Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Monday Night Raw - 4/14/14

This show kinda sucked. Let's take a look at the headlines.

5. John Cena open mic night
John Cena defeated Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania, repressing the monster inside himself and standing up for his values, but Bray almost had him and almost brought Cena over to the dark side. Makes perfect sense for the story to continue and it makes sense for Cena to have more confidence heading into the rematch, he knows he can beat Wyatt, he's done it before. So I didn't really have a huge problem with Cena going into his comedy bag of tricks and mocking the Wyatts a bit, if Wyatt would've responded by getting angry and kicking the bottom rope, as bad guys on the other end of a Cena mocking are wont to do, it would've flopped, but Bray totally no sold it and flipped it around on Cena.

Bray's right, this is what Cena does, he makes jokes when a legitimate threat comes along, and he's excited for Cena's proposal of a steel cage match at Extreme Rules, despite the fact that it neutralizes (but not really) Harper & Rowan. This is what makes the Wyatt character interesting, you can beat him, you can mock him, but he doesn't care. He's not here to win matches or titles, he's here to play with your head, which kinda makes him the modern day Jake the Snake.

4. The IC Title matters
I love a good wrestling tournament and putting one together to determine the new #1 contender for Big E's Intercontinental Title is exactly what the championship needs to matter again. Give people a reason to care and they will, and judging by the names in this tournament, it looks like the IC gold is about to reclaim its spot as the #2 title in the company now that the WHT is out of contention.

Unfortunately, most of the matches in the first round just weren't very good. RVD looked a little rusty against Del Rio, Swagger vs. Sheamus was bowling shoe ugly and Barrett vs. Ziggler was nowhere near as good as people are claiming it was. The crowd played a big part in the matches never coming together, Birmingham was terrible last night, but the wrestlers weren't clicking either. And what the hell was Barrett doing trying to get the crowd to start a "Bad News" chant? The lone highlight of the tournament came in the match with the man I expect to win it...

3. Cesaro vs. Mark Henry
This match was just a good ol' fashioned hoss fight. Cesaro looked like a beast when he hit Henry with The Neutralizer and Heyman sure did his damnedest to get some of that Streak heat onto Cesaro, but the crowd just doesn't want to boo the guy. If they're hellbent on making him a bad guy, he can't do the Big Swing, and there's something really amusing about a guy called "The King of Swing" who never does said swing. I want to see him tease it every match, then turn it into something like a spinning toe hold.

2. The Ultimate Tribute
I liked the tribute stuff to The Warrior, that video package they put together was nice, but absolutely heart-wrenching when they highlighted his daughters. It was a wrestling-heavy show with lots of vignettes of Warrior's best moments in WWE and I think that's the best way they could've paid tribute to him. Warrior Week on WWE Network is a nice touch too.

1. Evolution reunites... uh oh.
So Evolution reunited to thunderous apathy from the Birmingham crowd and took out The Shield after The Authority forced them to wrestle half the roster first. Yawn. We've seen the "handicap match vs. the world" nonsense before and it does nothing for anybody. But it looks like Triple H, Orton & Batista vs. The Shield is on tap for Extreme Rules, which is fine, but what about my War Games match?

No, instead it looks like Daniel Bryan (who was off this week for his honeymoon) will be defending the WWE Title against a re-masked Kane. And with the massive steps forward WWE has taken in the last month, they're taking a huge leap backwards here, Kane is nowhere near on Daniel Bryan's level right now and it doesn't leave me optimistic for his reign. This is Punk 2012 all over again, getting saddled with glorified Raw main events on PPV while snoozers like Big Show vs. John Cena with Johnny Ace's job on the line headline. Granted, Evolution vs. The Shield is a little bigger, but the focus on the show is still on the abusive authority figure and not on the WWE Champion. Going back a few years, it's the same thing they did after WrestleMania 20 and what they constantly did to the World Heavyweight Champion even if his program was way hotter than the WWE Champ's.

I hate to be so pessimistic after WWE knocked it out of the park last week, but we've all seen how bad the post-Mania hangover gets and history is not on their side here. Bryan working with Kane right now is like if Austin's first opponent after WrestleMania 14 was Vader. A fine match on paper, but by mid-98, Vader's heat had completely evaporated and a main event run just wouldn't have worked. Kane's time as a viable WWE Title contender ended around 2003, so this is a big step down for Bryan, the hottest act the company has had since Cena. Granted, Bryan could return next week and with the right crowd, they could make it a red hot feud, they have great chemistry together, but as it stands right now, it looks like WWE is sliding back toward their Royal Rumble mentality, which concerns me.

Quick hits on the rest of Raw:
  • Rybaxel looked great in their match against the Rhodes Bros, but what about the Rhodes Bros?!
  • Paige vs. Alicia Fox was short, but good... Alicia has improved dramatically.
  • Why are The Shield randomly Batista & Orton and costing The Usos a match? Talk about an injustice.
  • This sentence took longer to read than it took to watch Rusev vs. Xavier Woods.
  • Appreciated Sandow getting time to talk, hope it's a sign they plan on reinvesting in him.
  • Nobody cares about Fandango, no matter who you put him with... dude is just creepy.
Overall, not a good Raw at all. They can't all be last week, you can't give away the farm every Monday and you won't be blessed with a WrestleMania crowd in every town you roll into, but regressing into a pre-Bryan mentality when he takes a week off does not instill me with loads of confidence as we head into WWE's notoriously slow months. A big gimmicky 8-man tag (seriously, give me War Games) would've caught some eyes and I bet it would've made a lot of people plunk down $10 for the Network. Instead, we're getting business as usual, and people don't commit six months to business as usual.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ultimate Warrior dead at 54

1959 - 2014
"Bizarre" doesn't even begin to describe this. From WWE.com:
WWE is shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of one of the most iconic WWE Superstars ever, The Ultimate Warrior.

We are grateful that just days ago, Warrior had the opportunity to take his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame and was also able to appear at WrestleMania 30 and Monday Night Raw to address his legions of fans.

WWE sends its sincere condolences to Warrior’s family, friends and fans.

Warrior was 54 and is survived by his wife Dana and his two daughters.
There's bizarre... then there's dying the day after you finish making peace with the people and industry that you've had a grudge against for 15+ years. Closing the biggest chapter of your life before preparing to embark on a new journey, then dying a day after you cut a promo about how legends live on after their death?

Truly unbelievable.

To me, The Ultimate Warrior will always take me back to the days when WWE was a real life comic book and Superstars were superheroes. Warrior in particular will always embody that because he looked the part with the huge muscles, the crazy hair, the face paint, the tassels and boot fringe and watching him practically "fly" down the aisle. He talked about it in his Hall of Fame speech on Saturday, he got to use his creativity and build this totally over-the-top character unlike anything that had ever been seen before or since. That's the kind of thing that forever captures the imagination of a four-year-old glued to the television.

My personal favorite moment came when Warrior was feuding with The Undertaker, I was at a house show and after their match, Taker sealed him inside a body bag. Should've been pretty traumatizing stuff for a kid, but Warrior sat up (while still inside the bag), tore through it and gave Taker a big shoulder block to send him out of the ring. That kind of stuff is why I've never grown out of this ridiculous cartoon show that is pro wrestling and what makes it the most unique form of entertainment out there. Harkening back to another point Warrior made in his speech, wrestlers don't dress up like football players, but football players dress up like The Ultimate Warrior. John Cena doesn't wear replica NBA Championship rings, but LeBron James buys replica WWE Titles for his teammates, that's the power of pro wrestling.

A lot has been said since Warrior was announced for the Hall of Fame about his bizarre worldview, which certainly seemed pretty out there. I honestly don't know anything about it other than the infamous one line, and I don't know if there's much else out there about it, but he's obviously said some pretty harsh and hurtful things over the years. Hell, he pretty much insulted those who were "throwing life away" right after Jake the Snake talked about throwing his life away.

And while you can't really talk about Warrior's life without talking about the controversial nature of his personality, I'm a firm believer in redemption and giving folks the benefit of the doubt when it looks like they're ready to turn over a new leaf. A few people who follow him more closely told me he's walked back a lot of his more hateful rants, not that it excuses saying cruel things, but it's something. Perhaps that's naive of me, but judging from his Hall of Fame speech, it strikes me that a lot of Warrior's feelings were coming from a place of bitterness.

The Self-Destruction DVD clearly affected him, whether he was excusing his hardheadedness or was oblivious that's how people felt about him, it was just really sad it got to that point. And it was sad WWE felt he was the only guy they had to do a hit-piece on, it never should've got to that point between someone who played such a pivotal role in wrestling and the company that put him there and I sincerely hope it never happens between WWE and any other wrestler again. If there's one good thing that comes out of this, it's that it further proves no bridge is forever burned. And it makes me think about my own life, if Bret Hart, Bruno Sammartino and The Ultimate Warrior can give Vince McMahon a hug, who am I to hold a grudge against anyone?

And when someone's life ends right when they appear to be making the effort to mend fences, that's the biggest tragedy of all.

Here's to Warrior and what could've been.
No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man's heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized. By the story tellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever. You, you, you, you, you, you are the legend makers of Ultimate Warrior. In the back I see many potential legends. Some of them with warrior spirits. And you will do the same for them. You will decide if they lived with the passion and intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends, as well. I am Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will run forever!
-Warrior, April 7, 2014

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Monday Night Raw 4/7/14

Often described as the wildest Raw of the year, it's WWE's "Opening Day," let's look at the headlines for the first Raw after WrestleMania.

5. Mr. Monday Night
Hey, RVD's back. There were a lot  of "meh" reactions on Twitter to this one, but I've never had a problem with RVD. Has he been wrestling the same match since 1997? Sure, but AC/DC's been putting out the same album since 1980 and I still like them. RVD is a good hand to have around, the crowd is usually hot for his matches, they play along with his taunts, he rarely puts on a downright bad match, why not bring him back for a little bit? Let him work with Bryan a couple times and have them put on a fun, classic ECW "let's pause and make the crowd applaud our spots" match.

Poor Sandow though.

4. NXT all over
When WWE first introduced their Performance Center, I have to admit I had some skepticism. It seemed like a surefire way to create the most cookie cutter, "WWE guy" mold of future stars. Somehow though, we've achieved the opposite effect, instead of the non-stop barrage of white guys with hair gel we were getting out of OVW and FCW, NXT is producing a truly unique set of wrestlers and boy were they on display last night.

We got hype videos multiple times for Adam Rose and Bo Dallas, Alexander Rusev debuted and mauled Zack Ryder and the NXT revolution was capped off by Paige not only making her in-ring debut, she beat AJ Lee and ended the longest Divas Title reign in history. Smart move making it a fluke win too, because now they can do the rematch at Extreme Rules, make it a submission match and we'll have the Black Widow vs. the Scorpion Crosslock.

And how about that, an actual moment involving female wrestlers?! It even passed the Bechdel Test! It's amazing how the crowd will get into something, even if it involves a performer that a good portion of the audience has never seen, if you just give them a reason to care.

3. Bray is gonna kill you!
Bray Wyatt lost to John Cena at WrestleMania, but last night, the entire Wyatt Family made mincemeat out of John Cena, Sheamus and Big E, or as The Masked Man described them, John Cena and the Cenettes.  Cena was barely even a factor in this match, aside from the crowd singing "JOHN CENA SUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKS" to the tune of "My Time is Now" (that's going to stick like Kurt Angle's "You Suck!" btw), this was all about the Wyatts.

Bray's spider walk toward Big E was so horrifying, Regan MacNeil had to sleep with the lights on. Anyone who even thought about saying the word "buried" after Wyatt vs. Cena can hush now.

2.The Match Beyond?
The major storyline throughout Raw last night was Daniel Bryan's celebration and Triple H being really, really, really upset about that. HHH booked himself to challenge for the title later in the night and even got on the same page with Randy Orton and Batista, effectively reforming Evolution to take down the Yes Movement, it was definitely convincing enough to make me nervous.

But Triple H may have overreached when he involved The Shield, trying to bring them back into the fold, but the Hounds of Justice weren't having any of it when Batista and Orton double teamed Bryan and left him laying for Triple H. It was nice to see them actually fight an injustice, pretty sure that's the first time it's happened since two weeks after they debuted, and the night ended with Bryan and The Shield standing tall while Triple H, Orton, Batista and Kane got a case of the limber tail.

Wait, I count four guys on each side, we all know Triple H is an old school NWA fan, we have a PPV coming up called Extreme Rules, could it finally be time for... WAR GAMES?! Obviously WWE isn't going to do two rings, so it won't really be War Games, but put it inside Hell in a Cell, have the timed entrances, match doesn't end until someone taps out or is knocked out.

This seems like the perfect time to do it. Ever since the Monday Night War, it's been pretty much impossible to do a non-title match main event on PPV, you had to have stakes, but we're in the Network Era now. What better way to get people to check out the Network than to hype the brutality of War Games and tell people they only gotta pay $10 to see it for the first time in WWE. I'm not gonna pay $50 for a non-title match, but I'll damn sure turn the WWE Network on. That's the beauty of the Network. And the Wyatts vs. Shield feud proved that there is still life in the old faction war, WWE just had to change the landscape a bit to make it a viable PPV main event.


1. Raw is Heyman
Well, I can honestly say I've never experienced anything like this, Paul Heyman becoming the most hated villain and most beloved face in the same night without changing a damn thing about his character.

Heyman and that no-good son of a bitch Brock Lesnar naturally had to gloat about breaking The Streak in the most shocking finish to a wrestling match since the Montreal Screwjob, and while I'm still super bummed about it, I think Heyman's promo proved why if it had to be someone, it had to be Brock (and Paul). Some are already calling it the greatest promo of all-time (calm down), but it did prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Heyman is the best talker in the business today. I've been firmly in that camp since he returned, and I think you have to at least put him in the all-time top 10.

I wonder if this was Brock's bye-bye moment until the SummerSlam build though? Not exactly getting a lot of mileage out of that huge win, are we? Although I suppose you could argue it just inflates the aura of Lesnar... still a jerkface though.

But the night wasn't over for Paul Heyman, oh no, because when Cesaro was being officially presented with the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal trophy, he told his manager that he is not a Zeb Colter guy, he's a Paul Heyman guy! My wife's may have been more pissed about The Streak ending than I was and even her reaction was "OOOOHHHHHHH DAMN!" Oh damn, indeed.

Jack Swagger shattered the trophy (except for the Andre statue, which Paul Heyman carried around like it was his dolly) and got a good solid ass whoopin from Cesaro before retreating to a count-out loss. Put these guys in a 2 out of 3 falls match at Extreme Rules and let the fun be had as we barrel straight ahead into the Year of Cesaro™. Hell, he might even beat Brock at WrestleMania 31.

And now, one sentence thoughts on the rest of Raw:

  • It was nice to see the crowd do the Emma dance, but she needs more to do than this silly Fandango feud that I thought was over once the Rhodes Bros started feuding with him?
  • Even teasing the idea of Batista and Orton unseating The Usos as Tag Champs is not cool.
  • If you think every Bad News Barrett match will be as good as this one featuring Rey Mysterio... I'M AFRAID I HAVE SOME BAD NEEEWWWS.
  • Hooray, a nonsensical Ultimate Warrior promo that included a fashion choice even more ridiculous than a baseball cap with a speedo and arm tassels! 
Some called it the best Raw ever (calm down), "Best Raw" trended on Twitter, but I wouldn't go quite that far. The ending, while lots of fun, was a bit anticlimactic, I'm not exactly going to pump my fist in the air Judd Nelson style for The Shield saving the day when they've been good guys for a month now. It needed just a little something extra at the end, a War Games announcement would've been perfect, but Bryan's promo on Backstage Pass came close.

I loved the show though, it felt different, it felt like the dawn of a new era. Arguably the most "refreshed" I can remember the show feeling since the night after WrestleMania 14.

Follow me @kickoutblog and share your thoughts on Raw.

Monday, April 7, 2014

WrestleMania XXX

So. That happened.

Before the show, I complained on Twitter that WWE had kinda dropped the ball on making WrestleMania feel like a milestone. I know WWE's primary canon exists very much in "the now," but Mania 30 is huge. THIRTY! When I got into broadcasting shortly after WrestleMania 19, WrestleMania 30 was my goal, I wanted to announce that show (no, I was not the short French guy), and while my life took a much different direction, I've always felt like WrestleMania 30 should be "the big one" and I didn't really feel like that was coming through in the buildup.

Be careful what you wish for.

The pre-show Fatal 4-Way between The Usos, Rybaxel, Los Matadores and The Real Americans was a ton of fun. Los Matadores got to do their thing, Ryback and Axel may have been mildly reestablished, and we got to see the showdown we all wanted in the end, The Usos vs. Swagger & Cesaro. The Usos retained, as they should have, and we finally got the big break up between Swagger and Cesaro. I don't know if Cesaro is officially turning, but the crowd made him a hero.
Predictions: 1 for 1

Once WrestleMania officially kicked off, we were treated to an ultra fun segment with the three biggest names of the past, Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. Host segments have fallen flat in the past and pauses in the action for in-ring talking rarely goes over well at WrestleMania, but these guys were spectacular. Between Austin & Rock busting Hogan's balls for calling the Superdome the "Silverdome," everyone working in a catchphrase and then a three-way beer bath (less sexy than it sounds), this was the perfect way to kick off WrestleMania and made me feel like a dumbass for the whole "doesn't feel like a milestone" comment.

Surprisingly, but not really, Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H was the first match of the night and perhaps the best. Triple H got to do his ridiculously over the top Oderus Urungus tribute entrance, Stephanie looked like his maid, and Daniel Bryan kneed him in the face. It's a win for everyone! Perhaps this match will get lost to time since the story played itself out further in the main event and that's what everyone was there for, but Triple H vs. Bryan has been the predominant story in WWE since SummerSlam and we finally got the cathartic moment of Bryan beating him. What came later is unquestionably the moment, but this story needed to see Triple H laid the fuck out and Bryan did it. He did it.

The little extra at the end with Triple H striking Bryan's shoulder with a steel chair was well done too, because as WWE would prove later, nothing is guaranteed.
Predictions: 2 for 2

The Shield vs. Kane & The New Age Outlaws was precisely what it should've been. Who the fuck do these guys think they are stepping to The Shield? The Shield took out Sheamus, Orton and Big Show last year and a trio of corporate sell-outs, two of which haven't been relevant since Janet Reno was Attorney General, think they're going to topple them? Get the hell out of here. The Shield beat them in under three minutes with their new finisher, the Double Triple Powerbomb!
Predictions: 3 for 3

The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal was next and wow, 30 men in the ring at once is a lot. I'm honestly not sure if I've seen a 30-man Battle Royal since WWE went HD to really get a sense of just how crowded the ring gets. Imagine if they did the Rumble like this one year where no one got eliminated until the 30th guy came out? It would be bowling shoe ugly, but at least an interesting statistic.

I picked Sheamus as my winner, Big Show was too obvious and since Sheamus was the only other guy who got an entrance, I was feeling pretty confident until I saw Cesaro in there, the only guy pulling double duty. It came down to Cesaro and Big Show and for a second there I thought we were going to see Big Show get the Big Swing, but instead, Cesaro picked him up, Hogan/Andre style, walked him to the ropes and dumped him over the top. I'm going to repeat that: Cesaro WALKED while carrying the Big Show and dumped him over the top. Dude is a beast and solidified himself last night, the Andre the Giant trophy could easily be the new MITB in the sense that it guarantees a trip to the main event scene.
Predictions: 3 for 4

John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt... phenomenal storytelling. Cena was a little hokey in the early goings, and I'd be a little more invested in the "will Cena embrace his dark side?" angle had I not previously seen him drop two dozen chairs on Wade Barrett, but once Wyatt really got to do his thing, the match came alive. The match will be forever remembered for this alone:

No big deal, I never needed to sleep again or anything.
I had a feeling Cena would win with the emphasis on his legacy and the constant mentioning that Bray didn't need to win this match in order to win in his mind, and that's all well and good, but I still would've went with Wyatt winning. Personal preference, but I especially get why they did it considering what was to come later. Regardless, Wyatt has arrived and I have a sneaking suspicion he's only just begun to loom over John Cena. I don't think this was the era-defining moment I predicted, but we saw something special here.

And major kudos to Mark Crozer for a tremendous performance of Wyatt's entrance. I know a lot of people were worried it wouldn't "fit" Wyatt's character, but the Voodoo dancers, the lighting, THOSE PLAGUE MASKS?! It was perfect.
Predictions: 4 for 5

Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker.

I've spent the last 12 hours trying to wrap my head around this one, but I just can't. I've seen a lot of people coming around on it and actually kinda digging it, but I just can't. I'm still gutted, shocked, and just plain sad. The magic is over.

The Streak is over.

No one saw it coming, the life was sucked out of a room of 75,000 people who just sat there in stunned silence and I died a little inside.

I've often asked myself if I can get emotionally invested in wrestling anymore. I get pissed off about decisions, sure, the "oh why did they do that?" stuff when they don't put Bryan in the Royal Rumble, but rarely do I feel anything for the result like when I was a kid and cried my eyes out when The Undertaker beat Hulk Hogan for the WWE Title in 1991 or when I leaped from my couch screaming when Shawn Michaels beat Bret Hart at WrestleMania 12.

But last night, I damn sure felt it, and I didn't like it. And I know that was the point and I know this was likely 100% Undertaker's call; Taker is "old school" and that isn't just a name for a move, so I had a feeling he would also end his career with a loss, but I didn't think it would be at WrestleMania and I never thought it would be Brock Lesnar.

And I don't like that it's Lesnar, I don't think they can get much mileage out of this, Heyman's promos will be the stuff of legend, but what's Lesnar going to do, beat Bryan for the WWE Title and disappear for six months?

But it's not even about the business aspect of it, I just didn't want The Streak to end. I used to be of the mindset that it should, but then it became too big to end, probably around WrestleMania 24. Some things just need a happy ending and Taker's Streak was one of those things. Sure, no one would get the infamous "rub," but no one got it anyway. And giving it to some young up and comer is far too risky, what happens if they quit at the height of their popularity, like, ya know, BROCK LESNAR DID?!

It was just something that should've stayed magical, a bridge to a time when we thought it was real and the stuff people talk about in video packages for years to come. Now it's gone and I don't think it was worth it.

I know that's the reaction WWE, and probably Taker himself, wanted. You're supposed to be shocked, you're supposed to be appalled, you're supposed to be mad, sad, frustrated, and confused, that's drama and it's good drama... but I don't like it. I don't like that Joffrey had Ned Stark beheaded, I don't like it when we find out this isn't really a story about How He Met Your Mother... and I don't like to see my all-time favorite wrestler lose the one thing that made him the most unique Superstar of all-time.

Think about your all-time favorite television show, think about it's most heartbreaking, gut-wrenching moment, then multiply it by 24 years... that's how I feel about The Undertaker's loss. I watched his debut live when I was seven-years-old, I know it's cliche to say "oh a piece of my childhood just died," but I've invested 24 years into this character and the mystique of The Streak, to see it end, especially in this fashion is the most shocking thing I've ever seen on television.

Apparently Taker got a concussion early on, so that explains the match not exactly being up to the standard he set over the last several years, but this is a match that is entirely about its finish and I'm legitimately heartbroken over it.

Predictions: 4 for 6

And the poor Divas, what a shitty spot to put them in, forced to follow the most unbelievable match since at least Montreal, if not ever. The crowd was not prepared for this and booed, they weren't booing the Divas, but it didn't help. AJ retained in a match I admittedly paid very little attention to.
Predictions: 5 for 7

It even took some time for the crowd to even get into Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton vs. Batista, but once the match really heated up, especially when Triple H and Stephanie ran in with crooked referee Scott Armstrong, things were on fire.

The match also featured the sickest table spot I've ever seen, with Batista Powerbombing Bryan from one table to the next, while Orton caught him for a reverse RKO, then both Orton and Bryan crash through the table, with Orton landing back-first onto a monitor. It was nasty.

But after Taker, I wasn't getting my hopes up for anything and kudos to WWE for making it unpredictable. The near falls here were heart stoppers, there was a spot near the end where it looked like Batista had it won and I had the remote in my hand to instantly turn the damn thing off, but thankfully, the right man won.

Daniel Bryan is your WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

Let it sink in.

Daniel Bryan

Won the WWE Championship

in the main event

of WrestleMania 30.

No matter where we go from here, whether he loses it to Lesnar tonight on Raw or holds it for a year, Daniel Bryan is the real deal. A legit main eventer in a company that has a long history of relegating guys to "B+ player" status. Bryan just gave a flying knee to the glass ceiling and it's because the audience made WWE listen to them. That's how you create a milestone WrestleMania.
Predictions: 6 for 8

Overall I'd say it was easily one of the top five WrestleManias of all-time and when the dust settles on the grief of losing The Undertaker's Streak, possibly Taker himself, it could go down as the best ever. The news came out today that there are over 650,000 WWE Network subscribers, after that show, the stream being reliable the entire night, and the fact that you get every PPV from here on out for $10 a month, there's no reason not to subscribe.

Well played, WWE... through heartbreak and triumph, you revolutionized the industry again last night.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

WrestleMania XXX predictions

Matches also in their predicted order.

Pre-Show: WWE Tag Team Championship
The Usos © vs. The Real Americans vs. Los Matadores vs. Rybaxel
With this match on the pre-show, that leaves WrestleMania with only 7 matches on the official card, the fewest since WrestleMania 13 in 1997. Hopefully that means everyone is going to get a lot of time. No problem with these guys on the pre-show, WWE has put a lot of effort into it in the last year and with two hours to work with, hopefully these guys get plenty of time too. While WWE has really revamped the tag division since The Shield took the gold last year, there's still a lot of work to do, but there's no better team to build it around than The Usos.

The Shield vs. Kane & The New Age Outlaws
This match was definitely a bit hastily thrown together as WrestleMania plans have obviously changed over the last few weeks, and it appears plans for The Shield have changed as well, forgoing their split in favor of a face turn. Although as my buddy Jason Mann pointed out, there hasn't been a turn at WrestleMania since Trish at XX, maybe one of the members of The Shield could sell out tonight? I'm sticking with The Shield to win, but if a turn happens tonight, don't be surprised if it's in this match.

Winner goes into the Main Event
Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H
I don't think this one is as predictable as we want it to be. I don't think Bryan is going to get "buried" or anything, but there could be some shenanigans that leave Bryan seemingly incapacitated, only to return just in time for the main event, or Triple H manages to turn the main event into a Fatal 4-Way, but regardless of how we get there, Daniel Bryan needs to beat Triple H.

Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
30 Superstars
Can I just say how much I love the Battle Royal hype this year? A "creative has nothing for you" Battle Royal has been a common WrestleMania trope, especially since the WCW purchase, but this year they're really making it feel like a big deal. Hyping it as a "career-defining moment" for the winner is so cool and including a trophy makes it even better, wrestling needs more trophies. Tough to predict who's going to win, Big Show has been presented as the obvious favorite with his connection (but not really) to Andre, but I'm going to go with Sheamus. He's been treading water since his last World Title reign and I imagine this will be their way of reestablishing him as a top guy.

John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt
Hardest match on the card to predict, for my money. Bray is the obvious favorite and Cena keeps talking (both on TV and in out-of-character interviews) about how this is the start of the next big era of WWE, but WWE has also been quite adamant about telling me that winning isn't everything to Bray Wyatt in this match. I'm going to say John Cena wins the battle, but loses the war.

Vickie Guerrero Divas Invitational
14 Divas 
This match is going to be a total clusterfuck with the one-fall to a finish stipulation. It would be a total waste to end AJ's title reign like that, but it also seems highly unlikely that she'll retain. I'm going to go with AJ Lee simply because she pretty much is the entire Divas division at this point, but I'm sure I'll be wrong on this one.

Beast vs. Streak
Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker
Oh c'mon, you know The Undertaker is winning this. I do predict that these two might legitimately murder each other though.

WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Randy Orton © vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan OR Triple H
Also not as predictable as I'd like it to be. Daniel Bryan is my pick, but with the epic game of grab ass WWE has been playing in regards to Bryan as the top guy, nothing is set in stone. They obviously want 70,000 people doing the "YES!" chant, but they can get that in the match with Triple H and then have Batista win and get deafening boos, that would be a win/win for WWE - great visual early on, new public enemy #1 to the WWE Universe later. Of course, WrestleMania ending with the bad guy triumphant has never gone over well, so I'll stick with Bryan, but brace yourself for a Twitter implosion.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

John Cena and "I like the man, but hate the character"

Sometimes I travel outside my comfort zone. Being a flaming liberal, sometimes I like to see what people are saying over at Fox Nation, sometimes I listen to conservative talk radio, sometimes I read YouTube comments. I tell myself the reason I do this is because I like to learn about opposing viewpoints, but really I'm just a masochist... but I don't like having my nards stepped on, so I have to find emotional pain instead.

I used to be a wrestling masochist too, I finally exorcised that demon when I told myself I didn't have to watch Nitro in 2000 and later, that I didn't have to watch TNA ever. When I launched Kick-Out in 2009, the point of the site was that neither I or you had to read copy & paste "newz" sites or go to message boards loaded with constant negativity.

But sometimes I relapse.

I've been spending a bit of time over at /r/squaredcircle, reddit's primary wrestling sub. It's not as bad as it could be, a little too internetty™ for my tastes, but I like a good wrestling debate and Twitter's 140 character limit sometimes makes it difficult.

There's an issue that comes up pretty often over there, "how do you solve a problem like John Cena?" Because like most of the "smart" fans (those don't really exist, btw), Cena is the worst, but he's also a really good dude who does good work for Make-A-Wish and has a lot of fun teasing the "We Hate Cena" crowd. John, when you acknowledge their existence, it really shows there's a thin line between love and hate.

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So this leads to a common thread that weaves itself throughout that pocket of the fanbase: "well we love Cena the man, but we hate Cena the character."

I don't think "hate the character" is the way to put it though. Look, I get your issue with John Cena, you are just tired of seeing him do the same thing over and over. I love the guy, he seems like a great person, I don't know if anyone in the history of televised wrestling has delivered in big match situations more than him, he's a great promo when he's given something to work with, and I dare you to find anyone today as hard working as Cena (he's learning Mandarin to get WWE into China for fuck's sake), but even I'm pretty much over "hey, let's give John Cena a title shot this month."

They're in a tough spot with him though, because dropping him down the card even a bit runs the risk of devaluing his mystique. Just look at guys like Del Rio, Orton and Sheamus, three top tier guys, but once they stepped down a rung to freshen things up, they lost their aura and clearly have not recovered, two are in the admittedly-cool Battle Royal and the other is in the middle of the most baffling title reign ever.

Cena's at the point now where you can make him more like The Undertaker post-2004, a guy that feels like a special attraction even though he's around pretty often, but if you have a guy that can perform at his level who can wrestle every week, why wouldn't you use him? I mentioned it in my Raw review last week, Cena vs. Bray Wyatt is quietly casting a giant shadow over WrestleMania XXX. I know we're all super stoked for the possibility of Daniel Bryan finally getting his moment, but Cena vs. Wyatt, Cena's first non-main event or non-title match ever at WrestleMania could say more about the future of the industry than anything else that happens this year.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Top 30 WrestleMania Matches - Part 3

In case you missed them, Part 1 (30-21) and Part 2 (20-11)

10. The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan - WrestleMania XVIII
"Icon vs. Icon" is all you really need to say to describe this unforgettable encounter. After a nine year absence from WWE, Hulk Hogan returned to battle the man who some would say replaced him as the most recognizable wrestler in the world. For years in WCW, Hogan was accused of being washed up and no longer capable of putting on a good match (depending on who you ask, some will tell you he was never capable), but those critics were silenced with this match. 70,000 screaming fans in the Toronto SkyDome welcomed Hogan back to WWE with a thunderous ovation that never seemed to quiet down during the actual match. Hogan and The Rock went out and not only exceeded expectations, they made history.

9. CM Punk vs. The Undertaker – WrestleMania XXIX
This match got off to a really stupid start, with CM Punk winning a Fatal 4-Way for the “right” to face The Undertaker, but as morbid as it’s going to sound, the feud was helped immensely by the death of Paul Bearer. I know, I know, terrible way to word it, but it turned an awkwardly thrown together match that only existed because Punk had nothing else to do after his historic WWE Title reign came to an end and it became a legit blood feud.

And there were more concerns about the match, Taker looked damn near broken in his matches with Triple H in the previous two years and Punk and the Phenom had met years prior in a series of matches that, quite frankly, sucked, at least when you considered the participants involved. But Taker returned to the ring looking better than he had even during his last few years as an active wrestler and Punk had matured into the Best in the World, the two knocked it out of the park. It’s the reason the phrase “instant classic” exists.

8. Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart - WrestleMania X
Despite barely making it into the top ten, make no mistake about it, this is a tremendous match and one of my all-time favorites, but it was really just a building block in the bigger feud that was to come. It was the first time two real-life brothers did battle in a WWE ring and they put on a wrestling clinic with Owen Hart sneaking out a surprise victory. The reason I don't have this match even higher ten is it's overshadowed by Bret Hart going onto win the WWE Title later that same night and what I would say is a superior match several months later at SummerSlam 1994, which is also the greatest WWE Steel Cage match of all-time.

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!

“I’m sorry, I love you” was also one of those moments that instantly went into every video package about Shawn Michaels or Ric Flair that WWE will ever produce. It was everything that wrestling, and more specifically, WrestleMania, are all about.

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 didn’t just defeat The Rock, he beat him savagely with a steel chair over and over and over and over again because he was so desperate for one last title. Rock had Hollywood waiting, but this was all Stone Cold had and he needed it. 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.

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.

4. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant - WrestleMania III
Without this match, I probably wouldn't be writing this list. Every year since the inception of Kick-Out, it’s been #1 on my WrestleMania list, so what gives with the change? It’s my site and I’ll do what I want!

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 might be 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.

3. 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!

2. Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker - WrestleMania XXV
HBK's 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.

The match has everything, a great history between the two performers, but they’d also been kept apart since early 1998. Shawn has something to prove after upping his Mania performances every year, culminating with retiring the great Ric Flair the year before, so what was next? The Streak. The entrances were awesome, the drama was high, Taker makes everyone scream “OH SHIT!” when he does the Mania Dive onto his head, and they wrestle their asses off. What more could you possibly want in a WrestleMania match?

1. 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, is among the most iconic images in the history of professional wrestling. WWE still wasn’t quite where they needed to be until a year later, but this match is the prelude to the most successful period in wrestling history, and it’s the best damn wrestling match to ever happen at WrestleMania.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Monday Night Raw - 3/31/14

It's the final Raw before WrestleMania, really the final show since Smackdown barely counts anymore, so this is the last chance to sell us on the show... but now that we have the WWE Network, I guess they don't really have to sell it.

Although what was up with Cole telling us to call our cable provider all night? I know Dish has agreed to show WrestleMania after throwing a fit in February, so I'm pretty sure everyone is showing it, right? And no one has called their cable provider to order a PPV since 1993, so.........

Anyhoo. I think the "I Need 5" format from last week was pretty well received, so let's stick with that theme for this week's Raw.

5. Piper's Pit
I know WWE loves Piper's Pit and will take any chance they can to bring Piper in for it, but honestly, does anyone remember the last time there was a truly great, memorable Piper's Pit? I love Roddy, don't get me wrong, but interview segments in general have really tended to fall flat for the last decade, minus a few Highlight Reels here and there. Maybe I'm just cynical because nothing will ever top Morton Downey getting a fire extinguisher to the face?

But all that said, I did like using Piper's Pit as a wraparound for the traditional, "What? There's a battle royal coming up? Have everyone brawl for a bit!" The segment got off to a rocky start, but once Big Show came out (to one of his biggest pops ever, BTW), it went well. Rey Mysterio 619-ing him in the dick was pretty funny too, payback for that time Big Show swung him like a baseball bat on that stretcher.

4. We're sorry we tried to make this the WrestleMania main event
As is tradition when there's a multi-man main event, the final Raw before the PPV must feature at least two of the involved participants, so we got Randy Orton vs. Batista, the match WWE thought was going to headline WrestleMania before the audience dropped an Orton on the Royal Rumble main event. Yes, I just made Randy Orton analogous to defecating, I get one poop joke per year.

So how was the match that WWE will tell us years from now was never really going to be the WM30 main event, we swear guys? Well, it went a little something like this:

Triple H: C'mon Dave, show us The Animal!
*gingerly shoves Randy Orton into the apron*
Triple H & Stephanie: OHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Say what you will about the crowd "hijacking" Raw, but it spared us from this closing the biggest show of all-time.

Daniel Bryan's run-in was a lot of fun, I was worried some of the hype had died down, but clearly that was not the case, the place EXPLODED when he attacked HHH in the commentary booth. He's gotta win on Sunday, right? RIGHT?!

3. That Eight-Man Tag
A great match, despite the fact that Rybaxel were in it. There's not a lot to say about the match except that it was really exciting and a lot of fun. Although did you hear those boos when they didn't get to see the Cesaro Swing? That's the danger of getting a move that over, people will turn on the good guys. Although maybe they should have since Los Matadores totally cheated. That used to be how the Killer Bees would win, how The Bellas and Los Matadores made it socially acceptable though, I do not know.

2. Triple H's Hall of Shame
Oh man, Triple H's video package of his most infamous burials was Triple H at his Triple H-iest. Hey guys, remember when WWE brought in Booker T?


Hey guys, remember when WWE brought in Scott Steiner?

BURIED! (although that one was warranted)

Hey guys, remember when WWE brought in Goldberg?


Hey guys, remember when WWE brought in RVD?

BURIED! (although I don't really remember RVD and Triple H having a big rivalry)

Come to think of it, I don't really remember Triple H burying Jeff Hardy and Kurt Angle either, but they were both in the video package, perhaps that's just because they needed some guys who weren't there anymore to pad out the video? At least they remembered Jericho though, who never got a goddamn win over the guy.

It was perfect though, this whole story centers on Triple H being exactly what "the internet" has insisted he's been for the last decade, so just go for it. If Triple H would've embraced this during his initial reign of terror, rather than insisting he was the new Ric Flair, only with more leather jackets and denim vests, I would've enjoyed 2002-2004 a whole lot more.

1. John Cena is standing right behind you!
Okay, this is the greatest thing John Cena's ever done, period. Bray Wyatt made easy work of R-Truth in a totally forgettable match and while the Family was posing, a masked fourth man emerged behind them, and it was John Cena being super creepy. I loved this segment and Cena's following interview with Rene Young because it was Cena doing something different and being Cena at his best.

The visual alone of the sneak attack was so cool, right up there with Jericho disguising himself as a Mysterio fan to attack him during his entrance and the crowd actually forgot they hated Cena for a second. The following interview, with "oh you want change? I'm gonna change the way you walk when I put my foot in your ass" was just marvelous. More like that, John.

And now, one sentence thoughts on the rest of Raw:

  • These Lesnar/Taker segments take so long, they might as well make it an Iron Man Match.
  • Del Rio won a match???
  • How much of Total Divas is real - 25%, 10%, 1%?
  • The Rhodes Bros. feuding with Fandango makes me sad.
  • The Divas Match at WrestleMania is going to be a colossal clusterfuck.
  • Kane vs. Roman Reigns falls mainly on the plains... emphasis on plain.
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