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WrestleMania 31 Reactions: Stephanie McMahon and Modern Gender Relations

Ronda Rousey created a buzz in the world of professional sports, sports entertainment and MMA on Sunday when she not only attended WrestleMania 31 in Santa Clara, California, but also became a part of the action. When “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson (who co-stars with Rousey in the upcoming Furious 7) got into trouble with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, he invited the undefeated UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion to lend a calloused and hardened hand, and together they cleaned house to the approving roars of the WWE Universe.

rock-ronda-640The spot was, for the most part, well executed. The script was a bit stilted, the pauses were a bit too long and tended to drag the entire affair out more than they perhaps should have, and the whole confrontation seemed a bit contrived and out of place, it’s true. That being said, Rousey’s reveal was beautifully done, and I will confess to marking out at that point. Ronda played her part as well as any guest star I’ve ever seen, to her credit. The crowd seemed entertained, and that’s the most important thing.

Except…

One particular issue was raised, was in fact stated loud and clear, and upon that pivotal issue was  the entire segment hinged, and it simply begs for controversy. That issuet is this: a man should never hit a woman.

My goal in bringing this point up is not to raise controversy, since I do not disagree with the statement in italics above. I merely think it is interesting to point out the stark inconsistencies in our society and (more importantly) in professional wrestling.

What inconsistencies are those, you might ask. Let’s review the situation:

Triple H and Stephanie McMahon are the bad guys and do bad things. The Rock, the good guy, challenges Triple H to a fight, but instead Stephanie steps up and hits The Rock in the face. She then questions if he will hit her back, which he doesn’t.

McMahon-slaps-The-RockBefore delving any further into the segment as it occurred, let’s stop right there and ask the question: why didn’t Rock just hit her back?

No, that is not an alright question to ask, but that statement, in and of itself, in turn, deserves the question: why is that question not alright to ask? The cycle has to stop somewhere, so let’s just address it.

The Rock did not hit Stephanie back because The Rock is a baby-face, a good guy, and baby-faces don’t hit women. Only heels hit women. It’s one of those unspoken rules of the squared circle. It is a rule of the squared circle because society has deemed a man hitting a woman as wrong, as reprehensible behaviour engaged in solely by morally bereft or socially deviant individuals. If Rock were a heel and Stephanie was a face, he could hit her back and be met with the appropriate boos from the crowd, the spot would get heat and the wrestling world would go on as usual. This was happened before, it’s not a new thing.

0d7e3f6ecab19c4063e23d30fec1bd16Alternatively, if Rock was a face and Steph was a face, then Rock would instantly become heel, the same as if he had struck Daniel Bryan or Dolph Ziggler or any other established face in the WWE He would be met with boos, would stalk away from the scene of the crime as we (with prompting from the announce team) would condemn Rock for his actions and wonder what made him turn to the dark side.

Face Rock striking heel Stephanie would, it can be argued, draw a similar reaction from the crowd, and in today’s world it is highly unlikely that WWE would ever think to pull such a stunt.

642x361xraw_1078_photo_014-2144930.jpg.pagespeed.ic.WckFdvTsMLPerpetrating such a daring spot would not only turn the crowd, such would be the least of the company’s concerns. WWE would no doubt fear the larger implications present in today’s “Reality Era”, the ones which extend past the boundaries of one audience inside an arena. The risk inherent comes from the world, from society, from social media, from critics, from analysts, from lobbyists and activists. WWE is afraid that someone will watch The Rock hitting a woman (no matter how deserving she may be of a good slap) and feel it will send the wrong message.

But what is that message exactly? That violence is completely alright, as long as it doesn’t cross gender? Actually, we can’t even state that, since Stephanie hitting The Rock was completely permissible, at least in the eyes of the WWE.

slaps(Sidebar: Isn’t violence at any capacity supposed to be morally wrong? I mean, we’re not talking about real violence here, this is dramatized violence for entertainment’s sake, so the rules of morality are supposed to be different. In the world of kayfabe, it is perfectly excusable and even encouraged to settle differences through physical violence. The rules of regular morality and decency do not apply here, the rules are different. So which rules of morality, like the ones applying to the proper treatment of women, persevere through the membrane that separates kayfabe from real life, and how are these rules determined?)

A similar message was implied on a recent episode of Raw on the lead-up to WrestleMania 31. Stephanie McMahon confronted Sting and, with no provocation other than her own inbred spite and aggression, attempted to strike the WCW vigilante across his painted face. Sting, being too on the ball for such a cheap shot, caught her wrist before the blow could be landed. This provoked Triple H to insert himself in classic macho style, asking Steph “He put his hand on you?” At her confirmation, he peeled the expensive suit from his broad shoulders in order to step into the ring and fight for his wife’s honour. Once again, Stephanie and Triple H project the idea that no matter what a woman does to a man, it becomes a despicable act for said man to mount any amount of physicality even in his own defense.

stingslapOkay, let us leave Stephanie McMahon and her slap happy shenanigans for a moment and explore another instance of cross gender violence in the world of pro wrestling.

Lucha Underground, the new promotion televised from Boyle Heights, California, has no women’s division. Men and women often compete in singles and mixed tag competitions with nary a bat of eye or eye-lash (such tag matches are not even segregated as “mixed tag contests”). On a recent episode, massive powerhouse Big Ryck (formerly WWE’s Ezekial Jackson) competed against premier luchadora enmascarada Sexy Star (real name Dulce Maria Garcia Rivas). The size difference being what it was, Ryck was hesitant to engage in combat. Star, meanwhile, was hungry to win and eager to prove herself in the ring, courageously taking the fight right to the big man. In the end, Ryck won by using his superior strength to hold Star’s shoulders to the mat for a three-count instead of knocking her senseless, in what some may call an act of mercy.

tv-lucha-underground.jpeg-1280x960Now, what is the difference between this interaction and the aforementioned spots on the WWE stage? Big Ryck refused to fight Sexy Star with the same conviction he would employ if she were a male superstar, essentially sending the same message that women and men are not on the same playing field. The difference is the manner in which the announce team commented on the action. At no point was it stated that Ryck wouldn’t fight “a woman”. Instead, the emphasis was placed on her size disadvantage, and was treated no different than if Big Ryck were fighting a man who weighed 120 lbs and stood 5’2″. This was the correct way to talk about the match, because at no point was her gender portrayed as a disadvantage or an excuse for lenience. The match remained about skill and strength, not sex.

This is not what occurred on Sunday at ‘Mania. Stephanie did not say something to the effect of “Would you really hit someone smaller than you?” or “Would you really hit someone who is not a trained fighter?” or even “Would you really hit someone in heels?” Instead, she emphatically said, “Would you really hit a woman?” She used her sex as an excuse for leniency, and therein lies the danger.

Now, let’s get on with the segment and see how the double standard continues.

So, Rock refuses to use physical violence on Stephanie, in a fashion which is expected of an honourable hero. Instead, he pulls accomplished MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, someone whom I would wager any money is more credibly dangerous in a shoot-fight than either Dwayne Johnson, (actor) or Triple H (executive), into the mix. She then uses a judo throw on Mr Levesque before twisting his wife’s arm and forcing a scream of pain from the head of creative. The crowd cheers and everyone’s happy that the heels got their comeuppance.

ronda-rousey-wrestlemania-3So let’s all get this straight, for the record.

WWE is saying that under no circumstances is it morally okay for a man, regardless of his station, to lay an aggressive hand on a woman, but it is perfectly okay for a woman who holds an Olympic gold medal in judo and a UFC record of 11-0 to use her superior skill to hurt a woman who’s claim to physical fame is mud wrestling and a fitness DVD. There’s something I’m missing.

Before the hate mail begins to pour in, let me be clear. I am not saying that a man should be allowed to hit a woman without getting a negative reaction. I’m simply saying that WWE needs to be a bit more careful when they make declarative statements about gender. Stephanie McMahon, especially, is an influential public figure and her portrayal of double standards could potentially be seen as offensive and degrading to womankind.

In this age where Divas are trying to gain more credibility in the eyes of sports entertainment, the female figurehead of the WWE needs to watch they way she composes herself, before the empowered female populous of the world take exception to the way she uses manipulation of established (and, some might argue, outdated) societal stigma as a means to get away with acts of cowardice and violence.

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WrestleMania 31 Preview and Predictions: The Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

andre

Remember all the hype, prestige and build up to the inaugural Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal that existed last year? Remember stars like Dolph Ziggler talking so passionately about what winning such a match would mean? I do too, and I miss that.

Remember how many of us were convinced, the way things were built up, that Big Show would win since he was pretty much Andre’s biggest fan and the near literal re-incarnation of the Hall of Famer? Remember how exciting and satisfying it was when in a masterful swerve at the last minute Cesaro pulled a Hulk Hogan spot and hoisted up the giant and eliminated him to win the contest instead? It was brilliant.

Remember how we all thought Cesaro was destined for a main event push after that? Yeah. I do too.

cesaroSo, here we are. A year later. Who are the front-runners this year, on paper and television and in the minds and hearts of fans and analysts? Who will end up winning? Let’s take a little look-see…

damienDamien Mizdow

Many analysts are predicting that since the feud between The Miz and his under-appreciated personal assistant and ex-stunt double didn’t blow up at Night of Champions or Survivor Series or TLC or Royal Rumble or Fastlane, that it will finally come to a head at WrestleMania.

The scenario certainly lends itself to such a happening. One could indeed picture both men becoming the last men in the ring, after combining their efforts to get rid of some of the more formidable entrants like Big Show, Mark Henry and Kane. Down to just the two of them, Miz would of course order his assistant to eliminate himself, and Mizdow’s refusal would yield a massive pop.

Mizdow definitely deserves a victory and an honour. Lest we forget he was a hair away from becoming World Heavyweight Champion, a hair away from defeating John Cena, Since then he has suffered a bit of an identity crisis, but has now found his way back into the fans hearts. Before such adulation gets lost and forgotten again, the man deserves his name engraved on the brass plate of history.

ryback

Ryback

My personal pick. I have always been a mark for the muscle-bound wrecking ball, ever since his early days of squashing jobbers. The man had two main event pushes in less than a year, one as a face and the second as a heel, and neither yielded anything. He was a Paul Heyman guy. he was part of The Nexus. He made a tag team championship run with Curtis Axel. In the short time he’s spent in WWE he has covered much ground, worn many faces, but has continually come up empty-handed.

It would be nice to see the Big Guy to win something, that’s all I’m saying. But maybe that’s just not his thing. Maybe he’s just meant to carry the ball down the lane but never make the basket.

Either way, the fact that he’s being built as a favourite to win the battle royal this Sunday is the main reason why I doubt he will win.

bigshow

The Big Show

Paul Wight entered the WCW initially calling himself simply “The Giant”, wearing Andre’s old strongman singlet and claiming he was the son of the legend himself. He has stated numerous times how Andre was his role model, his inspiration, his hero. He suffers from the same condition that gave Andre his freakish size, and has surpassed the legend in his accomplishments inside the squared circle.

No other man in the wrestling world deserves an Andre the Giant Memorial Award more than Big Show, and for that reason he can’t simply be handed the victory. It’s why he didn’t win last year. To do the job and put someone else over is the greatest achievement of a pro wrestler, and in such fashion Big Show put over Cesaro last year.

It is conceivable that since he has not been featured as vehemently this time around, that WWE will “swerve” and have Big Show attain the gold he was destined to hold.

He has a master villain to work against in Kane, which makes such an ending possible. Kane is not only a fellow veteran of battle royals and fellow monster, but also a fellow member of the authority and essentially Big Show’s superior. If left up to the two of them, Kane could pull rank and order Big Show to eliminate himself. This would make a face of Big Show, and if he defied Kane and the authority to win his coveted prize and honour his hero, it could be a WrestleMania moment to be remembered.

The problem is that Big Show switches from face to heel and back again so frequently, he changes character on the drop of the dime so often, that such a moment might not have the gravity one would hope. He may eliminate Kane and hoist the trophy and celebrate to a crowd that could not be bothered.

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Curtis Axel

I never liked Curtis Axel. I never thought he was much of a performer. I never get excited when I find out he is on the night’s card.

That changed with this whole “AxelMania” angle. It has real heat, and the crowd is behind it. He has succeeded in playing up his own mediocrity, and the fans have gotten on board. He took his short-changing at the Rumble and turned it into a push. He took the disparaging comment JBL said about changing the channel into a catch phrase. He has taken every lemon thrown his way and made lemonade and sold it on a tee shirt.

In short, I admire what he’s been able to do with very little the last little while, and it may possibly yield him a victory at WrestleMania.

Then again…

adrian

Adrian Neville

It has been announced that a tournament will be held at Axxess between four members of the NXT roster, the winner earning a spot in the battle royal. Most, including myself, are predicting that Adrian Neville will win that honour.

Although it may seem a bit much to give such a WrestleMania moment to a wrestler who is not even officially part of the main roster, for someone like Neville it could be the big impact he needs to establish credibility in the land of the giants.

Remember, the trophy doesn’t actually mean you are destined for a bee line to the top of the company, as was proven by Cesaro last year. If all it means is a nod from above that your efforts and talent are appreciated, than what harm can be done by giving it to a young upstart like Neville?

WrestleMania 31 Preview & Predictions: The Divas

Bellas-vs-AJ-Lee-Paige

The most talented women that WWE’s main roster has to offer are battling over the Divas championship belt on the grandest stage of all this Sunday – oh wait, no, the other thing.
The belt is actually not on the line, as the Divas champion Nikki Bella is teaming with her sister Brie in a tag match against the former champions AJ Lee and Paige, in a match that could wind up eclipsing in electric fashion the much talked about fatal four-way match for the NXT Women’s Championship in February which spawned much buzz as well as the #GiveDivasAChance movement… or, you know, the other thing.

Before I even touch on this match, I must first say what a tragedy it is that we are not seeing Naomi versus Natalya. These two are without a doubt the most talented women on the main roster right now, and until recently were building a very hot feud that should have culminated in a bout on the big stage. For whatever reason, Natalya has been demoted from wrestling the most promising member of the Total Divas cast to wrestling El Torito – and losing! The Canadian technician has eaten a lot of less than glorious spots fed to her from the company over the years, including being a valet for The Great Khali along with Hornswoggle, and one has to commend her patience and work ethic.

If the WWE really wanted to “Give Divas A Chance”, they would include more than one women’s match on the card at WrestleMania, even if the Naomi vs Natalya bout was relegated to the undercard.

But now, on to the main event – so to speak.

History

The Bella Twins, AJ, Paige, and for that matter the entire diva roster has suffered from extreme and sudden mood swings and a condition bordering on split personality disorder over the course of the last year. A quick look back at the journeys taken since April 2014 make one’s head spin and hurt from excessive, ponderous scratching, so hold on while we briefly go through this:

So, AJ drops the belt to Paige who debuts as the scrappy and anti-diva baby-face. Meanwhile, the Bellas are super-faces after Total Divas makes public knowledge the sisters are in relationships with John Cena and Daniel Bryan, respectively.

Paige defends the belt until AJ returns and wins it back, and the two begin teaming together, seemingly out of respect and friendship for one another. Paige ultimately turns on AJ and turns heel, forming a brief alliance with Alicia Fox before turning on her as well.

Brie gets fired, then re-hired, and faces Stephanie McMahon in the most extensively built-up divas match of 2014 at SummerSlam, during which Nikki turns heel and betrays her sister in a massive swerve. The two sisters feud for a while, but the feud inexplicably and suddenly stops at Survivor Series when Brie turns heel and helps Nikki beat AJ for the championship.

Confused yet? I was too. It continues.

Paige learns her lessons about double-crossing over the Christmas season and turns face, coming to the aid of Natalya and teaming with her to battle the evil Bellas at Royal Rumble. The Bellas continue to bully Paige in a well-conceived, “hot and popular bitches versus the quirky outsider” angle, until AJ returns from an injury to save Paige from attack the night after Fastlane, when Nikki successfully retained the championship.

The Build-Up

So, how are we looking going this tag match at ‘Mania?

AJ and Paige are allied for the common goal of teaching the evil Bella Twins a lesson, but only barely. Since joining back together, the two former champs seem at odds with each other, and the interactions between them seem uncomfortably awkward. On the go-home episode of Raw, AJ mistakenly cost Paige a championship match with a wayward elbow, and the two went to blows while the Bellas celebrated.

Conversely, no dissension has been teased on the heel side. The Bellas look to be on the same page, and Brie seems only too happy to play second fiddle to her champion sister.

One might be inclined to think that a more intriguing booking for WrestleMania would be a fatal four way for the Diva’s Championship. This would create tension between the Bellas, while at the same time allowing the “frenemies” to continue their half-feud / half-partnership. But instead, we have a tag match, and the belt is safe for the time being.

Predictions

All signs point to a victory by the Bellas. They have been booked very strong going into the match, while Paige and AJ seem pre-occupied with each other. The champ and her sister will celebrate at WrestleMania, united, while their opponents will re-ignite their rivalry, most likely facing each other one on one the following night on Raw.

But while they do that, what happens to the championship?

I see Nikki and Brie coming out to address the WWE Universe on Monday Night. They will gloat and flaunt their victory the night before. Nikki will hold up her belt, and Brie will talk about their dominance over the diva division.

Then, Charlotte will come down, making her debut to the main roster and challenging for the title.

You may think, WWE wouldn’t be that unoriginal as to pull the same spot they did last year, subbing Paige for Charlotte, would they? Yes, I think they would. Surely, you may say, they could come up with something else? Probably, I think, but they won’t.

Brock Lesnar: Rebirth of the Shooter

When Brock Lesnar decisively earned the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam last year it changed the face of the title race itself with the introduction of something the WWE had been lacking for some time: a real threat.

No offense meant to talented stars like John Cena and Randy Orton, but the main event scene in WWE was stuck in a lull for a while. The Yes movement provided much-needed energy among fans, but the depth of the main event roster – or lack thereof, as it were – was showing. The Shield and The Wyatts were still on the rise, CM Punk went home, and Daniel Bryan was left to carry the title on most likely into late 2014. Unfortunately, injury sidelined Bryan and WWE gave the ball back to John Cena to carry instead.

Then came Brock Lesnar. No underdog story here, but a legitimately dangerous man. An ex-champion both in the ring and the octagon, Brock Lesnar has been built up as a merciless mercenary, a fighting machine that is only out for himself. This mercenary status has reincarnated the drama created by the presence of the “shooters”, as they were called in the early days of carnival shows, the birthplace of sports entertainment.

Before television broadcasts and pay-per-view, before football stadiums full of screaming fans, there was the sport of wrestling, which gained popularity as a spectator sport in the late 1800s. By the time the twentieth century rolled around, the modern “catch” style which is used in pro wrestling these days had replaced much of the legitimate sport-fighting that existed, favoured for its entertainment value. However, the sport still employed men who were trained and practiced wrestlers and submission fighters afterwards taught to pull back their moves for the show, in essence to “go soft” with holds and punches. But at any moment, any of those men could choose to go “hard” and alter the course of a match in progress.

This still occurs today. It happens for various reasons, none of which are very proper and sportsmanlike. Sometimes there are personal issues that end up bleeding onto the mat, so to speak, or sometimes it’s done as part of a hazing ritual, or to put someone in their place. At various times in the history of the industry there have been “policemen”, enforcers who were loyal to the company who would put dissenters in their place. These men were always seasoned shooters who could back up tough talk with skills, and often caused real injury.

oldtimeyIt is beneficial to have shooters around who are loyal. They can regulate trouble-makers on the roster, step in case anyone gets funny thoughts of screwing the organization over. In an industry that thrives on what happens live, the risk of one performer changing the whole game on a whim is ever-present, and trust is paramount to business running smoothly.

But what happens when the champion is a shooter? This has happened many times in the past, with the legendary Lou Thesz being often referred to as “the last of the shooters”.

Lou_Thesz_by_Tim_Hornbaker-500x600Thesz was the champion who carried pro wrestling through the tricky transition from stadiums and auditoriums to its Television Era in the 1950s and 60s. He was a dynamic showman, a great talker, and a trained submission wrestler. It must have been a concern for the promoters at the time to have a man holding the belt who could essentially keep it for as long as he wanted. This is partly why a $25,000 deposit was put up by the champ upon being crowned, as an insurance policy discouraging anyone from skipping town with the title.

This hasn’t been a concern for years. The enforcers of old have been faded out. Wrestlers are kept in line using finances instead of fists these days; if a performer steps out of line, they get kicked off the big show and thus the big payday. If someone really pisses the bosses off, the title is stripped or the performer is “released”. The Montreal Screw-Job hammered the message home: you will do what’s best for business, whether you want to or not.

screwjobBut again the question comes up: what happens if the man with all the gold doesn’t want to do the job? What if the champ just decides he’s not going to lose tonight, or any other night after. What if the man who does that is a legitimately dangerous man who is absolutely capable of keeping the title if he so decides?

This is just the situation we are in.

The owners of the company, the WWE itself, could it be just one single consciousness, has put the world’s championship on this man, this dangerous man, this shooter, this legitimate fighter, this utterly dominating performer. They have asked him to remain dominant and win matches, and he has done this duty gladly. He has been a dominant, convincing champion.

brock-lesnar-paul-heymanNow, far be it from me to know exactly what to expect at WrestleMania in the main event between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. Regardless of who stands at the match’s end as victor and regardless if the title will change hands that night, at point one would imagine the WWE will ask this man to do the job and put over his successor to the title. In essence, the WWE must put all their faith in this man to play ball. But what guarantees he will do such a thing?

In April 1925, such a situation altered the course of the world heavyweight championship. The title had been put on an impressive physical specimen, a former football player who looked great but unfortunately possessed no real fighting ability. Ed “Strangler” Lewis did the job for him earlier in the year, and the new star was set to face former champion Wladeck Zbyszko’s older brother Stanislaus. But Zbyszko, a tough old shooter, pulled a surprise swerve on the champ and stole the belt. He did this partly to get revenge on the promoters who controlled the belt at the time, and partly for a nice payday from the competition. He dropped the belt to ex-champ Joe Stecher, who would hold the title until 1928.

stanislaus-zbyszko-i17So, the answer to the question posed a bit earlier is: nothing. Nothing guarantees Brock Lesnar will do as he’s told, stick to the script, follow through on whatever finish is predetermined on the morning of March 29th. The plain and simple fact is that regardless of what outcome is decided by Vince and Triple H and Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman backstage, should Lesnar decide to pull a double cross at the last minute, I sincerely doubt Roman’s ability to stop him.

This makes Paul Heyman’s treatment of the main event hype masterful. He is playing this angle up, paying tribute to wrestling’s rich history of shooters and double-crosses, traditions which go as deep as the sport itself. He declared it loud and clear so there could be no mistake last Monday on Raw; Brock Lesnar will be the champion as long as he damn well pleases.

Paul-Heyman-and-Brock-LesnarIt’s interesting that at the same time Heyman is making these declarations before the masses of marks on television, the internet community is meanwhile a-buzz with controversy and uncertainty surrounding Lesnar’s contract talks. Will he jump ship and go to UFC? Will he take the title with him? Will he hold out for more money? Is there conflict between the champ and Vince McMahon? Will he stay or go? Nobody knows, and that is just the way they should keep it.

This angle has been played out before, it’s nothing new. Rob Van Dam beat John Cena for the WWE Championship and declared he was claiming it as property of ECW. But that was a work. CM Punk created a huge stir at Money In The Bank when he won the belt the day his contract was set to expire, swearing he would walk with the belt if he won. Won he did, but it was later revealed that he had signed a new deal with WWE the night before the event. That was close, but in the big picture it was all going according to plan.

cmpunk robvandamThe difference with this angle being played out this time is the big X-factor missing before: legitimacy. It can be argued and debated, but it seems that not since Kurt Angle has the WWE employed a performer with the legitimate ability to conquer in a shoot match. And Angle, although a fierce competitor, was still a smaller than average superstar.

Brock Lesnar is the real deal. A true powerhouse with explosive speed and deadly skill. As long as he carries the WWE Championship, the future of the company is held hostage in the iron grip of a monster. It’s a riveting storyline, made all the more plausible by Lesnar’s history in both UFC and WWE. It would be wise to lean on this angle going into WrestleMania, it adds intrigue to a main event that otherwise is lacking real electricity because of its nervous new-comer.

Will Brock Lesnar do what is best for business? Or will he choose to use the immense amounts of leverage at his disposal to put the company over a barrel and get what is best for himself and his career. Are the mutually exclusive? What is the game that the power players are playing here, and what’s the real work?

66d6163a-c1d7-37ab-af98-cc44ba21e48aThe joy is in the knowing and in the mystery, and so I stay tuned…

The Jobber Run-Down: “This Week in Wrestling Television” part four, WWE Smackdown 05/03/2015

Raw’s little brother lights up Thursday night in silver and blue, and I anxiously await a show with hopefully a tiny bit more in-ring action than was served up three days prior on Raw.

Upon his return to action at the end of 2014, Daniel Bryan was said to be having conversations with Triple H and the rest of creative on the subject of bringing up Smackdown and making it a more exciting program to watch. What I have seen in the last couple of months is proof that such efforts are being made to make the post-Hump Day, two hour time slot much more must-see than it’s lumbering predecessor.

Will the trend continue this week? Let’s find out…

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Dude, Where’s My Belt?

Where’s Your Belt, Dude?

Dolph Ziggler opens the show. Awesome. This man needs more time on the mic.

He begins by glibly commenting on the Intercontinental Championship he wears around his waist, and then goes on to talk about grudges, terrible bosses, second chances, and then very genuinely gets over how important winning the IC belt was for him in 2014 and how much it means to him now. Then he sets the hook, and teases the challenge that he made on Twitter in the days after the Royal Rumble match. He implies a certain “movement leader” that deserves as much as anybody to insert himself into the multi-person ladder match at WrestleMania, and the crowd eats it up with a big spoon and begs for more.

That’s when Bad News Barrett walks out and shits in everyone’s cereal. My god, but he wears an angry scowl so well. It’s the beard that helps so much.

Bad News plugs Dolph’s career as a stand-up comedian and rightfully reminds everyone that he is the actual Intercontinental Champion. This was nice to see, because in all the comedic belt thefts and non-title losses, Barrett has been portrayed weak and a bit of a pushover. His physical grit and command of the microphone do him well in instances like this, and he comes across not as a bothersome whiner but as a formidable threat.

Then it hits the fan. Luke Harper blindsides Ziggler and he has a heated stand-off with Barrett over the dropped IC belt. Ziggler comes back in and the heels double team until Dean Ambrose rages in and evens the playing field. While everyone brawls around the ring, R-Truth slides in out of nowhere with the exaggerated pantomime of a ninja commando reminiscent of Ace Ventura’s Mission: Impossible sequence and makes off with the title.

SD_808_Photo_015-256866726A tag match between the four combatants in the ring is set for the main event.

Backstage, Rene Young interviews Truth, who I found frickin’ hilarious in his improv. His character is so funny in the oddest way, equal parts shrewd and clueless, wise and completely deluded. He acted surprised when Rene pointed out that the belt will be suspended from the ring at WrestleMania. “They’re still doing that? Oh, why? I gotta talk to somebody.” Genius. I hope we see more of Truth as this whole sordid affair progresses to the big event, and I sincerely hope he’s got some kind of daring stunt straight out of Get Smart up his sleeve for the ladder match.

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CESARO & TYSON KIDD (with NATALYA) vs LOS MATADORES (with EL TORITO)

 It’s a treat to see the tag champs in a match with anyone other than the Usos these days. I anticipate a match full of good old fashioned tag team fun and the four superstars in the ring, not to mention their assisting counterparts on the outside, do not disappoint.

The match begins with fast-paced tandem moves off the ropes and bits of flash from the matadors. Tyson gets bumped around for a bit until he tags in Cesaro, who slows the action down after hitting a tilt-a-whirl back-breaker and a big gut stomp. Then he cinches in a headlock.

A bit of chaos takes place and I lose track of who the legal man is, but the ref doesn’t seem to be conflicted so I trust in his ability to maintain order. On the tail-end of that thought, however, Cesaro puts his feet on the ropes in an under-handed attempt to gain leverage on a pin and would have succeeded had little Torito not hopped up on the apron and grabbed the ref’s attention.

Cesaro roughs the little fellow up a bit but only succeeds in riling him up. The mascot is just about to get right up the Swiss man’s business but then Natalya yanks Torito to the outside, taking him out and simultaneously distracting the referee while Cesaro and Kidd double team the active member of Los Matadores. Cesaro swings and Kidd connects with a low dropkick for a pin and the win.

This was a bit of fluff nothing match that was nonetheless tight and well executed, thanks to the level of talent involved. It served two purposes and served both effectively: first, it helped to establish Tyson Kidd and Cesaro as dominant champions, devilish opportunists with arrogance to spare and the talent to back it up; and secondly, it further got over Natalya’s turn to full-blown heel. To be in a spat with Naomi is one thing, to cause Naomi’s husband a victory is another, but to beat up on El Torito is sending a clear message that all the black leather and spiked gauntlets can’t iterate loud enough.

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RYBACK vs KANE

then RYBACK vs THE BIG SHOW

Backstage, Kane and Big Show bicker like pissy hens. The burn of the night belonged to Big Show: “Are you the Devil’s Favourite Demon, or a spokesman for Men’s Warehouse?” Take that, Red.

The topic of conversation throughout both of these matches kept dancing around the 2nd Annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. I find it interesting that Face Show’s angle last year was to honour the memory of the wrestler he revered more than any other, Andre himself, by winning the battle royal. This year, now that he’s heel, his goal is to win the trophy just to rip Andre’s statue off the top and replace it with his own, because fuck Andre. I also find it interesting that he would rename the battle royal The Big Show Memorial Battle Royal… meaning that he would be dead.

The trophy sits at ringside so all the wrestlers can take turns gazing at it longingly. The trophy, by the way, looks like it is made of the cheapest matte plastic imaginable. I wonder if it will get destroyed again this year after someone wins it?

Ryback and Kane have a match. It’s not a great match, but it’s a match. Kane dominates the first half with chops and knees. Then Ryback struggles through one of the worst neckbreakers I’ve ever seen, hits a splash off the dreaded second rope, a spine-buster, and sets up the meat-hook clothesline. Big Show distracts but it back-fires when Kane himself gets distracted, and Ryback wins with the meat-hook.

Kane grabs the mic and announces Ryback is facing Big Show right away.

Big Show pounds away with fists and Ryback covers up like a boxer. Show dominates for a bit, but then Ryback escapes a chokeslam attempt and hits a big spine-buster which gets a nice pop. Then same shtick happens again, Ryback sets up for the meat-hook clothesline, Kane distracts, Show hits a knock-out punch and gets the pin.

SD_808_Photo_046-3945913433Ryback is protected even though he suffers a loss here, as once again it takes not only underhanded tactics but multiple people working together to defeat him. He has been experiencing a new lease on his career since returning to action last fall, and it would be a shame if the momentum gets stalled due to careless booking now. I may state this officially later, unless I change my mind, but Ryback is my pick for the Andre Battle Royal winner.

Big Show and Kane, what can I say? Maybe they should have a Loser Retires match and go to a double count out.

Next, we go to a flashback to Bray Wyatt’s coffin burning party on Raw, followed by a fresh promo, during which he unveils an urn. He teases something big to occur this coming Monday.

The new Shaemus video package rolls, full of fiddles and drums, and I feel like river-dancing.

We see highlights from The Daily Show segments of Raw. I’m glad that they chose to focus on Jon Stewart’s astute criticisms of Seth Rollins’ rise to be a top contender, those were the bits which really contributed to the storyline of his character.

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AJ LEE (with Paige) vs BRIE BELLA (with Nikki)

Before AJ makes her entrance, Nikki and Brie both grab microphones and I search for something with which to cut myself. In heel fashion, they take credit for the #GiveDivasAChance movement, and shoot on AJ for taking time off to rest and relax while they’ve been working their asses off. Back and forth they go, hitting the mean girl button over and over and I wait eagerly for AJ’s music to hit and cut them off.

The match itself is good, and you can tell that WWE is trying to give the ladies a bit more room to work. This match did not feel rushed or cut short, in fact I found the pace a bit sluggish at times.

Lee spent the majority of the match taking punishment from the wicked Bella twin. Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole made comments about Lee not looking top form, that perhaps she was suffering ring rust from being out of action, and I am inclined to agree because there were a few awkward spots in the match. I know these two wrestlers have it in them to made music together, and this outing did not do them full justice.

Still, it was well constructed. In the early stages the two traded arm drags to test each other out, then AJ hits a nice baseball slide into a leg sweep, followed by a cross body from the top rope.

Brie gets control and hits a missile dropkick from the second rope. She stays on top with hard clotheslines and a crucifix-like submission no doubt taught to her by Daniel Bryan. Brie goes through the heel motions again: rough stuff, taunting, rest-hold. One, two, three. AJ tries a number of times to rally but over and again is knocked back down by Brie, and the announcers further get over the ring rust.

The match turns tide when Brie misses a big missile dropkick and bumps hard, allowing AJ time to come back. She hits a Thesz press, clothesline in the corner and a neck-breaker (watching, Ryback?), and a dropkick of her own which lands Brie on the outside, where her sister and Paige are looking on.

AJ throws Brie back in the ring, from there performing a very laboured Black Widow submission which earns her the tap-out victory after Paige prevents Nikki from interfering.

A nice match, even if AJ did not appear to be in top form. And hey, no “Brie mode,” so I’m happy. Hopefully a sign of trends to continue, now that the world is judging WWE and their treatment of female stars more than ever.

I like the pairing of Paige and AJ, and I had a thought: they should really try to be the D-Generation X of the Divas division. To push this whole anti-Diva gimmick to an extreme degree could be very entertaining. I could picture the two of them raising hell in the locker room with practical jokes, stunts, gags.

What follows is an interview with Daniel Bryan, where they do not address the match his wife just lost at all. Instead, they talk about the Intercontinental Championship and how the ladder match could very well steal the show at WrestleMania 31.

The announcers remind us that Alundra Blayze is also being inducted in the Hall of Fame, and I put the kettle on to boil.

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NEW DAY vs THE MIZ & DAMIEN MIZDOW

New Day is getting all three of their fans in the audience into the spirit of things while the rest of the people go to get beer and popcorn.

Mizdow is still getting pops, which is good to see.

We are treated to a replay from Monday Night Raw’s “Niagara” commercial bit, and the heated aftermath involving Miz slapping Mizdow. We will no doubt see something similar play out here on Smackdown.

The usual formula rolls on once again, and it’s proving to be a good one. Mizdow is prevented from posturing to the crowd while Miz and Kofi have a bit of a match. Mizdow tags himself in and goes on a bit of a flashy roll, before Miz tags himself back in and throws a tantrum. Mizdow turns his back on Miz after a bit of a staredown and Miz suffers a double team finisher from New Day to lose the match.

The story between the A-lister and his sidekick has progressed to the point where Mizdow now appears on the verge of snapping, and many are thinking the time for this whole thing to blow up is during the battle royal at WrestleMania. Then again, a lot of us thought it would blow up at the Rumble. So who knows.

What follows are highlights from Paul Heyman’s public address on Monday Night Raw, thankfully omitting the infuriating moments when his microphones were cutting out.

Afterwards there comes a Brock Lesnar video package, which sells him on being a selfish, cruel, callous beast bent on sadistic destruction and personal gain.

Roman Reigns is interviewed in the locker room by Byron Paxton. He comes off full of respect and humility, but also projects a fearless and determined attitude. Even though it does the job, it’s not enough. Roman’s style of talking severely lacks energy, especially when compared to someone like The Rock or John Cena, or even the normally demure and polite Daniel Bryan. Even Bryan shouts and yells, not because he’s mean and nasty but because he’s passionate. That’s what Roman is lacking in his promos: passion. He has conviction. He’s got that down pat. But I need to see passion and excitement.

If he can’t do it with talking, then I need to see Roman busting his ass in the gym, running obstacle courses, flipping monster truck tires, doing a thousand pushups, sparring with a heavy bag. I need training montages. Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels, WM12 was riddled with them. The Rock vs John Cena WM28, long and detailed workout video vignettes full of veins and sweat bullets. Even Triple H had training segments filmed for his match with Daniel Bryan last year. If WWE wants us to think this is the biggest match of Roman Reigns’ life, they need to stop showing him looking calm, cool, collected, hanging out in the locker shooting the shit with Byron Paxton. We need to see him looking like he is training for the biggest match of his life.

Tangent over.

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JACK SWAGGER vs RUSEV (again)

Is the roster seriously so depleted of talent that Rusev cannot be put in a match with anyone he has not already fought so many times?

I mean, if the goal is to make Rusev look dominant and unstoppable, we can really throw in anybody in there and he’ll squash them. Why throw in somebody we know he’s already beaten (repeatedly)?

That being said, Swagger makes it a bit more interesting than a squash match. There’s even a nice sequence of moves where Rusev plants his feet up to counter a Swagger-bomb, but Jack lands on his own feet and grabs up Rusev’s leg for a Patriot lock. Not bad, however he have seen it before.

Accolade, tap out, Rusev wins of course.

Curtis Axel provides the highlight after the match is over, appearing on the Titantron. He delivers a full on, old school Hulk Hogan promo, complete with “brothers” and a shirt tear. Absolutely stellar. Axel challenges Rusev to a title match on Monday night, and I can only figure that John Cena will involve himself in some capacity with the goal of infuriating Rusev to the point he grants a rematch at WrestleMania.

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Main Event Tag Match:

DEAN AMBROSE & DOLPH ZIGGLER vs LUKE HARPER & BAD NEWS BARRETT

R-Truth sits in on commentary (awesome!) with the IC belt in his possession.

Luke Harper starts it off with Ziggler, strangling him in a front face lock. Dolph hits a dropkick but gets powered out of a DDT attempt. Harper gives Bad News a glare that chills the bone before tagging him in.

Ambrose and Barrett go at it next with reckless abandon. Dean hits some chops, a running bulldog and a top rope clothesline/elbow drop. A misstep causes some friction between the face team, but they laugh it off.

After the commercial break, Barrett is in control of Ambrose. He squashes a rally out of a headlock then tags in Harper who locks in his own rest-holds. Dean rallies again but again is squashed and then double-teamed in the corner.

Dean finally creates space with a tornado DDT, and the crowd wakes up. Hot tag to Ziggler who hits a corner splash, neckbreaker and elbow drop for a near fall. After a big DDT and another near fall, there’s a bit of a shmoz. In the confusion, Harper winds up for a discus clothesline, but Ziggler hits a superkick instead and follows up with a ZigZag and gets the pin.

Dolph is only able to celebrate briefly before Barrett knocks him out with a bull-hammer. He does the same to Ambrose, and then approaches R-Truth. Truth plays up his comedic cowardice, seeming only too happy to hand the belt over, but then Ambrose comes back and hits Barrett with a suicide dive. Truth saunters off with the belt, but bumps into Harper. Again, Truth seems to give up the belt, but cheapshots Harper and scampers off again.

Before reaching the top of the entrance ramp, Daniel Bryan stops Truth’s progress. After a brief smile-fest, Truth happily hands over the belt to Bryan and dances off with his “Yes” fingers in the air. Daniel Bryan celebrates with the crowd, until (gasp!) Stardust attacks from out of nowhere. The painted heel hisses and takes possession of the championship belt in Golem-like fashion as the show fades to black.

I liked this match’s outcome for a few reasons. One, someone other than Barrett got pinned in the match. In fact, he actually looked very strong in his attacks after the bell, despite once again coming up short. Two, it finally officially puts Daniel Bryan in the ladder match. Three, Stardust!

SD_808_Photo_119-121331642The addition of the artist formerly known as Cody Rhodes into the Intercontinental Ladder Match is welcome in it’s unexpected nature. After Fastlane, I and no doubt many other observers believed that what would naturally follow for Stardust would be a continuation of the blood feud with Goldust. This last minute swerve shows Stardust as not only a man with a personal grudge but as an ambitious opportunist, who has aspirations far exceeding family grudges. The amount of star power present in this ladder match is getting bigger by the week.

CONCLUSIONS

Smackdown continues to outdo Raw in almost every way.

The show opened with Ziggler and Barrett who kept the talking segment fresh and didn’t allow it to drag on. The quality of the action in each match was on the whole better quality, more polished and crisp than the matches in NXT. That being said, some matches fell flat because we’d seen them already played to death (Kane vs Ryback, Rusev vs Swagger), while others held the promise of being more entertaining but ended too short (Los Matadores vs Kidd & Cesaro).

Still with too many recaps and replays from Raw for my liking, Smackdown continues to set the trend as far as main roster programming goes.

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Jobber Run-Down: “This Week in Wrestling Television” part 1, Raw 02/03/2015

With WrestleMania fast approaching and controversy simmering under seemingly every facet of WWE’s current landscape, we embark on a review of this week’s offerings in sports entertainment from the big boy roster, the young upstart NXT, and the “newbie with a ‘tude” Lucha:Underground. First is the corner stone on pro wrestling television: Monday Night Raw.

RAW_1136_Photo_165-720024707Seth Rollins, Jon Stewart, Randy Orton, The Authority, Roman Reigns, Money in the Bank, WWE Championship, Brock Lesnar and the rest of the gang

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The Jobber Run-Down: 09/02/15 Raw

thYou know those episodes of WWE Monday Night Raw that make you so happy you tuned in? This was not one of those episodes. I honestly would have watched last week’s Smackdown again instead, and in many ways that’s what it felt like. Nothing truly groundbreaking occurred, with the exception of one or two items, which we will cover along with all the rest of the sub-par action on this week’s Raw re-cap.

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Jobber Report: Raw Re-cap & Reactions, Groundhog Day, 2015

A week later and the storm seems to have passed. Whether I’m referring to the blizzard that had superstars and crew alike snowed in at WWE HQ where they were forced to cobble together a patchwork edition of Raw last week, or whether I’m referring to the raging whirlwind of negative responses many fans expressed after the Royal Rumble match, it can be fair to say both have stabilized.

Let’s get to this week’s Raw.

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Swimming in the Deep End: Can Roman Reigns Sink or Survive?

raw-060214-roman-reignsThis past Monday, from the innards of a massive blizzard in Connecticut, Roman Reigns told a heart-warming story about his father, Sika Annoi’a. He talked about his father throwing him into the deep end of a pool, of feeling like he was going to drown, but ultimately fighting his way to the surface and thus learning to swim.

He related that story, I’m sure, because he knows he is in that position now.

Winning the Royal Rumble should be a glorious moment for any WWE superstar. It will forever be an accomplishment, a high point of their hopefully long and decorated career. This year’s Rumble winner, Roman Reigns, has reaped the unfortunate whirlwind of a bitter wrestling community, and thus been denied the adulation of such a momentous feat.

Signs are already visible that there is hope for Reigns. It won’t be easy, or simple, but he may yet win the fans back.

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Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

romanreignsSince winter of 2013, it seems clear that WWE is keen on shoving another member of the famous Anoa’i family to the front of the line to be top dog of the roster. However, it would be wise to take a more patient approach in building “The Roman Empire”, or else risk seeing it crumble to pieces sooner than planned.

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