Posts Tagged ‘Pro-Wrestling’

Why I Like Pro-Wrestling: WWE 30 Days Challenge Pt. 1

July 30, 2018

WILPW

 

1 – Favorite Current Wrestler

Overall, my favorite wrestler in the WWE right now is Seth Rollins. He continues to step it up every single time he is out there. He was great in the indies as Tyler Black but he has subsequently adapted his in-ring and promo style to the WWE style. Not only that but he is able to adapt to any opponent he gets thrown against. His recent iron man match against Dolph Ziggler (another great talent) was amazing to watch. His recent series against Finn Balor was just as entertaining. His moveset has evolved and expanded over time. His superplex into falcon arrow signature, in particular, is absolutely mind-blowing every time. I think that denying him the Curb Stomp finisher was actually a good thing as it allowed him to add several other finishers to his arsenal. I also don’t buy the “Seth Rollins is Dangerous” rumor that Brett Hart started a while ago. He is a good worker and, if anything, he needs to be a little kinder to his own body which I think he has recently done better at. His versatility as both face and heel makes me excited to see what becomes of him next.

Runner-up: The Miz who has some of the best promos in the company and he is consistently hilarious and great in the ring. He is probably one of the best homegrown WWE performers of all-time. I cannot wait to see him face Daniel Bryan again at last. Honestly, it was hard to choose between him and Seth.

 

2 – Favorite Current Female Wrestler

My favorite woman on the main roster right now is Asuka. I love the Japanese style when it comes to women’s wrestling especially since it has been cited by many great current female wrestlers as an early influence. The introduction of Asuka stepped up NXT and her main roster introduction was appropriately grand. She performs in the strong style and everything looks like it may have killed her opponent but reportedly it does not feel too bad at all. She comes off as a badass but I love everything about her aesthetic. She grins as she kicks her opponent’s ass and it was established early on that when she smiles she is to be feared. She is also notoriously hard to pin down. She wears a spooky mask to the ring but also wears bright colors and dances during her entrance. I love the contradictions. Her in-ring style is also both brutal and wild so she looks like a tornado going to town. She is just the right combination of striker, technician, and flier to have a good match with anybody. Some may criticize it, but I actually really like her broken English promos. The words come out more slowly which makes her sound more menacing and her words are more memorable. Afterall, nobody is ready for Asuka!

Runner-up: I absolutely love Bayley. She is a solid in-ring competitor who only gets better with time. More than that, she makes me smile. I cannot help but smile as she makes her entrance and gets excited about every little thing. Especially knowing that she is living her dream.

 

3 – Favorite Wrestler from the Past

When I was a kid, I would have said Shawn Michaels but now I will pick Mick Foley every time. I remember when my best friend excitedly told me about Mankind when he first appeared in the WWF. “There is this new dude named Mankind who is insane and he rips his own hair out and he can’t feel pain!” When I saw him for myself, I was definitely interested. He was different from a lot of the rest of the roster and, like the Undertaker, he had a psychological element as well. When the character of Mankind merged more with the real-life story of Mick, he added both reality and comedy to the formula. He resurrected both his original character Cactus Jack and also brought to life a version of his childhood character Dude Love. The Three Faces of Foley were an absolute joy to watch and just about every segment was improved by Foley’s presence. His promo abilities are legendary as he used a brilliant mind for ring psychology and great charisma to create some awesome moments. He also sacrificed his body in some of the most memorable moments in the WWF years. As his body started to break down, he started to use those promo skills in other ways. He became an on-screen authority figure where he shifted to a more comedic character and he was great at that too. To this day, when he visits I get a big smile on my face.

Runner-up: CM Punk will always hold a special place in my heart especially now that I understand more fully his departure and where he was back then and where he is now. He just had so much charisma and fire. I cannot decide whether I liked him better as a smirky heel or a die-hard, smirky babyface.

 

4 – Favorite Female Wrestler from the Past

I was a huge fan of AJ Lee. She was such a fast learner and she never bought into the “Diva” stuff around her. She evolved over time and was able to easily fit into whatever role she was given. I loved the work she did with Daniel Bryan, as their segments taught both of them how to do better promo and character work. Their breakup was the start of the start of her “unstable” gimmick where she slowly lost her mind over time. Eventually, she moved from being “just a valet” to getting to wrestle again on the main roster. She proved that she was willing to work hard to learn more moves and better in-ring psychology. She made her major wrestling re-debut when she started to trash Total Divas which I loved her for because I hate Total Divas. They could have played her as a cowardly heel but she backed up her words and repeatedly wrecked her opponents. When she developed the Black Widow submission finisher, she instantly cemented her spot as my favorite female character at the time. Her crazy gimmick (a reflection of her real-life bi-polar disorder) always kept me guessing as to where she was going next. She had a short career in the WWE but, in her own words, she accomplished all of her goals.

Runner-up: Kharma was an interesting character for the few months she was part of the WWE. She debuted at a time when I had been watching a lot of TNA Wrestling so I was familiar with the performer. She was the proto-Nia Jax but with a crazy gimmick similar to AJ Lee. She did not say much of anything but she laughed as she pancaked every woman on the roster. Best of all, she got to beat the crap out of the Bellas. I am loving seeing her on GLOW on Netflix now.

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Kevin Owens

April 12, 2018

WILPW

On a sweltering June 22 in 2013, I drove down to the Canton area of Baltimore, an area I never hang out in even though it is close to Fells Point (an area I used to hang in). I got out of my car and headed into the DuBurns Arena which was an indoor soccer venue but is now a roller derby spot. I was happy to get in out of the heat but I was super excited to see my very first in-person pro-wrestling show. I had been a fan of World Wrestling Entertainment for over a decade but I was there for a tiny company called Ring of Honor. At the time, I had branched out to watch ROH’s television show because they had recently made a deal with Sinclair Broadcasting. (Yes, sinister right-wing organizations seem to back sports entertainment for some reason) The new product reinvigorated my love for sports entertainment and one of the reasons I was there was SCUM.

The company’s big storyline at the time was that the core of the company was being attacked from within by a group called SCUM (Suffering, Chaos, Ugliness, and Mayhem). For the start of that storyline, the leader of the group was a guy named Kevin Steen. That day, I had the joy of seeing him live as he went up against not yet broken Matt Hardy. I had already become a fairly big fan of Steen at the time. I knew he was relatively new on the scene but he had already been through a lot of rough matches. At the time, the independent scene of pro-wrestling was way into over the top hardcore matches and Steen was able to do that as well as have actual technical matches. He had also mastered being the bad guy who has a point. His main gripe with ROH at the time was that they did not like him and were gunning for him instead of honoring him as a champion.

The real bread and butter to Steen’s career with independent companies were his experiences with a performer by the name of El Generico. El Generico was a masked wrestler played by Syrian-Canadian Rami Sebei. The two formed a tag team at some point and competed in both Ring of Honor and Pro-Wrestling Guerilla (and other places). The classic image of a skinny guy and a husky guy teaming up and their obvious skill and chemistry made them a memorable team. They won championships together before Steen betrayed Generico which led to a number of brutal matches against each other. They had matches where I could have sworn they killed each other. Steen and Generico, who were still friends in real life, were able to be absolutely brutal to each other and Steen carried that brutality forward into his career.

Flash forward to 2014 and I was overjoyed to find out that Steen was joining the WWE’s “farm team” NXT. While many performers are repackaged (get new characters) when they enter the WWE system, all they really did for Steen was to change his last name to Owens. At first they wanted him to ditch the t-shirts and shorts look and wear a singlet or tights but they quickly changed their minds when he forced the issue. They allowed him to wear black shorts with a black shirt and, at the last minute, he wrote out his initials on his shirt with athletic tape. And thus, his new persona of KO was born. When his old friend Generico (now renamed and unmasked as Sami Zayn) became champion, they picked up where they left off but for a new audience. When Owens forced his way onto the main roster by obliterating the uber-popular John Cena, I was super excited all over again.

Within the confines of the story, I always hated Steen but strictly from a fan perspective, I immediately liked him. He has a build that is very different from traditional pro-wrestlers. He is a pretty husky dude but it just makes his strength and speed all the more amazing. Plus I can only watch so many oiled-up, musclebound guys in tights. The more things in pop culture that are opened up for different body types, the better. Kevin is the first person to admit that he is not your typical pro-wrestler but I see that as a strength. In a world where everybody else looks the same, your best bet is to stand out. For a while it seemed like there were only three types in mainstream WWE. That was Big Guy, Little Guy, and Woman but now all of that is changing.

Owens is also a really good when it comes to getting on the microphone. This is somewhat surprising considering that Owens comes from Quebec in Canada where English was his second language. As a young, French-speaking kid he actually learned to speak English by watching WWE broadcasts. He fell in love with sports entertainment and that passion as a fan encouraged him to learn a whole language in order to connect to it. Now, you would never know that English was not his first language. He is at once arrogant, cowardly, rude, and more importantly, he can be funny when he needs to be. He is really good at being a jerk while also being enormously entertaining. He is also very manipulative as he has now twice created a strategic alliance for his own selfish gains.

It has been a week since Wrestlemania, the biggest show that WWE has to offer. Leading up to the event, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn brutally attacked their boss, Shane McMahon, who also happens to be the son of the owner of the company they work for. After getting fired for that, they beat up their other boss, Daniel Bryan.  It has been a week since Wrestlemania, the biggest show that WWE has to offer. Leading up to the event, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn brutally attacked their boss, Shane McMahon, who also happens to be the son of the owner of the company they work for. After getting fired from Smackdown for that, they beat up their other boss, Daniel Bryan. They failed to win their jobs back at Wrestlemania last week and then the two of them were forced to face each other for a job on Monday Night Raw. (The two brands Raw and Smackdown are separate brands). After killing each other in that match, neither of them got a job. Who knows where Owens’ story will go next as he is now still fired (in storyline). I’m looking forward to where he ends up next because he has never disappointed.

Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: Raw 25

January 27, 2018

WILPW

As I have said repeatedly, I have been a fan of Pro-Wrestling/Sports Entertainment for about 22 years or so since I first watched WWF’s Mania, a Saturday morning recap show at my friend Farris’ house. The first match I can remember is Shawn Michaels vs. Salvatore Sincere (does anybody remember him?) for the World Heavyweight Title. Shawn made his opponent look like a sincere threat and showcased his legendary resilience in the ring. I remember the moment that I became a fan was when Shawn hit Sincere with his elbow off the top. When I saw Sweet Chin Music, I was already hooked. Not long after that, I was able to put an old television in my room so I could watch Monday Night Raw undisturbed. So, I basically started to watch right as the Attitude Era fully launched.

So, it was a no-brainer that I was going to watch the entirety of the 25th-anniversary episode of WWE’s Monday Night Raw. Raw has a rich history and one that I have been mostly present for. When I heard there was a pre-show on the network, I figured I would watch that too. I fired up the network for the second time that day (after catching up on NXT and the first Mixed Match Challenge episode). I usually skip pre-shows because it is a lot of talking with few actual promos and maybe one match. There was Renee Young, David Otunga, and Joe Rosenberg (Who?). Otunga and Young shared a lot of their favorite Raw memories while Rosenberg fanboyed. It was kind of pleasant to watch a lot of the memories that I remembered. There were also short bits from Eric Bischoff, Bayley/Trish Stratus, and a few other brief moments.

After the preliminaries, Raw actually began and it started with Stephanie and Shane McMahon coming out together, apparently putting aside their feud temporarily. These two were a big part of Raw when I watched in my teen years. They acted gracious and thankful for all of the support of the fans. They were interrupted by Vince McMahon. His kids offered him a plaque funded by Gofundme (aren’t they millionaires in their own right?) and Vince cut an awesome heel promo on his kids and the fans. It was the classic villainous Vince. Which, of course, summoned his greatest foe Stone Cold Steve Austin who looked really in shape (although his jeans were a bit too tight). At this point, Stephanie McMahon knew what was up and seemed to evaporate between camera shots which made me laugh. Vince claimed to be a senior citizen now so Austin had to lay off. Instead, he offered up Shane as a sacrifice and then tried to appease Austin with beer (although it wasn’t Broken Skull IPA so he screwed up there). After a very surreal hug, Austin stunnered Vince and then gave a second one to Shane who really should have rolled out of the ring and retreated.

The pre-show had set up the return of the Acolyte Protection Agency card game this time with the APA, Rhyno, Heath Slater, and Ted Dibiase (who kept giving loans to Heath). As the night wore on, the game got bigger and bigger (which thankfully meant that JBL got fewer and fewer lines). MVP, Titus Worldwide, Natalya, Jeff Hardy, The Usos, and the New Day all joined the party eventually which made for some great trash talking. The joke here was that every time they cut to the game, Heath Slater was laying out crappy hands only to get beat and lose more money. This led to the so dumb it was funny line from Dana Brooke: “I crunched the numbers and you have lost a lot of money.” It’s nice to see Dana embrace the weird character she was given, I just wish she would wrestle in the spotlight again. She was on the cusp of winning the Raw Women’s title at one point. Finally, Heath won a hand by cheating which led to a match with Titus Worldwide and a 3D from the Dudley Boys. Rhyno also totally pushed Heath into the ring to sacrifice him to the Dudleys, probably as part of Rhyno’s ongoing mission to toughen up Heath. Come on, Rhyno, the guy’s got kids.

The matches were pretty good. We only got one women’s match with Alicia Fox and Nia Jax strangely teaming with Absolution against Asuka, Bayley, Sasha, and Mickie. It would have been nice to have at least two women’s matches during the course of the night since the division has become a big draw lately. Also, this is the go home show for their first Royal Rumble. There was the aforementioned Slayer/Rhyno vs. Titus/Apollo match which was really short but fun. Woken Matt Hardy faced off against Bray Wyatt and, although I love both characters, the match barely made an impression except that Bray finally won a match. There was a match between The Revival and Gallows and Anderson with DX and Finn Balor watching. The best match of the night was an Intercontinental title match between Roman Reigns and The Miz. Of course, The Miztourage was also at ringside. All four guys know each other pretty well by now and the match flowed really well. The Miz cheated every chance he got and won his 8th Intercontinental title.

What was basically the end of the show was a Degeneration X reunion with some funny bits between Shawn Michaels and Triple H who always had great comic timing. They brought out X-Pac and the New Age Outlaws and paid tribute to the fallen Rick Rude and Chyna. Then, for some reason, Scott Hall came out as Razor Ramon which was probably the most awkward thing of the night. Then Finn Balor came out with Gallows and Anderson and the former Kliq did the “too suite” gesture with them. It was kind of an approval of that splinter faction of The Bullet Club using the gesture that the Kliq first came up with. It was a weird moment but it sort of made sense. Then the Revival came out and got beat by Gallows and Anderson before getting finishing moves from most of DX. WWE needs to give the top guys a break and let them stretch their legs now that they are uninjured.

There was also a brief confrontation between Brock Lesnar, Kane, and Braun Strowman which was far too rushed. That was kind of a theme of the night. Anything having to do with the current roster felt rushed and too short. This was the go-home Raw for the Royal Rumble, one of the biggest shows of the year. It was also a celebration of the last 25 years. They absolutely nailed the showcasing of legends and characters from the last 25 years with skits and promos. It should have been the other way around. They should have used the opportunity to showcase the best of their roster while they probably had additional eyes. They should have sprinkled little bits of nostalgia in between longer matches. There was a missed opportunity when they did not have a match with Goldust in it, a character that was born 22 years ago. They could have shifted a lot of the skits and promos to the pre-show instead of basically making it a cross between The Chris Farley Show and a clip show. Only one champion wrestled throughout the night and that is a bit weird.

Overall, it was an enjoyable night. It was nice to see a lot of the performers of the past alive and well. It would have been nice if they had done more with the women of the past but the night already felt cramped. The show was just about exactly what I thought it would be. I knew it was going to be a nostalgic love letter mostly to the Attitude Era. It was also a reminder of why I am glad we eventually left the Attitude Era and why I am glad we are not going back. The night awakened memories of sitting on my floor and watching Raw is War which made me tired at school the next day. The Royal Rumble is shaping up to be really fun and will be a return to the WWE’s present and it will hopefully shake up the landscape a bit.

Media Update 7/6/17

July 6, 2017


Wonder Woman (2017)

I had been wary about seeing this movie because of the horrible job that DC Comics has been doing with their movies as opposed to what Marvel is doing right now. I am not a fan of the darker, edgier tone combined with muted colors and muted acting. Believe it or not, Suicide Squad was actually a step in the right direction. So I hemmed and hawed but heard fantastic reviews not only from Rotten Tomatoes but from independent voices I follow on the Internet. So this past July 4th weekend, I stepped into a theater on a whim and sat down and caught an afternoon showing. I am very pleased that I did. Wonder Woman was never really a hero that I connected with. I connected more with Wonder Girl. Still, it was an iconic character who finally got a live-action movie beyond the pilot for the TV show. Gal Godot was great. I have only seen her in Fast and Furious movies but she poured everything into this role and really embodied a Wonder Woman I felt I could finally connect with. Chris Pine played Steve Trevor with just the right tone. There were laughs, sad moments and plenty of action. It also had a lot to say about gender roles, forgiveness and accepting the flaws in a person and hoping their strengths ultimately win out. I wholeheartedly recommend it but I will probably not be seeing Justice League (at least, that is what I say right now).


Glow

I think it has been well-documented how much I love pro-wrestling so predicting that I would watch this Netflix show would have been a no-brainer. Throw in that I already knew that the show starred Alison Brie and had cameos of some of my favorite wrestlers and I was eagerly awaiting the premiere date. The show is really great and it captures the feel of a fledgling pro-wrestling promotion trying to get off the ground. It also charts a whole lot of actresses who know nothing about the business, learning the art of pro-wrestling. This is great for the viewer who does not know this stuff because they learn along with the cast. For the pro-wrestling fans, there are great cameos from John Morrison, Joey Ryan, Lauren James, The Addiction and more. We watch these ladies train to put on a show while dealing with their personal issues in a very real way. There are also debates on the show between style and substance and also simple story and complex motivation which mirror several different periods in pro-wrestling. All in all this show pays tribute to the real ladies of the first seasons of GLOW and what it must have taken to get to where they could try and elevate women’s pro-wrestling to its place in the mainstream. I definitely recommend it and if you are not a pro-wrestling fan I think you can still get a lot out of it.


Blood Drive

I love a little bit of grindhouse and this show has grindhouse in spades. In post-apocalyptic 1999, oil prices have skyrocketed and resources are scarce due to a cataclysmic event. Society has become brutal as the cities struggle to remain civilized while psychopaths and mutants roam the countryside. Behind it all there is a bigger conspiracy to unravel. In the middle of it all, a determined woman is forced to pair with a cop on a deadly race across the country in a car fueled by blood instead of gas. The show is full of insane characters, brutal violence, and twisted humor. Each episode so far focuses on a new setting and the two main characters trying to escape danger and make it to the next finish line. If they reach the finish line last, they are dead so they must escape cannibals, monsters and the other racers to get there in time. I have only seen a few episodes but so far even the most horrific characters are really amusing. I definitely recommend this if you are a fan of gore and fun action.

Music of the Week:
Stereopony – Hitohira No Hanabira

The Front Bottoms – Funny You Should Ask

Kim Boekbinder – HBIC

Ween – Voodoo Lady

Selena Gomez – Bad Liar

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Women in Combat”
– I started watching Blue Bloods Season 7
– I continued Arrow Season 5
– I continued The Flash Season 3
– I continued Supergirl Season 2
– I continued Agents of Shield Season 3
– I started Little Witch Academia Season 1
– I watched some more Glitter Force

Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: The Lingo

September 17, 2016

WILPW

Since I started this part of my blog, I have used a certain language that is unique to the sports entertainment world. It is cobbled together from the early days of pro-wrestling and incorporates a lot of carny slang designed to confuse the fans if they overhear it. Gradually, as the internet became a thing, this language was learned and deciphered by the fans. I figure I have been using it enough both here and on my twitter that I should explain it a little for the layperson. Today we will explore two dichotomies that exist in the sports entertainment world.


Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens are probably the best current example of Face vs. Heel

Babyface vs. Heel


Bayley is definitely a big time babyface.

These are probably the two terms I used the most when talking about sports entertainment. A babyface or face basically boils down to ‘good guy’. Although, it can be a little more complicated than that. A babyface does not need to be a good person or a role model. A babyface usually fights for what is right. More importantly, a babyface fights for the fans and earns their respect one way or another. There is a general code that babyfaces go by. In general, they shake hands, they fight hard and they do not cheat unless their opponent cheats first. Of course, there always exceptions to even these loose guidelines.


Ricky Steamboat was definitely another example of a white meat babyface.

There used to be something called a white meat babyface. They were paragons of virtue and always did the right thing no matter what. Hulk Hogan is probably the most well known example of this phenomenon. He told everyone to say their prayers and take their vitamins before it stopped being cool. Eventually, the business realized that nobody, not even fictional characters can be perfect. Now, babyfaces and other characters in sports entertainment are done in shades of gray.


Brock Lesnar: Total Heel

Heels are bad guys and usually the villains of the story. You cannot have babyfaces without heels just like you cannot have light without dark. Generally, heels are not card-carrying villains. It is important that they have a reason for doing the bad things they do. It does not have to be a good reason or even a logical reason. All that is required is that they believe that they are doing the right thing. They will fight against the fans because the fans just do not understand or, in the heel’s mind, the fans are cheering for the wrong person. Heels spend most of their time doing everything in their power to make fans hate them. We may love to hate them but we still hate them. The psychology of a match depends on the actions and reactions between the hell and the face.

Work vs. Shoot

We all know that wrestling is ‘fake’. John Stossel told us ages ago and Vince McMahon admitted it when the World Wrestling Federation became World Wrestling Entertainment. While the athleticism and bodily risk is real, the storylines are written in a collaborative system. A lot of people have a hand in creating a performer’s character and guiding their storylines.


Thankfully the Higher Power storyline was a work or most of the WWE roster would have been sacrificed to Satan by now.

When we say something is a work, we are acknowledging that what is being shown is make believe. It is all part of the planned and written storyline. For example, a worked injury is when a performer either fakes an injury or fakes the severity of an injury. For instance, sometimes they will ‘break somebody’s arm’ to allow them to leave the tour and get some shoulder surgery. Most storylines are a work. When something is a work, you can better control the crowd’s emotions and the performers’ actions.


The shoot angle in my example below actually happened.

On the other hand, a shoot is when things get real. You see these performers might be playacting but they are also real people behind the costumes. They have real feelings and do real things. For example, say a performer sleeps with another’s girlfriend in real life. A shoot would be when that real life conflict is used in the storyline. Shoot can also refer to elements of a character that are also true of the real performer. Due to the nature of the business, it is hard to tell what is a work and what is a shoot for sure. However, a good indicator is the appearances of a storyline in actual news sources.

Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: AJ Styles

February 29, 2016

WILPW

I knew I wanted to write another one of these but I was suffering from too many ideas. I thought about doing a post on Daniel Bryan since it would be kind of timely. However, I am still a little too emotional to cover Daniel Bryan at the moment. I have a lot of other ideas but let’s go with a bright and shining star that is just now getting noticed by a lot of people but who I have known for quite some time now. Let’s talk about “The Phenomenal One” AJ Styles.

On January 24, 2016 the WWE held their annual Royal Rumble event. The Royal Rumble is a payperview where big event matches that often starts or furthers some of the biggest storylines of the year. The event is the official start to the Road to Wrestlemania as it starts a countdown to the biggest show of the year (in the WWE Universe). The crown jewel of this event is the Royal Rumble match itself which involved 30 performers competing in one match. This year the match stipulations were announced that the winner would immediately become the Heavyweight Champion of the WWE. Every year in the match there are surprise entrants but this year was the biggest surprise of them all. Entrant number three: AJ Styles.

Now let’s take it back a bit and explain just who AJ Styles is. At least, let me explain my experiences with him. Back in 2005 I was getting a little bored with WWE’s product, not knowing that business was about to pick up again. For the first time in my life I started to cast about for some other pro-wrestling product to watch. I knew that WCW was dead but was there something else out there? There was. Total Nonstop Action had started up and I found it on Spike TV pretty easily. Thankfully I had missed their darkest days but I was just in time for some of their best years. Part of the best part of those years was AJ Styles.

The X-Division of TNA Impact was amazing. It was full of high-flying, technically proficient and innovative performers who were all pretty young. Up until then I was used to the WWE style which had a lot of drama and tension but less flash or variation. AJ Stlyes knew the limitations of his body and seemed to somehow exceed them. The arms race within TNA forced him to innovate his style and moveset at an alarming pace to keep his spot. He was super over (popular) on TNA television and payperviews and was almost immediately one of their top stars.

Styles then worked with Total Nonstop Action through some great years and then some really bad years. Unfortunately, the company continued to hemorhage money, fans and good will. For whatever reason (and I refuse to speculate or spread rumors), Styles left what was now known as Impact Wrestling, ending a 12 year relationship. At that point he became one of the hottest free agents in pro-wrestling. The WWE would have been smart to snap him up right there and maybe they tried. Styles immediately hit the indy scene and kind of settled in at New Japan Pro Wrestling where he joined The Bullet Club, a hugely popular faction in Japan and among knowledgeable fans throughout the rest of the world.

He put on high quality matches with all sorts of people in Japan and he also came back and put on five star matches with organizations like Ring of Honor here in the United States. Unfortunately, to many fans he simply fell off the face of the Earth because it’s not exactly easy to watch Japanese matches at a whim. Also, if somebody disappears off of cable television wrestling shows they are just gone to most people. I saw a little bit but unfortunately he mostly disappeared for me. I saw him a bit on Ring of Honor television but that was it. Then the rumormills began saying that he and the Bullet Club were coming to the WWE. (Although one of them was already there)

So now he has signed a WWE contract and has already competed in a whole bunch of matches. In fact, he competed against “Y2J” Chris Jericho and beat him in two out of three high profile matches. Now he and Jericho (a WWE and WCW veteran) have formed a tag team and are competing on television in the lead up to Wrestlemania. Now here’s where I get real. While AJ Styles is a great performer in a tag team, his shining moments have come from being a singles wrestler. My hope now is that the WWE will trust his eighteen year career and let him show the world while he still can. Daniel Bryan just ended a sixteen year career because of injury and he barely got a chance to succeed. Don’t do the same with AJ.

Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: Mick Foley

January 10, 2016

WILPW

 

As I sit here wearing my brand new Viking Hall t-shirt, I’ve been thinking about the world of Extreme. Speaking of Extreme, we just passed an anniversary that’s very special to me at least in the way of the world of sports entertainment. We’ll get to that very special date in a bit. First, I want to start at the beginning. I want to tell you about one of my personal heroes and a legend in sports entertainment and in life. I’m talking about Cactus Jack. I’m talking about Mankind. I’m also talking about Dude Love. But really, I’m talking about Mick Foley. He’s one of the big reasons I kept being a fan through the end of the previous century and why I keep giving the WWE in particular the benefit of the doubt. But I said that I would begin at the beginning but that means the beginning of my experience.

 

 
I first heard of Mick Foley when he was performing under his Mankind persona. More specifically, I mean his heel role as a deranged basement dweller. My best friend Farris, who introduced me to watching WWE, told me about this guy he had seen premiere. He was crazy, he wore a mask, he ripped his own hair out and he couldn’t feel pain. I was intrigued. When I finally saw him out there in the ring I was even more intrigued. Pretty much every other performer out there was muscle-bound or lithe and fast. Here was a guy who was very rough around the edges and strange. Little did I know that I was becoming intrigued with something that Foley himself put a lot of work into. He read psychology and somewhat based his character on Hannibal Lecter. He debuted and almost immediately went after the Undertaker.

 

 
As he continued to fight in the WWF, I was interested but to be honest I wasn’t that interested. I was way into Shawn Michaels and Undertaker and soon enough Steve Austin and although he was interesting, he was a bad guy and I was in a period of my life where that mattered. Then the atittude era hit and wrestling became way more fun. It was no longer an exciting Saturday Morning cartoon. It was still exaggerated but it felt a little more “real” somehow. That feeling really hit home when Mankind sat down for an interview with the legendary Jim Ross.

 

 
That interview weaved together elements of the Mankind character with elements from Mick Foley’s own life. Never before had I seen a character in sports entertainment with so much backstory and heart. I had no idea at the time that a huge amount of that backstory was real and that Mrs. Foley’s baby boy was a guy after my own heart. From that moment on I was a Mankind fan and I was glued to Raw to see what happened next with him. What came next was that he got to evolve. He became his childhood creation of Dude Love. Who among us wouldn’t be thrilled to bring a childhood dream to life? Really? It was so different from what everybody else was doing.

 

 
Then he became Cactus Jack again but I had never heard of Cactus Jack before because I hadn’t watched WCW back then and I had, at that point, never even heard of ECW. Watching Mankind, Dude Love and Cactus Jack made it clear to me that Mick Foley was the real deal and could put on a hell of a match. This was still a tape world and I had no access so I stuck with his WWF career like glue. Mankind returned but he had now merged all three characters and he was even more entertaining to watch. Then the moment that shocked the world happened.

 

 
I watched Mick Foley fall twenty feet and then get up and fall about fifteen and then keep going. On purpose. For a match. I loved Foley and I was a huge fan before but at that point I was a Foley fan for life. I followed his career even closer at that point and I loved every step of it. Finally he became a babyface, an odd term applied to a guy who was missing teeth. He became more of a comic character but he still fought with heart and I loved him more and more. He had one of my favorite feuds of all time with The Rock and it was the first real experience I had where I loved both the babyface and the heel. It is here that we reach the anniversary of Mick Foley winning his first Heavyweight Championship. It happened on my birthday (December 29, 1999) but it wasn’t broadcast until about a week later. I felt like it was the greatest birthday present in the world.

 

 
It was around this time that he published his first autobiography and I grabbed it up. It was here where Mick Foley became a personal hero. His life, in his own words was an inspiration and I still have my first copy which fell apart from re-reading it over and over. It was here that I learned who Mick Foley was and how I connected to him not just as a character on television but as a human being. It was also here that I learned about ECW and his days in WCW. I tried to get footage where I could but it was still hard to do in 1999. I have since watched a lot of it and enjoyed every minute of it. I enjoyed his run in TNA as he wasn’t just the same old Foley in a different pond, he adapted. It seems he’s more or less retired from the big spotlight now but he’ll never be forgotten.

 

 
I’m still a big Foley fan but I follow him these days more as a writer than a performer. His insight into the writing and performing part of the business is invaluable. He’s so good at adapting and evolving with the times that he knows just the way to use new and current talent. I would watch him perform again in a heartbeat but I have a feeling he knows he’s better applying his mind to the business and elsewhere.

Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: Surprise!

December 15, 2015

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Storylines in fiction are interesting machines. They’re born of teams of writers who are utilizing performers and other assets to the best of their ability. They try to take what’s in their head and match it with the mission statement set out by the creator or showrunner while appealing to a wider audience. With sports entertainment the writers are joined by the performers who have some input as to what their characters are and where their characters are going. This creative input varies from performer to performer and creates a sort of politics as people jockey for screen time.

Not only that, but talent can suddenly become unavailable due to real life injuries and writers are sent scrambling to change storylines. As with any other form of fiction, it’s hard to shock the audience in a real and organic way because most people’s minds consider the possibilities of what’s coming next. They also risk alienating fans by jarring them out of their comfort zone. I happen love those moments when the writers and performers can surprise me and make me wonder what could happen next.

How about some examples?
Seth Rollins Defects from the Shield

Speaking of injuries, Seth Rollins was a breakout star this year but that might not have happened without his shocking moment over a year ago. In May 2014 the Shield was a dominant force in the WWE as a tight knit trio who stood together as brothers. The group consisted of the “Lunatic Fringe” Dean Ambrose, “The Juggernaut” Roman Reigns and “The Architect” Seth Rollins. On June 1 2014 the Shield was engaged in a war with their boss’ team Evolution. The Shield and Evolution had absolutely destroyed each other to the point that Batista had even walked out. It was easy to see that Evolution would need to add another member to their ranks and there were plenty of candidates. Then June 2, 2014 rolled around. Triple H came out to the ring with a smirk on his face and, like a sleeper agent suddenly coming to life, Seth suddenly wailed on his ‘brothers’ with a steel chair. I remember actually yelling “No!” at my television screen.

The moment ended up being great for everyone involved. The Shield had been a tight unit and, as with any good tag team, it was hard for each member to have singles success while part of a group. Seth Rollins became The Authority’s pet wrestler and eventually held the World Heavyweight title and United States title at the same time while the bosses pulled the strings for him. Dean Ambrose got even crazier and became a common man hero character whereas before he had been an antagonist with a screw loose. Roman Reigns became a bonafide superhero and fan favorite and even though he’s a big, musclebound guy he makes a lot of waves as an underdog. Growth comes from change and sometimes change is most effective as a sudden shock.
Brock Lesnar Ends the Streak

In my previous Why I Love Pro-Wrestling post I went on at great length about the legend of the Undertaker and how much I’ve loved his story. While I didn’t go into minute detail, one thing I left out was The Streak. Wrestlemania has long been described as WWE’s equivalent of the NFL’s Superbowl. It’s a yearly event where they try to put out their biggest matches, often ending or shifting storylines into a different gear. Wrestlemania is also partly responsible for the advent of the sports entertainment payperview event to complement a company’s television offerings. The Undertaker fought in his first Wrestlemania match against the legendary “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka and the Undertaker won. After that, the Undertaker went on to win every Wrestlemania outing and usually with supernatural flair. Every year the legend grew and every year they teased an end to The Streak. After twenty Wrestlemania victories it was beginning to look like he would retire before losing at Wrestlemania. Enter Wrestlemania 30 and “The Beast” Brock Lesnar.

Brock Lesnar is a monster speciment who first made his splash after a very, very short NFL career which ended up being a single preseason in 2004. With his build and demeanor it always seemed to me that he was more well-suited to fight than to play ball. He took the WWE by storm at a time when it desperately needed fresh blood. He became a crossover star when he fought for real in UFC and then returned to WWE to fight in even more scripted combat. At Wrestlemania 30 he returned and defeated the Undertaker. That wasn’t the shocking happening because, as I said, Lesnar was such a ferocious beast. What shocked me was that Lesnar beat Undertaker so badly. The supernatural powers that the Undertaker drew upon were nothing against the onslaught and it really helped Lesnar’s career.
Chris Jericho is Beaten by Dean Malenko

World Championship Wrestling was a titanic wrestling company and, like most titanic wrestling companies, it had more talent than it could deal with. They hired Chris Irvine aka Jericho to a fairly lucrative contract but they apparently hadn’t thought much beyond that. At that time, WCW was getting a lot of mileage out of its cruiserweight division. The formula was that they would use the admittedly aging big names to draw in crowds and keep them entertained with young, talented performers who were relatively unknown. The formula worked. Stars like Hogan and Savage were putting on less than stellar matches while upstarts like Jericho, Mysterio, Benoit and Dean Malenko were lighting up the place. Cruiserweights like Jericho pretty much did what he want because as far as the writers were concerned, their storylines didn’t matter.

Jericho was the ultimate blowhard and after he had won the Cruiserweight title from Dean Malenko he ridiculed Malenko constantly. Dean was on the injured list so Jericho didn’t fear any reprisal. Week after week and Jericho retained his title by hook or by crook and continued to belittle Malenko who was a great talent. Finally there was a battle royal to come up with a challenger for Jericho’s title. The battle royal was hard fought as Jericho stood by and mocked all of the competitors. Finally it came down to Cyclope and Juventud Guerrera and then Juvy jumped out of the ring and eliminated himself. What the !? Jericho entered the ring to face his opponent which is when Cyclope unmasked and it was Dean Malenko. Dean proceeded to beat the tar out of Jericho for every mocking statement and it elevated both stars if only for a moment.
The Montreal Screwjob

Hold on, don’t yell at me yet. I know this one wasn’t exactly planned and written with everyone’s best interests at heart. The Monday Night Wars were a brutal and cutthroat time in sports entertainment history and a lot of people did things they can’t ever take back. Both WWF and WCW were in heated battle and were constantly poaching talent from each other. All sorts of shenanigans were happening. Madusa jumped ship and showed up on WCW and dumped her WWF title belt in a trash can on live television. Rick Rude showed up on live television on WCW while still showing up on taped WWF programming. Both companies were looking for every chance they could find to screw each other over using the performers as pawns. In the middle of all this, the WWF was in dire financial straits and was starting to fear the reaper.

Brett “The Hitman” Hart was the World Heavyweight Champion and he was riding high. He was highly skilled and his family name was (and is) one of the most respected names in sports entertainment. The WWF had promised and signed Hart to a contract worth millions of dollars and they no longer had those millions of dollars. Vince McMahon allowed Brett to check in with WCW to see if they could offer him a comparable deal to let the WWF off the hook. WCW was definitely interested so it came down to those involved to decide when Brett would lose his title. Out of fear that Brett would be convinced to leave the company with the title, Vince changed the end of Hart’s match with Shawn Michaels. He had the ref ring the bell and screw Brett, letting him leave the company on a bad note.

Vince wanted to gloss over the event and move on but the fans wouldn’t let it go. Eventually, the WWF embraced the momentum and Vince transformed into an evil boss character. When that character went up against the anti-hero Steve Austin, every put upon employee saw their greatest fantasy being played out. The feud (and a few other stoy lines) brought the WWF out of its financial slump and eventually led to them winning the Monday Night Wars. All on that one shocking event.

Media Update 7/2/2015

July 2, 2015

I still haven’t really seen anything new and exciting. The summer is a bad time for me as I feel the heat and humidity take a lot out of me. I really do want to see Jurassic World and Inside Out and hopefully I will catch them during the long weekend. Strangely I’m also looking forward to Terminator Genisys a little because at least they’re trying something new. I also really like Ahnold and I want to see how he is returning to two different iconic roles from the Terminator franchise. It’s just that lately on the weekend I want to just lounge around and keep cool instead of venturing out and seeing movies. It’s also taken a toll on my writing though part of that is trying to birth a new Tabletop character for a new campaign.

Anyway, let’s talk some entertainment.

Rennaisance Rumble: Battle Stations

Wow, second week in a row talking about live performance. It’s also been a while since I talked about pro-wrestling so this really feels right. I went down to College Park last Sunday morning and, although I was a little sleepy from getting up early on a weekend, I met my brother Alex and his girlfriend in a dance studio. In the middle of the studio was a structure that always brings excitement to my core. It was a wrestling ring. Sure it was a crappy wrestling ring but it looked serviceable and it definitely did its job.

We were there to see a workshop performance for a pro-wrestling class taught by a friend of my brother’s. Right away I was totally into it as we were greeted by fun characters and a story line involving good guys taking on a small but evil empire. The whole thing couldn’t have been much longer than an hour but there was five or six short matches to showcase the trainees’ talents. We saw characters like Midnyte Karny, Meg Sam, The Man Who Feels No Pain, Simond “Mega Diamond” and “Paisan of Pain” Giuseppe… I’m sorry but I don’t remember all their names.

We cheered for babyfaces and booed heels and cringed at some very impressive bumps and some decent selling. Considering it was after twelve hours of training, I was very impressed. We also got to see some pre-taped promos which were amusing. Nobody was exactly setting the world on fire but with some more training there were definitely diamonds to might have been picked from the rough. The important thing is that everybody had heart, stayed safe and there was actually a lot of funny dialogue that kept the event moving. I look forward to seeing more from this company.

Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: Real Wrestlers

January 12, 2015

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Real Wrestlers

I have touched upon this before but I have great respect for High School, Collegiate and Olympic wrestling.  I cringe every time that I see or hear it referred to as “amateur wrestling”.  There is nothing amateur about what can often be a high-speed, physical chess game with a crowd watching.  I wrestled in middle school and high school and it was probably the most physically demanding thing that I have ever done.  Training to wrestle competitively is an exercise in conditioning and adding to your physical memory.  When you’re out there facing an opponent, you must pull the correct series of moves out of a mental Rolodex in order to win.  You must learn about leverage and at least a little about human anatomy and how to dominate another human being.  That’s why I call it “real wrestling”.

I am especially proud of my little brother who went to several local and state championships and dominated because he combined fitness with intelligence.  My own career paled in comparison because he truly had a passion for the sport.

That being said, I wanted to pay tribute to just a handful of the real wrestlers who decided to become sports entertainers when they retired from the sport. There are more guys than are contained in this list but I don’t want to take that much of your time up. By and large, those who were wrestlers first have a larger list of moves their capable of doing, adapt easier and have the best conditioning.  This makes them the best performers in the ring and if they are blessed to have charisma, they usually excel in the business.

Even those who have just dabbled in amateur wrestling did better than their bodybuilder co-workers.  To name just a few dabblers: Ric Flair, Mick Foley, The Rock and Owen Hart.  All of them wrestled in high school and are some of the best at putting a solid match together.  Compare them to guys like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior and you can see where the benefits of being a real wrestler come in.


Dolph Ziggler

I have three words about Real Wrestling’s effect on Dolph Ziggler’s in-ring style: Conditioning, conditioning and conditioning.  It really seems to me like the man could wrestle forever.  His athleticism is unquestionable and he portrays a vicious tenacity.  He is currently one of the best at showing pain in his body language and facial expressions and I bet he got a lot of practice during his real wrestling career.   After all, he was an All-Mid-American Conference champion three times and is second all-time in victories at Kent State.


Shelton Benjamin

Look at the bottom of this post to see who Shelton Benjamin first teamed with when he hit the mainstream.  The WWE immediately embraced Benjamin’s real wrestling career and brought him in as a trained tactician who had speed and agility on his side as well.  Benjamin’s career shone bright as he used a combination of kicks, high-flying and mat skills to take on opponents.  Unfortunately, he left the bright lights of the WWE when they dropped the ball but he still continues in Japan and independent promotions in the US.  He won the South Carolina State High School Championship two times and had a win-loss record of 122-10.


Jack Swagger

There is no questioning that Swagger was involved in real wrestling.  His build and the way he moves are clear indicators and he obviously understands leverage a lot.  There have been some bumps in the road of Jack Swagger’s career because he lacks some of the necessary charisma but nobody has ever questioned his skill or athleticism.  He does his best work when paired up with a mouthpiece so that he can do all of his talking in the ring.  He was a two-sport athlete at The University of Oklahoma but once he quit football he was an All-American.


Brock Lesnar

A controversial success story like no other, Brock Lesnar keeps taking the time to stop by and dominate the world of sports entertainment.  Brock Lesnar is a physical specimen and it shows with how easily he picks up and manages a human being.  Even with the power game he has had since day one, he has tried to update his list of moves every so often.  Unfortunately, this resulted in him blowing a shooting star press and landing on his head but everybody has setbacks.  I wish Brock would either stick around or leave sports entertainment but I like his current run as champ.  He was a two-time NJCAA All-American, 1998 NJCAA Heavyweight Champion, two-time NCAA All-American, two-time Big Ten Conference Champion and the 2000 NCAA heavyweight champion with a record of 106–5 overall in four years of college.


Kurt Angle

I have been pretty impressed by Kurt Angle since day one.  He showed up in the WWE during the late nineties at the height of the attitude era.  He became a heel because he was a legit athlete and was not afraid to tell everybody in the building at home about it.  His gold medal was shoved down our throats so much that we hated him for it.  However, looking back his accomplishments are amazing and completely impressive.  He is from a pretty exclusive club of real Olympic athletes and there aren’t many of them in the business.  It’s a shame his later career was marred a bit by drug abuse but he seems to be mostly past that and still outperforms younger guys. He is one of only four people to complete a Grand Slam in amateur wrestling (junior nationals, NCAAs, World Championships and the Olympics).


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