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Don’t Miss This 2 (1/13 – 1/19)

WWE Match of the Week:

Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate

WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament, 1/15 

What’s more amazing, that WWE’s match of the week featured two talents that never graced the E’s network until a week before it aired, or that these two are at this level at this young an age? I like to joke with my Ring Post co-host Myke Hurley that the rest of us hate him for his youth, but Tyler Bate’s goofy nineteen-year-old ass is another hamper of crazy-pants all-together.

First of all, I didn’t buy Bates at the start, especially due to his gee-golly ‘charm’ and the fact that his “I’ve got two fists” line ripped off James Ellsworth almost verbatim (though who knows, The Chinless Wonder might have been copying Bates).

But from the moment Pete Dunne popped up on the screen, I hated him and enjoyed it. He’s got the perfect aesthetic as a bully, and his combination of a sneer and his fist-against-jaw give me thoughts of Miz and Kevin Owens at the same time. Plus, he’s all packed into a Sami Callahan-esque frame that makes it all feel fresh.
But how did they get this match to be so awesome? 

Well, by keeping the two on a steady progression of heel and face dynamics and preceding the match with Bate winning Wolfie’s respect and Dunne’s run-in on Bate, trying to break his shoulder. That’s compact storytelling, and William Regal’s outrage (and Michael Cole’s focus on said outrage) tied it all together, man. That all made the match mean a lot. You had someone to cheer, someone to boo, and they both played their parts. 

 Bate and Dunne both look their respective parts as well, Bate looks like the kid who always gets picked on by Dunne’s bully, and they were able to show and not tell over the span of the night.
This match follows those expectations, and Dunne spends most of the match ravaging Bate’s shoulder, including a Kimura lock that looked downright grizzly. 

If you had to take the match by itself, I’d almost prefer Mark Andrews vs Pete Dunne (which I think had a better-paced finish) from the previous round, but this one just shows how much the story-telling can add.
The match made both of these guys huge, and I look forward to seeing what they have coming up. 

Here’s a short clip. Watch the whole thing on the Network.

Best WWE Segment of the Week:

The King’s Court with Jerry The King Lawler and Dolph Ziggler

SmackDown Live, 1/17 

I’ll be the first to say I’m shocked that I’m giving credit to Dolph Ziggler and Jerry Lawler. Both rank high on my “fall off this planet, please” list, and will likely stay there for some time. But since Degree of Difficulty matters for me when trying to compare wrestling moments, I need to give this segment its due.

Wrestling’s performed gimmicks always glimmer more when they’re fused with reality, and so it’s reasonable that a segment where Dolph Ziggler returned to finish the job of killing Jerry Lawler flat-out held me in its hands.
It’s the end of the simmer-segment of Ziggler’s heel turn, which is now at full-boil. 

Lawler’s also part of the Royal Rumble announce team, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see those two go at it. And in one segment (which draws from ages ago), they got me to care so much more about that confrontation than the inevitable Rollins & Triple H shmozz. I’ll admit that this probably worked so well for me because going shirtless-with-cape felt like it should shame Lawler a bit.

Best non-WWE Match of the Week:

Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada © IWGP Heavyweight Championship

NJPW on AXS, 1/13 

Yes, this match originally took place on January 4th, and you may know I’m not that hot on it, but the AXS TV version with Jim Ross aired for the first time on 1/13, and that’s how bad the wrestling outside of the WWE was this week. 

Also, I need to explain something. 

You know how Bate vs. Dunn had barely any buildup but strong face vs. heel dynamics and performances? Omega vs. Okada was the pinnacle of Good Moves and fast pacing at the end, but it had tons of build time but zero face vs. heel storytelling in the ring. As dramatic as it is to be the main event at Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome, this match lost so much by not attempting anything aside from moves. 

The one story, if you’ll call it that, was “this is Kenny Omega trying to achieve, but he needs his finishing move and Okada won’t let him do it.” That’s so tiny, it gets lost in the scale of it all.
Amazing moves though, I can’t believe Okada’s neck is still intact after all of that. And good for Kenny Omega for finally getting the attention he’s earned.

Best non-WWE Segment of the Week:

Cody (Rhodes) Will Judge YOU, ROH Fans

Ring of Honor, 1/15 

This Cody right here: the post-Final Battle-heel turn on Jay Lethal, pre-Bullet Club, is the best version of Indie Cody the wrestler we cannot call Rhodes.
It creates solid, consistent loathing from the fans. Cody’s explanation of why he turned heel is that the ROH fans were going to judge him at Final Battle, but nobody judges him. That it’s the other way around, he’s here to judge us. Also, I won’t spoil anymore, except he gets point for use of the word “proboscis." 

Maybe some people don’t like fan heckling like "Where’s Your Sexy-Ass Wife?” yell here and the “STAAAAAR-DUUUUUUUSSSST” fan at that the debut Defy Wrestling show in Seattle, but it works so well overall. Cody trying to call security on the guy who asked where Eden was was hysterical.

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Don’t Miss This (1/6–12)

I recently realized I watch too much wrestling not to turn it into a feature here at withapassion.com. So, I give you a new feature (that I hope to turn out in weekly fashion), Don’t Miss This, a guide to the best matches and segments from the week in WWE and outside of the WWE.

What are my qualifications? Every week I watch Raw, SmackDown Live, 205 Live, Talking Smack, NXT, Lucha Underground and IMPACT. I even watch all EVOLVE PPVs and try to watch Ring of Honor and NJPW on AXS, but can’t guarantee those, as the first set already takes 10.5 hours of my week. Videos are embedded when possible, but they’re often abridged versions, especially WWE’s.

WWE Match of the Week:
The Revival vs. DIY

NXT 1/11, for the NXT Tag Team Championship 

Most of you have seen The Revival vs. DIY before (and if you haven’t thanks for reading this!) but this match is still amazing even if you have. These four men do tag-team wrestling so well, that every time is a must-see. Between Revival’s inventive heel tactics, Gargano’s ability to make getting his ass kicked look amazing, and the brutality of Ciampa’s knees and elbows.

Non-WWE Match of the Week:
Dragon Azteca Jr. vs. The Monster Matanza with Dario Cueto

Lucha Underground 1/11; Death Match 

More than just your standard David vs Goliath match, as Matanza is more like Frankenstein’s Monster, with his keeper, Dario, watching the match on-camera in states of fear and pride.

How do I know Jeff Cobb is great at portraying the Matanza character? I’ve met the guy (he’s super nice) but I still forget it’s him under that mask, thanks to demented mannerisms and inhuman rage. Also, Vampiro and Striker do a great job of teasing and pointing towards the finish, in a way that I didn’t realize until it was all over. It’s an excellent match to cap the middle of LU’s third season.

Oh, and if you don’t have El Rey:

WWE Segment of the Week:
Jack Gallagher and Ariya Daivari Parlay

205 Live, 1/10, contract signing for I Forfeit match 

Either I have a bias towards Jack Gallagher, or the WWE didn’t offer many worthy segments this week. Probably both. 

Yes, I know you can see Gallagher admit — off-mic — that he’s forgotten his line, but the rest of this is too good. From the return of William the umbrella to calling their feuding “playing silly boogers for too long,” this segment brings the humor that WWE programming is often lacking.

More importantly, this Parlay (contract signing) segment set up this Euro-tinted I Quit match as the actual end of this feud. Gallagher did a nice, Wilder-Wonka-esque job of it, stating “when you forfeit, you don’t only end the match, you end this quarrel between me and you. You lose, and you live with that.” Daivari plays his part well, responding to everything Gallagher says with a correct mix of incredulity and disgust. Corey Graves even shines, registering shock after Daivari throws William the umbrella out of the ring.

Also worth mentioning: a post-match brawl featuring Asuka on NXT

Non-WWE segment:
Young Bucks Respond to House Hardy

Ring of Honor, 1/8 

Again, this wasn’t the strongest week for non-match segments, so I give the outside-of-the-WWE nod to a Young Bucks talking segment. Starts off with the Bucks of Youth being smug bastards about their lucrative contract, and ends with a moment that was worth your time.

As you may know, Broken Matt Hardy challenged them at Final Battle, and here, the Bucks accept the challenge. What nobody expected was a House Hardy member to invade the taping, but as you might have already seen, that happened too.

If you don’t get ROH (and it’s hard to find) here’s some less-than-great footage posted to YouTube (credit: The Elite: the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega).

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The New Day For All The Gold

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If you’ve heard me talk about the 2017 Royal Rumble, you’ve probably heard my wish for something that will not come true: Kofi Kingston finally winning the match he’s highlighted for years. Unfortunately, because of a few things I can’t really explain right now, I’m sure that will not happen.

But what if it did? And then some.

Right now, the WWE needs over babyfaces like new parents need fresh diapers. We’re about to start the road to Wrestlemania and three of the faces that WWE wishes were over (Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose) are all floundering, thanks to being misused over the years.

WWE doesn’t need to rely on the former Shield to carry it, though, not when it has an easier option. And no, you don’t need to ask Who? Who? Who? Who? Because you know who I’m talking about.

Let’s start with Mr. Kingston himself.

Imagine if Kofi’s in the final four of the Rumble against Lesnar, Goldberg and Rollins. Nobody would believe that Mr. Royal Rumble actually takes it home, but then a mix of veteran instincts, signature acrobatics, and downright determination power Kofi to win. 

A post-Rumble speech shadowing how he doesn’t know how many more punches his bumpcard can take, how much time he’s got left. You know, grit. And then put him up against the real chosen one, Heel Owens (let’s save Super Best Friends Battle for Summerslam), as we’ll have have Trips back starting at the Rumble, and every Raw thereafter, mocking Kofi’s history as never-was. This can let you reunite Rollins and New Day in the run up.

This won’t happen because Vince will never let Kofi main event WrestleMania.

And what about E?

Now, as this is all happening, let’s talk about the truth-dropping, cold af, crotch-shaking savage himself, Big E. It’ll start as Reigns comes out of the Royal Rumble bitter and angry that he was booed out of the building and couldn’t beat Kevin Owens. 

So Big E, who didn’t shy away from mocking the hot potatoing of the Raw Women’s Championship, comes out and asks Reigns what’s up with his disdain for the United States Championship. 

How Roman doesn’t think he needs to defend the title he owns. How Vince shined Roman up so pretty that Roman can live in the main event and use the red, white, and blue as decor. Big E reminds everyone that back in NXT, he was the NXT champ, while Roman Reigns was protected and kept in bubblewrap, like his stupid vest.

None of this happens because Roman won’t defend that title ever again. It’s his and his alone.

Where’s Xavier Woods?

Living the true JRPG fantasy by sojourning on his own on Tuesday Nights,  that’s where. No, he’s not going for the IC strap, but instead for that new purple belt, the Cruiserweight Championship. 

If you haven’t checked his Wikipedia recently, yep, Mr. Woods is somehow billed at 205 pounds. This, despite being his swole self, means that Mr. Up Up Down Down can step up once Neville’s taken the title and claimed the moniker Cruiserweight Killer.

Let this feud, just like E vs. Reigns, play upon time spent down in NXT. Woods brings up the dogfood-bad hipster gimmick he was saddled with, saying he knows why Neville’s so angry about being forced to wear a cape and suffer Mighty Mouse jokes backstage. Neville decimates him on the Raw before the Rumble.

Let Woods have to prove himself as a Cruiserweight by pinning TJ Perkins in a multi-man elimination match for the #1 contender spot at the Rumble (before getting eliminated), beating The Brian Kendrick (on a 205 Live episode) and eliminating Swann to win a number 1 contenders’ battle royal at Fastlane. 

None of this will happen because Cedric Alexander is probably winning that title at Mania, but I digress.

And then at Wrestlemania 33…

The New Day shows up to Wrestlemania in Orlando with the deck stacked against each of them.

Xavier Woods vs. The Division

Xavier is told he will now be one of many contenders, facing off in a ladder match for the title. At the end of a grueling 7-man pileup of a match that sees Kalisto likely die from his worst botch yet, it all comes down to Neville vs. Xavier.

Just as Neville is about to Red Arrow Xavier from the top of a ladder, Big E manages to rouse Woods from a state of slumber by playing the Final Fantasy victory klaxon on Francesca II: Turbo. Woods gets the knees up, blocking Neville. Then he climbs up the ladder to gain his first singles title in the WWE.

Big E vs. Roman Reigns

Big E is told that the special guest ref for his match against Roman Reigns will in fact be Vince McMahon himself, to keep an eye out for any shenanigans or foul play. Roman doesn’t admit he’s being played for a fool, and rationalizes this with the New Day’s history of cheating. 

Right as E’s doing his gyrations over a fallen Reigns, a disgusted Vince tries to low-blow Big E. Luckily for the power of positivity, Big E’s been wearing a big and very metallic cup. Vince is helped to the back after he thinks he’s broken his arm. Kofi and Xavier carry Mr. McMahon to the back, while Titus O’Neil wonders why they could touch him, but not him.

Big Ending, new ref comes out, 1, 2, 3, and we’ve got two out of three New Day members holding gold.

Kingston vs. Owens 

Having been defeated earlier by Seth Rollins, Triple H is nowhere to be seen so Kevin Owens’ request for his match to get a special guest ref is met with silence. Xavier and E, both carrying their titles, walk Kofi down to the ring.

Kofi tells his brothers in horns that he needs to do this on his own. He’s come too far and lasted too long to have anyone claim he won the big one with ‘help.’

So the wily vet and the diabolical champ make for a close match filled with tons of near-falls until <time_to_play_the_game.mp3> hits. And Triple H limps out carrying Sledgey. Camera cuts to the back as Vince tells New Day they will be fired if they interfere in this now No DQ match.

Trips goes to swing his trusty sledgehammer, Kofi hits the Trouble in Paradise on Hunter, knocking him off course and into Owens. 1, 2, NO! Trips pulls Kofi’s leg, Owens tosses him off the Ropes, Pop-Up-Power-No! Kofi jumps over Owens, Trouble in Paradise onto Owens this time. 1, 2, 3.

Xavier and E rush the ring, as Kofi’s finally won the big one.

But what’s next?

This all goes well until say the Tuesday night after Summerslam, where you have Xavier lose his title on a 205 Live where the New Day wasn’t there for him. 

He gets angry that he’s always been the baby and on his own and then betrays the others. Xavier gets the character definition that Architect-era Rollins got, and you’ve now elevated the rest to being champs in their own right.

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The Ring Post

In June 2015, I discovered that Myke Hurley, a UK-based professional podcaster whose Relay FM Podcast network hosts a ton of great content and whose I’d followed for a bit, was a fan of WWE’s NXT brand. NXT was — and may still be, we’re not exactly sure — the developmental system for the WWE. What AAA Baseball is for the MLB, if that’s your cup of tea. After I brought our shared fandom up, he followed me back on Twitter, and we began to talk wrestling sporadically.

Every now and again the topic of him starting a pro wrestling podcast would come up, but the truth was that Pro Wrestling is a different kind of nerdy content that doesn’t quite fit the kind of tech nerdy subject matter that is discussed on his RelayFM podcast network.

But in December 2015, Myke started talking about pro wrestling on his Analog(ue) podcast, a show about feelings. In producing this episode, Myke admitted that this discussion would lead to more debate about him starting a pro wrestling podcast. Myke then went to see NXT Takeover: London, an event I’d be watching from my couch. As wrestling fans do, we text about the event until our thumbs were numb.

This April, Myke went public with the news that he had told me over Twitter DMs. That he would be starting a wrestling podcast on Jason Snell’s The Incomparable podcast network, and it would be called The Ring Post.

I tell this whole story because the first full episode of The Ring Post goes live tomorrow, and I’m a contributor! Myke and I talk about the WWE Draft that will take place on July 19, and Myke and Polygon’s Dave Tach talk NXT and more. Thank you for reading these posts and listen here!

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Surprises Abound

During my year between full-time jobs, I managed to somehow meet a ton of people who also liked wrestling, always by accident. In 2015, I gathered with many of them at one of their apartments in Queens, NY to watch that year’s Wrestlemania, which built tension around a main event where many expected Brock Lesnar to drop the belt to the muscle-bound Roman Reigns, who many believed was Vince McMahon’s favorite.

WWE managed to ruin Reigns — a statuesque mass of Samoan manliness with a long-flowing mane — by hot-shotting* him into title contention the second he returned from an injury. Making matters worse, they had him deliver horribly written monologues. That time he said “sufferin succotash” is permanently etched into the minds of the #NeverRoman crowd. 

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Reigns’ impending win felt inevitable, and inevitability breeds contempt (ask, ask Hillary Clinton). Roman is still jeered to this date, a rare feat for someone marketed and booked as a good guy.

Well, that night Roman’s ascension was deferred as the WWE engaged one of its best deus ex machina’s of all time. As Lesnar and Reigns lay in the ring, both out of breath and tired, it appeared as if the match were winding down. Paul Heyman, Lesnar’s boisterous manager, yelled “COVER HIM, BROCK!” which could be read to suggest that by not covering Roman, Lesnar created an opportunity for his opponent. Reigns would likely land one of his doofy finishing manuevers (the Superman Punch is where Roman cocks his right forearm up and down as if it were a gun before performing a jumping punch, and it is as stupid as it sounds) on Lesnar, and the value Lesnar accrued by breaking the Undertaker’s streak would be moved to Reigns.

And then Seth Rollins’ entrance music blared, and the blonde-streaked-hair villain sprinted to the ring, golden Money in the Bank briefcase in hand. The Money in the Bank briefcase is a trophy of sorts that grants its holder — who gains it by winning a typically brutal ladder match — a championship title shot of their choice at the time of their choice. Rollins, ever the opportunist, decided to wedge his way into the title match and turn it into a three-way.

At this moment, I probably shrieked, and looked around the room. Despite the fact that a villainous moment was taking place, the room was filled with ear-to-ear smiles. Disaster was averted, Seth Rollins kicked Reigns out of the ring, performed his curb stomp finisher on Lesnar, then Lesnar reversed a second curb stomp into the start of his own F5 finisher, putting Rollins on his shoulders. Reigns stormed into the ring, speared Lesnar, and then Rollins hit Reigns with the curb stomp and pinned Reigns for a count of 3 and the championship, saving us from the boring outcome that most had resigned themselves to.

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Rollins celebrated his victory on the stage, swinging the WWE Championship around like a 5 year old with a plastic guitar. This massive surprise moment was wrestling at it’s best, both engaging and surprising, and I was surrounded by friends. It was a good day.

Next: The Ring Post

* In response to a message left by an anonymous reader that disputes my chronology on this, I’ll quote Reigns’ wikipedia entry:

After the dissolution of The Shield in June 2014, Reigns (now a singles wrestler) was quickly inserted into world title contention that month, and he headlined the next two pay-per-views; the first when, two weeks after Rollins’ betrayal, Reigns won a battle royal on the June 16, 2014, episode of Raw to gain a spot in the vacant WWE World Heavyweight Championship ladder match at Money in the Bank, but failed to win the title during the main event match. 

You claim that Roman spent time in a long feud with The Big Show before his title contention, but that feud took place in 2015, long after the aforementioned stint at the top of the card.

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Wrestling Contains Multitudes

When I say “wrestling contains multitudes,” that’s not just a cue for you to roll your eyes, it’s my way of saying there are more than a few kinds of pro wrestling.

If you’re familiar with any one kind, it’s likely what WWE does, which is boringly called WWE-style. There are some outliers (flippy high-fliers such as Kalisto and Neville and ) but WWE ‘superstars’ (they’re not called ‘wrestlers’) tend to be large, buff alpha-male looking dudes who you’d guess spend their whole lives downing protein shakes and lifting weights.

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And those WWE stars tend to have very similar matches that mix striking attacks, rest-holds, submission locks and bodyslams. WWE may sign ‘hybrid’ athletes that can perform death-defying flips like Seth Rollins or have a wider build like Kevin Owens, but the style is kept somewhat similar to make a reliable show that fans can tune in for and get what they expect. Like how McDonalds Big Macs are the same in California and Kentucky.

As of July 19, the company’s main broadcast programs: Raw (Mondays, 8 to 11 pm, USA), SmackDown (8 to 10pm, USA) will both air live, each with their own separate rosters.

But once you get outside of WWE, you see that there’s a variance of what wrestling can be. Chikara is the most glaringly different promotion, as its characters are far more cartoonish. Some talent wrestle under Ant personas (i.e. Fire Ant), wearing antennaed masks. 

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One of their recent champions is Princess KimberLee, whose appearance resembles a generic Disney Princess costume, and Hallowicked, a man who wrestles in a costume that bears resemblance to a pumpkin, recent won the title from KimberLee. I’ve seen one Chikara show live, it was in a recreation center in the Bronx, possibly the smallest venue I’ve seen wrestling performed at.

New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) is the most successful promotion in the east, and many of its talents fight using a technique called Strong Style. It emphasizes strikes that often look (and sometimes are) extremely painful. NJPW wrestlers are broken down into two divisions, Juniors and Heavyweights.

I’ve never seen NJPW live, but I have seen some of its athletes perform live, thanks in part to a working relationship with the Ring of Honor (RoH) promotion. Not only did I see RoH’s Supercard of Honor (its event that takes place during the same weekend and in the same city as WWE’s Wrestlemania), but I also attended some of its TV tapings at Terminal 5, a concert venue in New York City.

Possibly my favorite wrestling on TV is the non-traditional Lucha Underground. While other companies I’ve referenced are year-long touring promotions, Lucha tapes its episodes in the same location, a dilapidated-looking warehouse in the working-class neighborhood of Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. Its episodes are presented in seasons, and unlike all other wrestling, there are off-seasons where it doesn’t air new episodes.

Whereas WWE is helmed by insane manic millionaire Vince McMahon who is also an on-screen performer, Lucha Underground does things a little differently. LU lists film-maker Robert Rodriguez and reality tv show mastermind Mark Burnett as an executive producers, but its on-screen ringmaster is the bloodthirsty Dario Cueto, who is portrayed by actor Luis Fernandez-Gil. 

Cueto is a great amalgamation of every trope of a wrestling promoter (shamelessness, greasy hair, greed and loves of violence and manipulating his performers), and his long-term storyline of his caged little brother made for excellent television.

Lucha is also the oddest bird of the flock because of some things it borrows from Lucha Libre wrestling. Instead of a tag team division where wrestlers compete in 2 on 2 matches, Lucha Underground has a Trios division comprised of teams of three wrestlers. LU is also completely OK with inter-gender wrestling, something that is understandably not everyone’s cup of tea. Once you realize that these are all performers and nobody wants to harm each other, it’s easier to watch. 

This practice is partially a result of the show not giving women their own separate championship title for women to fight for, so they challenge for all of the company’s titles. One of the best matches of the year so far was an NO MAS! match featuring Lucha Underground’s Sexy Star and Mariposa, a bloody grudge match that was set up over a number of months, and referenced Mariposa torturing a captive Sexy Star, a moment we never actually saw.

And at the very bottom of this list is the last thing I would recommend to a new viewer: TNA, also known as Total Nonstop Action. TNA presents a weekly program called Impact, which is taped in a location called The Impact Zone, a soundstage in Orlando’s Universal Studios theme park. Some defend TNA, but most malign it for the years of sloppy booking, overpaying too-old WWE talents and poor production quality. 

While the first of those charges no longer stands, the show’s current announcers are arguably the worst on modern wrestling television and the crowds that attend Impact tapings always detract from the product because TNA can’t even sell tickets to tapings. Its roster is filled with talents who deserve better, including former WWE talents Drew Galloway, Ethan Carter, and Bobby Lashley, who are all shining here more than they did in WWE.

Next: Surprises Abound

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Internet Friends, Abandonment and Wrestlemania 30

At the end of the 2014 Royal Rumble, I was dejected that Daniel Bryan wasn’t the surprise thirtieth entrant, and that the most obvious ending happened, with the boring adonis of a wrestler Batista (you know him as Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy) going over.

This was yet another WWE live event I watched from a bar, a bar that also included David Shoemaker, arguably the most prolific wrestling writer in the world. I talked to Shoemaker a couple of times throughout the night, and even offered to sell him my tickets to Wrestlemania 30, as the currently scheduled headline match of Randy Orton vs Batista already bored me into submission. It made no sense, as audiences hated both wrestlers, and a battle of heels (villains) made no sense as the headlining fight for what should be the biggest event in WWE history.

Shoemaker didn’t take my offer, and why would he? the guy would get floor tickets for free through his job at Bill Simmons’ Grantland. The next night, though, I got more reason to sell my tickets as reports broke that CM Punk left the WWE. I bought the ticket to Wrestlemania because I’d never been to one, nor had I ever been to its host-city, New Orleans. “Punk could still return,” I said multiple times over the months leading up to Wrestlemania. “It could all be a work,” I would plea, hoping that Punk’s disappearance was planned.

But during the months between January’s Royal Rumble and April’s Wrestlemania, plans changed. Chants of “Dan! iel! Bry! an!” and his “YES!” from the audience became so loud and unstoppable that the WWE reportedly removed Bryan from a scheduled rematch with Sheamus (who beat him in a record time in 2012) and placed him in a “win and you’re in the main event” match against WWE’s real life Executive Vice-president of Talent, Live Events and Creative, Paul Levesque, better known as Triple H.

But I had another reason to go to Wrestlemania: meeting internet friends. Some of them I met online through a podcast, and I’d wind up meeting two of that show’s hosts and a few of its fans, and have more than few drinks with them all. I’d also wind up walking around Bourbon street with another wrestling friend I made on Twitter.

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That was all secondary to the wrestling, though, and did I see a lot of wrestling. It all started with Supercard of Honor VIII, an event put on by Ring of Honor, an indie wrestling promotion. It took place in Louisiana’s John A. Alario Sr. Event Center, a high school gymnasium that didn’t exactly fit a fight card that included a Ladder War match. And then came Wrestlemania, where I sat in a decent seat in the Superdome, next to a young kid and his mother who didn’t have a damn to give.

Over the next four hours, he and I sat amazed by events including Daniel Bryan winning the WWE title, Cesaro winning the first ever Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal and the biggest shocker of them all, Brock Lesnar beating the Undertaker and breaking The Dead Man’s undefeated streak. Strangers who saw Lesnar on a plane asked me what this giant viking of a man was doing here, and I said “oh he’s a part time wrestler who is definitely going to lose. 

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Why was I so sure? The Undertaker’s streak was important and valuable to the company, so why give that win to someone who isn’t a true employee? It’s not a great investment.” So when Lesnar did the unthinkable and ripped the streak out of the company, the shock was palpable, and reported in mainstream media.

But my favorite moment of the night happened during the Vickie Guerrero Divas Championship Invitational, a bout that was fought by 14 women wrestlers, who were fighting for what many, derisively, called The Butterfly Belt. And how could anyone not laugh at the lower-back-tattoo-looking pink, purple and sparkling championship belt. It was rightfully seen as a symbol of all that was wrong with how WWE handled female talent, and has thankfully since been replaced.

But that kid I was sitting next to, he hated AJ Lee, the then Divas Champion. A diminutive superstar who was better at giving promos than being a convincing fighter, AJ Lee was hated by every single opponent in the match, and didn’t even need to submit or be pinned to lose her title. So the kid next to me says he hates her, and that he’ll kill himself if she wins. I warn him, “that’s serious language, man. I think she has a pretty damn good shot at winning, you might want to think before making this kind of promise.

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Why was I sure about AJ? Just like with Lesnar, I had a logical argument. None of her opponents had any storyline momentum going into this event, and I had a hunch that meant Ms. Lee would win, and that the following night, Paige (the women’s champion from WWE’s developmental program) would be called up and start a feud. The latter in fact came true, and Paige won the title the same night. 

And I was right about AJ winning as well, as she applied her signature Black Widow submission hold on Naomi (one of the more athletic competitors) and then moved Naomi’s own arm, slapping her hand down to deceive the referee into thinking that Naomi had submitted. It was a deliciously concocted finish, and I had a good laugh because my new friend was so angry that I was right. I told him it was OK, though, that he didn’t have to keep his promise.

I don’t recall this story because I saw what a child couldn’t, but because he was a more pure fan than I. He cheered for the heroes and booed the villains.

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At its best, wrestling can enable these moments to be created. Just like any sport, drama or comedy can. Just like how people debate how Breaking Bad should end, or if the Warriors deserve to lose following their showing of poor sportsmanship in game six of the 2016 NBA Finals. Which is why I don’t begrudge Vince McMahon for eschewing the term Pro Wrestling in exchange for the Sports Entertainment label he created.

Next: Wrestling Contains Multitudes

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Meet Me Halfway, in the Middle of a Broken Fourth Wall

I recently marked the fifth anniversary of being a regular viewer of WWE’s Monday Night Raw. I didn’t talk publicly about being a pro wrestling fan until about half-way through my current run, but on Monday, June 27, 2011, it pulled me back in.

I was lucky enough to channel surf upon one of the most interesting moments this business saw in years. My days as a wrestling fan began in high school, and lay dormant until that night. I kept up with the company by checking results online, but never saw anything that intriguing.

And then CM Punk, a wrestler covered in tattoos and visibly not on steroids, sat cross-legged at the top of Monday Night Raw’s entrance ramp and delivered a monologue that’s now known as “The Pipe Bomb.”

He performed this speech at a man lying ‘unconscious’ in the ring, who had just been put through a wooden table. That man was no ordinary wrestler, but John Cena, the one current WWE employee that regular civilians might recognize. 

This was before Cena’s turns in Trainwreck and Sisters, when the guy was simply the jorts-clad hulking Ken doll of a man that sat comfortably on top of the ranks of WWE wrestlers.

Why was this CM Punk monlogue so important? How did it turn me from an interested party to a regular viewer? It’s because Punk broke the fourth wall into a billion splinters, as he declared:

I don’t hate you, John. I don’t even dislike you. I do like you. I like you a hell of a lot more than I like most people in the back.
I hate this idea that you’re the best. Because you’re not. I’m the best. I’m the best in the world. There’s one thing you’re better at than I am and that’s kissing Vince McMahon’s ass.

Up until this moment, many wrestlers had opposed Cena, and all told him they were better than Cena. Not only were they always proven wrong in the end, but none outted Cena’s success as a byproduct of Vince McMahon, the aging and insane decision-maker CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. By admitting this, Punk declared what most already knew: that the industry is not a sport, but a performance. 

This speech is such a milestone in the history of pro wrestling that it’s annotated on Genius. Punk’s words were so beloved because of the heaps of fans who had grown bored with Cena, who was then a rather vanilla, stale character that won so often that a LOLCENAWINS meme evolved.

By the time Punk ended his promo — his mic was cut off by a backstage producer — I was back in, and unbeknownst to even me, I was all in. Wrestling adapted to meet me mid-way. Through CM Punk, wrestling was finally ready to give viewers some credit and treat us like adults (though it wavers on the latter).

Over the next five years, CM Punk won and lost the WWE Championship twice, and left the company. He’s booked to debut in the UFC later this year, and a heavy underdog that I want to succeed even though he left.

In slightly less surprising news, John Cena would evolve into a remarkably more interesting wrestler.

I even got comfortable telling my existing friends that I watch pro wrestling.

Next: Death and Royal Rumble Eliminations

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Death and Royal Rumble Eliminations

I remember January 29, 2012 in two ways. As a gravely sad night for my family and yet another crazy night for pro wrestling.

At the time, the only way I could watch a PPV special event was to find an illegal and choppy stream online, as these monthly specials ran upwards of $45 and rarely delivered on their promises. So on that fateful evening, I planned to go to see the Royal Rumble PPV at a bar, a practice I’d only just heard of. Watch wrestling in a packed room with other fans? Sounded delightful.

And then we got the phone call with the news of my dad’s twin brother Pat passing away. It was gutting. Pat meant the damn world to me, and after getting that news, I certainly didn’t feel like going out. Staying at home with my parents felt damn more appropriate. My parents actually knew better, and encouraged me to go out to watch wrestling.

The only viewing party I could find took place at Highland Park, a bar on 34th and 3rd avenue that is no longer in business. I arrived late, the place was packed, not a single seat available, and that brought me down another level. As each match — and I don’t remember any except the Rumble itself — passed, I slowly calmed down.

And then the Rumble happened, and it’s the kind of match that necessitates an explanation. It starts with two wrestlers in the ring, and every 90 (or so) seconds, another enters the arena until 30 (except that time it was 40) have joined the match. Each wrestler’s theme music plays, they run to the ring and entrants are only eliminated by getting thrown over the top rope and having both feet touch the ground.

The Rumble’s rules lead to comedy (see Kofi Kingston’s inventive ways to avoid having his feet hit the ground), chaos (30 wrestlers in a single match?!), drama (the winner goes on to challenge for a championship in a main event at Wrestlemania) and often disappointment. Why disappointment? Because wrestling fans love to predict surprise entrants and winners, and that creates expectations that aren’t met.

In 2012, I and other fans at Highland Park were disappointed that the match was won by Sheamus, the pasty-as-fuck Irish brawler that many fans are bored with. We expected the returning Chris Jericho would win the match, which would then setup a dream match between the Jericho (an all-time great known for top-notch technical wrestling and a brilliance on the microphone) and CM Punk, the then-WWE Champ. When Jericho returned a few months prior, he worked a smiling and speechless gimmick until one Monday Night Raw when he said “This Sunday at the Royal Rumble, it is going to be the end of the world as you know it,” which everyone saw as a sign he would be challenging CM Punk, who called himself “The Best In The World.”

WWE, possibly aware that so-called “smart fans” believed Jericho would win, placed him in the finish of the Rumble against Sheamus. After a series of near-eliminations that found Sheamus repeatedly clinging to the ring’s ropes to stay in, the match ended with Jericho getting kicked off of the ring apron and onto the floor. The smoke from the celebratory was still clearing as those of us who thought we knew everything were scratching our heads wondering “Why did that happen?” (for many it wasn’t the first or last time).

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As a competitor and a performer, Sheamus’ stock wasn’t so low that fans shouldn’t have thought he had a chance, but the whispers of a storyline pointed the other way. And by this point, I had fallen into the mess of it all.

A bar filled with like-minded wrestling fans screaming at the top of their lungs at each and every turn was unlike anything I’d ever enjoyed. Reactions to all 30 of the Rumble’s entrants and its 29 eliminations leave no room for focus. I didn’t have a seat to my name, but the whole of the 2012 Royal Rumble defined escapist media for me. My thoughts turned back to the reality of my uncle’s passing during the subway train ride home. But I knew that watching wrestling with others was an experience I needed more of.

Next: Internet Friends, Abandonment, and Wrestlemania 30

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Yes, I Watch Pro Wrestling.

And well, that’s an understatement. I watch a lot of pro wrestling. From the WWE you’ve heard of to the radically different upstart Lucha Underground, I watch a ton of pro wrestling each and every week. I like it so much that I listen to podcasts about it, some are hosted by ex wrestlers and others are hosted by experts. I’ll even stay up very late or wake up equally early to watch an even that’s live in Japan.

At this point in my explanation, I have a feeling that I know what some of you are thinking. “How do you watch this carny stuff? You worked at the damn Metropolitan Museum of Art!” Some of you may even want to comment “you know it’s fake, right?” Well, I don’t come to your house and slap the remote out of your hand during The Bachelor, do I?

But as for why I watch wrestling? In short, it’s because pro wrestling is no one simple thing, and it’s endlessly complex. Sure, it’s a predetermined and somewhat choreographed performance that imitates bloodsport, but when done right it’s a drama that connects with decades of backstories. Pro wrestling also includes slapstick comedy, as evidenced by any WWE programming recorded during a federal holiday.

But yes, the combat element in pro wrestling; let’s talk about that. I’m not a big MMA fan, but when I watched last weekend’s UFC 200, I gained insight as to why I prefer pro wrestling. When two athletes square off and attempt to do actual harm to each other, the results are often boring, such as the moments where Daniel Cormier basically suffocated Anderson Silva by lying down on the man, in order to win. There is a story that can be told through the match, but in pro wrestling, the match exists in service of a narrative.

Also, pro wrestling isn’t really imitating real fights matches, in fact, the closest thing to pro wrestling is Street Fighter. You know, the video game. WWE wrestlers land strike after strike and move after move at a clip that would actually kill a man, but of course many of those attacks don’t land in the way they are meant to. Hell, in a scene out of Street Fighter II, modern day viking Brock Lesnar once attacked a damn car, and won.

It’s all a performance, and for the most part, performers don’t want to hurt each others. Punches are pulled and kicks narrowly miss. Heads roll on top on the ring instead of getting slammed against it. Once you acknowledge the false hits, pro wrestling becomes a lot less savage and a lot more watchable. Rare occasions allow for wrestlers who actually have problems with each other in rare life to have a match together, but that’s maybe 0.5 percent of all wrestling.

Oh, and there’s no off season (with the exception of Lucha Underground). There’s a good argument for wrestlers taking forced time off, but for now it’s there each and every week. There’s always something intriguing, even if there’s a ton of filler.

And oddly enough, one commonality in most wrestling fans is that we all took a break from it, and many came back. I started watching so I would understand what high school peers were talking about during WWE’s highly popular run in the late 90’s, and then came back one night in 2011 (see the next post for more about that).

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But this all comes up because these days I watch as much wrestling as addicts of any sport do, and this Friday, I will talk about the current WWE product on The Ring Post, a new podcast on The Incomparable network. And so to explain why I watch and encourage you to listen, here are the stories about how and why I got addicted to pro wrestling.

Next: Meet Me Halfway, in the Middle of a Broken Fourth Wall