rock is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, but he wasn't presented as a special attraction this year, he was just a part of the show. Brock Lesnar is one of the biggest athletes in the world, but he wasn't presented as "UFC Champion Brock Lesnar" like he was at Extreme Rules, he was just "Brock Lesnar: Jimmy John's enthusiast." This method of presentation perhaps didn't work as well as it could have - presenting a straight wrestling show for a die-hard wrestling crowd seemed like a good idea - but it wasn't a bad show. It was a weird one during a weird moment in the WWE canon, and much like Cena's 13th WWE/World Title reign, it left me asking "what's next?" And perhaps more concerning, "what's left?"

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Top 29 Matches in WrestleMania History - #1

1. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant - WrestleMania III
Without this match, I probably wouldn't be writing this list. No, it's not a technical masterpiece or anything and Hogan's legacy has perhaps been a bit tarnished over the years, but at the end of the day, this match isn't just the most important in WrestleMania history, this is the most important match in the history of professional wrestling. When you say "WWE," Hulk Hogan bodyslamming the 500 pound Andre the Giant is the image etched in the memory of millions of wrestling fans around the globe.

I'm a fan of spectacle. I certainly love a good pure wrestling match, but there's something about the drama of wrestling that does more for me than any mat classic. It's why I've always gravitated toward WWE, because they do spectacle better than anyone. They take something that could be a disaster, like a less than proficient in-ring performer working with a broken-down, injury-plagued giant, and turn it into the most iconic image in wrestling history.

Top 29 Matches in WrestleMania History - #2

2. Bret "Hitman" Hart vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin - WrestleMania XIII
If WrestleMania 14 was the birth of the Attitude Era, this match at WrestleMania 13 was the conception. The beauty of this match is that it's one of the few times that two wrestlers successfully turned within a match. Bret Hart walked in the good guy, Stone Cold walked in the bad guy, but when it was all said and done, Hart was the most hated heel in the industry and the fans fell in love with Steve Austin. This match is what it means to "tell a story" in the wrestling ring, it's not just two guys fake fighting, they're acting out things that would normally be told through scripted dialogue in a movie. The finale of this match, with Steve Austin's face covered in blood as he passes out from the pain of Bret Hart's sharpshooter, could be the most iconic image in the history of professional wrestling, with the exception of #1...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Top 29 Matches in WrestleMania History - #4 & #3

4. Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker - WrestleMania XXVI
Which match was better, 25 or 26? Go watch them back-to-back, I don't know if one is "better" than the other it just felt like the final act of a play. Act 1 was their feud in the fall of 1997, Act 2 was WrestleMania 25 and the story came to its conclusion at WrestleMania 26. The matches just go together and the only reason I ranked 25 above it is because the ending wasn't quite as obvious since it didn't have the retirement stipulation. Although I considered putting it above 25 just for the jumping Tombstone!

3. Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker - WrestleMania XXV
HBK's tenth and final appearance on this list should show you why he's been dubbed "Mr. WrestleMania." Some might scoff at the idea of this match being so high, especially pushing out other classics on this list, but the bottom line is, the minute the three count was made in this match, it was one for the ages, it's the reason the term "instant classic" was coined.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Top 29 Matches in WrestleMania History - #5

5. "Macho Man" Randy Savage vs. Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat - WrestleMania III
Many call this the greatest WrestleMania match of all-time, and if you're looking at it from a strictly wrestling perspective, they're probably right. In terms of pure wrestling, there hasn't been a single WrestleMania match to eclipse this classic from 1987. The story was simple, Randy Savage was the dastardly heel that crushed Ricky Steamboat's larynx months prior by dropping him throat first on a metal guardrail and Steamboat got his revenge, and the WWE Intercontinental Title, at WrestleMania 3. If you or someone you know doesn't understand the athleticism involved in professional wrestling, watch this match.

Top 29 Matches in WrestleMania History - #6

6. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. The Rock - WrestleMania X-7
I'll let you in on a little secret, WrestleMania 17 is the best WrestleMania, ever. The card is absolutely stacked, it featured this tremendous main event, wrestling's popularity was at its all-time high and WWE was sitting alone at the top of the mountain, having just bought their biggest competitor - Ted Turner's WCW.

This match is fantastic to watch simply to see the two biggest stars of the 90s beat the holy hell out of each other, but there's a lot more to it than that. Stone Cold vs. The Rock is symbolic to the end of the famous Attitude Era with Stone Cold's shocking heel turn at the conclusion of the match. Austin aligning himself with his longtime rival Vince McMahon, closed the book on the 90s pro wrestling craze and began a major shift in the WWE landscape.

Top 29 Matches in WrestleMania History - #7

7. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair - WrestleMania XXIV
Yet another Shawn Michaels appearance on this list, but this match isn't his story, it's the story of the greatest of all-time, "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair. Flair ended* his 36-year career at last year's WrestleMania in one of those moments that when you watched it, you knew you were witnessing history. One could argue that it's been devalued in recent years with Flair returning to the ring in TNA, but c'mon, it's the Naitch, he'll never retire! You know it's only a matter of time before he gets back in a WWE ring.