Sunday, January 26, 2014

My ideal WrestleMania XXX card

I rarely play fantasy booker when discussing wrestling, but given the hugeness of the 30th WrestleMania and the fact that today's probably the last day to give my way-too-early predictions of the card, here is my ideal card. We'll see how badly WWE hurts my feelings with the Rumble tonight, but here's the show I want to see.

WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Daniel Bryan
How do we get here? Simple. Daniel Bryan wins the Rumble tonight, Brock Lesnar (the self-proclaimed #1 contender) annihilates five other guys in the Elimination Chamber next month to get the title. Why this match? The only story WWE has told that makes sense for a Mania main event is Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority. Had they kept them separate, Bryan vs. Orton would've worked here, but they've wrestled three times since SummerSlam and it has a been there, done that feeling. Orton clearly has flopped as champion as well, so they need to get the title off him. Triple H would work, but he's mostly checked out as a wrestler and putting the title on him at this point seems counter-productive. Enter Lesnar.

Lesnar has been sold as not necessarily unstoppable since his WWE return, but unquestionably the most dangerous. With Triple H rehiring him, what better unstoppable force to put in front of the guy he doesn't want to become champion? And if little Daniel Bryan made the invincible Brock Lesnar tap out in the center of the ring, it would be a star-making moment WWE has not had since Steve Austin won the WWE Title at WrestleMania 14. Look back over the years, WWE has not had one guy win the Rumble and win the title for the first time* since WrestleMania 14. Sure, they've had other guys win one of the titles, but there is only one undisputed championship now and that story hasn't been told from the Rumble to Mania since Austin.

*And yes, I know it wouldn't be Bryan's first reign, but considering the other two WWE Title reigns lasted under 24 hours and the World Title was basically the Intercontinental Title when he held it, this would be his first reign as the guy. Don't let me down, WWE.

The Match of the Decade
John Cena vs. Randy Orton vs. Batista
Who is the biggest star of the last ten years? Obviously Cena, but with a combined 32 WWE/World Heavyweight Championship reigns between them in the last 10 years, there's a fun story to tell here. Any one-on-one match between these guys has been done to death, but I don't think they've ever been in a triple threat, and it could close the chapter on the last decade once and for all.

Franchise vs. Franchise
The Undertaker vs. Sting
I know, I know, we talk about this one every year and it never happens because Sting re-signs with TNA. I don't know if this year is any different, but c'mon WWE, sign Sting already. No two men have been as closely associated with their respective organizations than Sting and The Undertaker. Neither ever really got the chance to be the aforementioned the guy, but The Undertaker is the WWE guy and Sting is the anti-WWE guy. Sting coming in and saying he has nothing to prove when it comes to titles, but he wants a shot at The Streak, the one thing no one in wrestling has ever been able to do, is a ready made story. Bring in some vultures, some lightning bolts and general brooding in the rafters and boiler room and you have an epic Mania encounter that needs to happen at #30.

The Authority vs. Counter-culture
Triple H vs. CM Punk
I really don't want to deal with this story, but WWE has already all but confirmed it, so it's going to happen. I think my big issue with it is Punk keeps talking about the Authority "silencing" him, despite the fact he hasn't said anything "pipebomb" worthy in over a year. Punk hasn't been doing it for me lately, but I would think/hope him and Triple H would both step up their game for a Mania match and hopefully they'll surprise me.

Unification Match
Big E Langston vs. Dean Ambrose
There's no reason for the US Title to exist in today's WWE. I don't mind having a #3 singles title, but there needs to be some sort of gimmick to it. All for a TV Title that gets defended every TV show in matches with a 10-minute time limit, 15-minutes on PPV. But the US Title? Axe it. I see no reason to take the belts off either guy until Mania though... just set up a feud after having The Shield take out Big E one night.

Tag Team Turmoil
Cody Rhodes & Goldust (c) vs. The Usos vs. The Wyatts vs. The Shield vs. The New Age Outlaws vs. The Real Americans
Go nuts... hell, make it the most clusterfucky ladder match of all-time, there's fun to be had here.

Now, obviously I'm leaving off major players like Sheamus, Bray Wyatt, Big Show, and Mark Henry, but these are the BIG matches I want to see. Sheamus vs. Bray could be a fun hoss fight, now that I think about it.

I'll be shocked if any of these matches happen aside from Punk/HHH and some sort of multi-tag team bonanza, but I personally think it'd be a hell of a WrestleMania 30.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

WWE Network

Yes, it's big enough for me to bring the blog out of retirement, the announcement of the WWE Network. Here are the details straight from WWE.com:

WWE Network is a 24/7 streaming service with both scheduled programming and an on-demand library. WWE Network will include all 12 WWE live pay-per-view events including WrestleMania 30, groundbreaking original series, reality shows and documentaries, and the most comprehensive video-on-demand library featuring all WWE, WCW and ECW pay-per-views and classic matches uncut and uncensored as well as replays of Raw and SmackDown episodes. Additional programming, including a live daily studio show coming this summer, and video-on-demand content will be added regularly.

Yep, you read that right: every WWE PPV, including WrestleMania, as well as every past WWE, WCW and ECW PPV, right out of the gate. And all of this for $10 a month. Excuse me while I collect my jaw from the floor.

This is huge. I know things like "groundbreaking announcement" in wrestling usually mean John Cena and Randy Orton will wrestle for the 47th time. In pop culture in general, it usually means the iPad 47, now with a headphone jack on the side! But make no mistake, this is the biggest piece of wrestling news since WWE bought WCW, it completely changes how we will consume wrestling going forward.

And WWE was wise to delay it after first making the announcement over two years ago. Rumors were that WWE were looking to buy a TV network, possibly G4, but that would've been a recipe for failure, it's just not how people watch TV anymore. Netflix is the future: on demand, wide selections that you can watch at your leisure. Including a 24/7 streaming "network" is a brilliant move too, because it can solve the ultimate first-world problem of not being able to decide what to watch on Netflix. Can't decide what 90s PPV you want to watch? Eh, just turn on the network stream instead.

WWE's biggest asset is their video library with over 100,000 hours of pretty much anything important that's ever happened in wrestling. Fans are already scouring YouTube daily to find this stuff (I watch Jericho's debut monthly), and now WWE has figured out a way for it to make money and not have to worry about JU66ALO42069 uploading a shitty clip of it and replacing the audio with death metal.

And more importantly, at $9.99 a month, I don't want to hear about anyone illegally streaming a PPV ever again. There's no excuse when you have access to all this content and you get every PPV, even WrestleMania, included. And that's the way you combat stuff like this, you don't charge more, you don't treat your customers like criminals, don't put up needless restrictions, give them access at a reasonable price. Netflix and iTunes have effectively crippled piracy (it'll always be there in some form, can't beat free), but reasonable pricing and control are all people ask for and it looks like WWE is providing that here in spades.

There are a few concerns to be raised, the first that sprung to my mind was the "$9.99 *with six-month commitment" caveat, but as many folks pointed out to me on Twitter, that's probably just to keep people from ordering it and canceling immediately after WrestleMania. Cable companies use the "just $24.99 for the first six months" hook often, but I'm optimistic the price won't go up that high. Netflix charges $8 a month and they have to pay numerous licensing fees, while WWE owns everything that will be on the WWE Network, it's pretty much all profit for them.

My other concern is that it's launching right before WrestleMania and I worry that the traffic overload could cause some problems during the show, but hopefully their partnership with MLB Advanced Media is part of that. Still, no matter how good you think the servers are, you never know how it'll handle millions of people until it's handling millions of people. Just ask PS4 owners on Christmas Day. Even if there are problems during launch, that's a problem that can and will be fixed. Not enough to dissuade this wrestling fan from perhaps the biggest thing to happen to the industry.

Major kudos to WWE here. They took something that had become a joke, the wrestling equivalent of vaporware, and turned it into something that will revolutionize their entire business. February 24 can't come soon enough.