Posts Tagged ‘TNA’

Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: The Death of Kayfabe

November 18, 2017

WILPW


Al Snow gives his opinion.

In an earlier post, I described the magic of Kayfabe. For those who forgot and do not want to click back: Kayfabe is the old carny term which basically means the story or false reality that sports entertainment companies weave around their product. Of course, the term was created when everybody was using the term “wrestling” instead of “sports entertainment”. This is the agreed upon device which creates babyfaces and heels (good guys and bad guys) so that there is enough friction to continue fighting. It is also the thing that turns an American named Nelson Simpson into “The Russian Nightmare” Nikita Koloff. It is a necessary part of the business and it has been a big part of how most businesses do things.


They fought over a shampoo commercial.

I was driving around with my brother recently and I was saying something about the business of pro-wrestling. He turned to me and asked me why the performers compete against each other. He understood, as most people do, that there are a championship belt and a contender for that title. He was wondering why people lower on the card would fight each other. The short answer is that they are paid to do so both in real life and in kayfabe. However, that is not exactly what he meant because that simple motivation is something everybody can understand. There are a lot of reasons for these people to fight for. The main reason people compete so hard is that they feud. A feud can start as simply as one performer states that they are the best and another performer tries to prove them wrong. It can be as complicated as one man stalks another man’s girlfriend. It can be something obscure like two men fighting over who gets to be in a shampoo commercial or who has the right to use the letter T in their name. Whatever it is, as long as it is a compelling story or it is told in an entertaining way, the crowd will buy it.


Jim Cornette gives some excellent analysis on Cactus Jack.

The reason why I started writing this post is actually good ol’ Jim Cornette, a man who I respect a lot. You see, Cornette has been involved in the business for a long time. Most notably, he has been the booker (writer) or booking committee for several prominent companies including TNA, WCW, WWF, ROH, and various NWA territories. He has also been an onscreen manager mostly of tag teams in the NWA, WCW, and WWF. He founded Smoky Mountain Wrestling in the nineties and he was the main driving force behind the rise of Ohio Valley Wrestling as the first official talent development territory for the WWE. He has had huge success in the business. So, going forward, please remember that I have enormous respect for both Jim Cornette and the old school side of wrestling that he represents. I have only seen a little of pre-nineties wrestling because I was not exposed to it when I was younger and I only have so much time in the day now. Still, I respect the old-timers for what they contributed, most of which survives in some form in the present day.


He really, really hates Joey Ryan… who isn’t a dick from all other accounts.

Jim Cornette and the old school contingent have claimed that kayfabe is a device that is dying a horrible death. The most recent example of the supposed ‘death of kayfabe’ is the rise in popularity of Joey Ryan. This is really where I sat up and take notice as I am a pretty big fan of Joey Ryan both in and out of the ring. Joey Ryan was simply a great independent wrestler who got brief stays on television in both Wrestling Society X and TNA. His gimmick was as a sleazy wrestler who was sponsored by the YouPorn website and chose The Pina Colada Song (a song about cheating on your spouse) as his entrance music. The old school’s problem is that Joey Ryan is a comedy wrestler. In Cornette’s words, “Funny Don’t Earn Money” because people want to see something they believe is a real fight. He really lost his mind when Ryan adopted a move called the YouPorn Plex (also known as the Dick Flip). In this move (as shown below), Ryan literally uses only his penis to flip his opponent. Cornette screamed that this pushed the limits of suspension of disbelief and that it effectively killed kayfabe (yet again).


Now that’s sleazy.

Obviously, I disagree. Back in the day, promoters and performers somehow convinced audiences that professional wrestling was real. Babyfaces and heels never talked or hung out in public so that fans would believe that they really hated each other. Dusty Rhodes ‘broke’ his leg in a match against Ric Flair and then wore an actual cast in public. He even wore that cast around his house where only his two young sons could see him. The point is that they went to enormous lengths to keep up the illusion that it was all real as part of a grand tradition. Unfortunately, as technology improved and the Internet was born, us fans all started to talk to each other. We started to figure things out and we peeked behind the curtain and now the cat is out of the bag. We know it’s all a show. There is no way we can go back to where we were and I am not sure many people actually want to go back. I definitely do not want to go back there. I love the way things are now.


Joe Hendry proves that funny can equal money.

This is the new kayfabe. Back in the day, we got a bunch of tough guy characters to boo or look up to. Now, kayfabe is so much more varied. One of the things I love about pro-wrestling is the three-ring circus element of it. If you do not like the clowns (like Joey Ryan, Colt Cabana, Enzo Amore, Joe Hendry) in ring one, you can look over at ring two and see the strongman (Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman, Brian Cage). If you do not like that you can look over at ring three and see the acrobats (Ricochet, Ospreay, Neville). However, the business has really grown and we all now have access to hundreds of rings. If you do not like something, there is a good chance that if you turn your head, you will see something you love.


If I can believe the storylines in Lucha Underground, I can believe anything.

Besides, the new kayfabe is not all that different from the kayfabe we have gotten for decades. As long as the internal rules are mostly consistent, I think kayfabe remains intact. Every wrestler responds to Joey Ryan’s genitals in exactly the same way which makes their legendary powers a canon fact. We were told back in the day that Undertaker was dead and we believed it because we wanted to believe it and the announcers and other wrestlers never contradicted it. I choose to believe what they tell me to believe because it is way more fun to play make-believe than pick at it because it does not make sense. We all know that the Upside Down is not real but we choose to believe it when we see that dryer lint floating around. My rule is that if something is fun and nobody is getting hurt, then I support it. Joey Ryan and guys and gals like him is a lot of fun to watch and I am all about having fun. Of course, Cornette is very welcome to earn advertising dollars nitpicking the hell out of it.

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Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: Monster Heels

August 21, 2017

As part of my ongoing series on heels, I would like to talk about a classic type of heel called the “Monster Heel”. This is a pretty straight forward idea. This type of heel is usually very large and very strong. Like the monsters in movies or fairy tales, they are big, scary, and violent. They attack with overwhelming force and, again like a horror movie, they are really hard to hurt and if they are hurt, it is not for long. The business has a long history of them.


Kane

The first monster heel that I experienced, was Kane. Kane was billed as the brother of the Undertaker, who was already a prominent supernatural figure in the WWF. In Undertaker’s backstory, Kane was thought to have died in a fire accidentally set by Undertaker as a young boy. That belief was a mistake as Kane had survived the fire and he showed up in the company to exact vengeance on his brother for the perceived attack and the death of their parents. He was unstoppable, regularly defeating whole crowds of wrestlers by himself. He destroyed everything he touched, even his brother (temporarily). On top of that, he was billed as (and is actually close to) being seven feet tall.


Awesome Kong

When I used to watch TNA Wrestling close to 2005, there was a lot to like. There was a lot of potential. One of those bits of potential was a woman who had made a name for herself in Japan and was booked as an absolute beast. She had no mercy for her opponents, partially because her character did not even speak English. She was strong and she was nothing like a lot of the female wrestlers on television at the time. Everybody else seemed to be a fitness model and there were more catfights than technical wrestling matches. Kong would flatten her opponents like she was a force of nature. She was strong and resilient and she frightened people. Best of all, one of her finishing moves was called the Implant Buster, a knock on the looks of her more lithe opponents.


Tomasso Ciampa

He might be the smallest person on this list but there is a good reason why Tomasso Ciampa is often labeled “Psycho Killer”. When he hit his stride in Ring of Honor, he was brutal and sadistic and he would stalk his victims just as well as Jason. While he did throw a lot of his opponents around, it was his devastating knee strikes that made an impression on me. His attacks looked like a wild beast, like an unhinged man. His character was a man who did not care about his opponent. I really believed sometimes that he may have knocked his opponent’s teeth and irreparably damaged the soft tissue. I am interested to see what he can do now in NXT that he has turned heel yet again.


Mil Muertes

Lucha Underground is definitely a very different wrestling program. The world of Lucha Underground is supernatural and nobody bats an eye at all sorts of crazy thing happening. So, the existence of Mil Muertes, the man of 1000 deaths, is not a surprise. Mil is a man who has died several times throughout his story but death is not the end. Each time he only comes back stronger. He is summoned back to life by his association with the deadly Catrina and black magic. In the ring, it takes so much for him to be stopped and his moves are beyond destructive. He finishes off opponents with the Flatliner and has in-storyline murdered several people and then used their skulls to adorn his throne.


Vader

Then, of course, there was Vader. I was not present for some of his best work. By the time that I first saw him, he was in the WWF and he was being used more for comedy than as the monster heel he could be. I have since watched the archival footage and read personal accounts from back in the WCW days and I see what people saw in him. Vader never had the most impressive physique but he was strong and he was relentless. He was the master of the powerbomb long before everybody was doing one. The powerbomb is a legitimately dangerous move if you do not complete it correctly and is still no fun if done perfectly. In a memorable moment, he powerbombed Cactus Jack on the concrete outside of the ring, potentially ending his career. He was mean and he made his attacks look real because a lot of them were.

Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: Specialty Matches

January 28, 2017


Royal Rumble

This is the type of match that sparked this blog post. The 2017 Royal Rumble takes place tomorrow (1/29) and I am excited. The rules of the Rumble is that every 90 seconds a new superstar enters the ring and the last man who did not get thrown over the top rope wins. I have never watched a bad Royal Rumble match. Some have been better than others but most are full of some awesome moments and great surprises. The Royal Rumble is not really a great place for good technical wrestling but there are some fun high spots. Also, the match is tailor made to highlight a lot of the roster and it has moments for character spotlights. For example, the 1998 Royal Rumble saw Mick Foley enter three times under all three of his personas which made a clear statement that they were separate people. The 1999 Royal Rumble had Vince McMahon spending most of the match cowering or on commentary instead of competing which showed him as a cowardly authority figure. It is so much better than a normal Battle Royal. Lately, I have been loving Lucha Underground’s variation called Aztec Warfare where opponents either pin or submit rather than getting thrown over the top rope. Aztec Warfare feels a lot more kinetic than the Royal Rumble but also feels a little more chaotic.


Elimination Chamber

Invented in 2002, this match owes a lot of its origin to the Royal Rumble and the Hell in a Cell match types. In this type of match, a high enclosed cage surrounds the ring and four pods feed into the cage. Like the Rumble, two superstars start in the ring and at timed intervals, the pods are opened one by one which lets a new competitor into the match. Performers are eliminated by pinfall or submission until there is only one remaining. I would say ‘last man standing’ but they are rarely standing very well at the end of these matches. The pods are opened at random which makes each entrance a bit of a surprise. It also changes the makeup of the match as each performer gets to enter. This match is extremely brutal as the cage’s walls are made up of chains and the floor around the ring looks like subway grating. The plexiglass pods can also be used as weapons. Unlike a lot of match types with multiple people, the matches have been really good at putting a limit on rest spots and some of the best multi-person sequences I’ve seen have been in these matches. The only thing I have seen remotely like it elsewhere is the King of the Mountain match which involves competitors getting locked in a shark cage. It also has a lot of elements of the next match type…


Money in the Bank

This match was invented in 2005 by Chris Jericho who came with an awesome idea. At the turn of the century, ladder matches really picked up a lot of popularity in the tag team division. By the mid-2000s, they needed to come up with a new innovation. In the match, there are five to ten participants who all enter the ring at the same time. Hanging high above the ring is a contract for a championship match that can be cashed in at any time. There is a mad scramble up ladders to get at the briefcase hanging there and there is always a very brutal fight among the competitors to get at it. The match is probably career shortening so I am glad they do not do it more than once a year. Brutal attacks from ladders, with ladders or on ladders are what this match is about. Every single competitor gets to do their finisher and signature moves, often with the aid of a ladder. It has all the anticipation of a normal ladder match but it adds in a lot more chaos and there is a lot less time between high spots. The other aspect, the contract that can be used anytime, is incredibly intriguing and adds an air of anticipation to every event afterward. The only other place I have seen this match type was in the first episode of Wrestling Society X which had two contracts above the ring for their Heavyweight Championship.


Iron Man/2 out of 3 Falls

An Iron Man match is a match where two competitors face off against each other and try to accumulate the most victories in a set time period which is usually 30 or 60 minutes. A 2 out of 3 falls match is where the competitors must win two out of three matches that are immediately consecutive. Both match types allow for multiple finishes without ending the match which gives you the satisfaction of the ending of the match multiple times. The first Iron Man match I saw was Brett Hart vs. Shawn Michaels which saw no falls during a 60 minute period and had to go into overtime. A more normal version happened recently in an awesome match between Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair. It is a match that shows how much conditioning the wrestlers have and how much abuse they can take. It is kind of like watching a good hockey game as you watch the score go back and forth and wonder who will come out on top. The two out of falls match is similar but is definitely shorter. At NXT Takeover Toronto, we saw a 2 out of 3 falls match between my current favorite tag team #DIY and The Revival (who used to be my favorite at one point). The match was so good that I am voting for it as NXT Match of the Year for 2016 because it easily stole the show. Having to beat your opponent and then get up and beat them again is such an interesting concept that it leads to some awesome matches.

Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: The Final Deletion

August 6, 2016

WILPW

So, I kind of want to talk about this when it actually happened but I hesitated. I wanted to think about it before I actually posted something because doing otherwise leads to horrible posts. I have ragged on Total Nonstop Action’s Wrestling product a lot in this blog. I have especially been hard on it lately because the product got really, really terrible. People might talk about how the WWE gets bad sometimes but it has never quite reached the level of WCW’s darkest days or the depths TNA goes to. Whatever I say in this post, know that I stand by that. I have watched some TNA lately and while there are a few bright spots, it is still mostly bad. It is falling apart despite the talent’s best efforts because the team behind them is crap and has pretty much always been crap.

So, let us hit up a quick history because none of this makes sense unless you know the history of the Hardy brothers. Actually, none of this makes sense no matter what so do not worry if you get lost. The two men behind this angle have a history of heavy drug use.

Matt and Jeff Hardy are brothers in real life who come from the wrong Carolina and decided to get into the world of sports entertainment. They eventually started their own company called OMEGA which got them noticed by what was then the World Wrestling Federation. They debuted in a feud against Edge and Christian, another hot young tag team. The Hardys started out by pretending to be vampires just after Edge and Christian had been mysteriously cured of their own vampirism but that angle was mercifully short-lived. Being the “new” anything is usually a death knell to your career and the New Brood would probably have been the same deal. Instead, the two teams went on to have a series of tag team bouts which included the first ever tag team ladder match (don’t get anal about the research there).

Matt and Jeff were innovators of the sport and while they were not the greatest on the mic, they had a lot of physical charisma. Kind of like Roman Reigns. They eventually split and started to have a lot of singles success. Hell, Jeff pretty much started his singles career by taking on the Undertaker in a barn burner of a hardcore match. Matt alternated between being a die hard babyface and an arrogant heel. The Mattitude era was actually pretty fun and it helped provide their friend Shannon Moore with a job. The problem was that both brothers had a lot of issues. Whether it was success or they would have succumbed anyway, both brothers fell into heavy drama and drug problems. Jeff especially had a lot of drug issues and was eventually shown the door from the WWE and Matt followed not long after.

TNA is adept at picking up from WWE’s discard pile so both of them ended up in TNA. Both of them actually gained new life and fame in TNA but also fell to their demons over and over again because TNA does not really care. I watched them only in bits and pieces from then on because I mostly stopped watching TNA in disgust after Jeff Hardy showed up drunk and high to a pay per view match and it still went on anyway.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago. Jeff and Matt have been doing a sibling rivalry angle (again) and this time the story is that Matt has been broken by the whole thing. Instead of “The Man Who Cannot Die”, Matt Hardy has become “Broken” Matt Hardy. This means that he acts really weird and speaks in twenty different accents in each promo he does. It is kind of funny in a stoner humor kind of way but it gets old really fast for me. If I wanted to watch somebody speak in funny voices and not entertain me, I would watch Adam Sandler movies. So they have a series of matches and then comes the event in question. They are going to have the Final Deletion where it will finally be decided which Hardy will stay and who will go.

No recap will do this video justice but a quick one will wet your whistle. The video begins with a few short vignettes that make increasingly less sense. We see Matt with his son and his wife Reby Sky who has wrestled locally here in Maryland quite a lot. We see Jeff at home playing guitar and mowing his lawn. We see Matt set up a ring in his backyard and send a fleet of drones against Jeff, inviting him to the battle. The two show up at the ring along with a truly confused referee who I don’t think was acting. They then start to have a truly bad pre-taped match sort of shot with Hollywood film angles. After a lot of shenanigans and weirdness, Matt finally pins Jeff and Jeff Hardy is declared “deleted”.

I have a couple of notes here. Actually, this is kind of the whole reason I wrote this whole post. I laughed pretty much continuously while watching this whole feature. Whether all of it was intentional or not, the Broken Matt thing is actually a lot funnier away from the TNA arena in a setting where it makes a smidgen more sense. Jeff’s part negligible and he botched most of the maneuvers he attempted including a horrible ladder spot. The thing really works as a funny internet sketch because both guys are either stoned out of their minds or really threw everything they had into this or both. I have heard some comparisons between the first parts of this and the well=produced but bonkers backstage segments of Lucha Underground. I can see where they are coming from but Lucha is so much more polished and planned. I mean they wrestle for twenty minutes at night and at the end you can see the sun coming up.

What I am concerned most with is precedent. As I am studying the law, it is something very much on my mind. In the world of sports entertainment, precedent is important. The first time you do something, that opens the door for somebody else to do it down the line. I mean, look at the very tag team ladder matches that Matt and Jeff helped create. Specialty ladder matches are all over the place now and the Money in the Bank match is one of the highlights of every year in the WWE. My problem is that the match was pre-taped and heavily edited. I fear that there is some executive out there who decides that this is how all the matches should be done. They look at the media attention this got and they decide that sports entertainment should become even more fake. I don’t know if I am ready for that. While it would save on injuries, it would also cut down on the athleticism and spontaneity of what matches are now. I hope this is a one and done thing.

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: Tag Teams

April 27, 2015

WILPW

Tag Team wrestling is an interesting concept. Normal bouts in sports entertainment are efforts to prove who the best competitor is. That’s one reason we get mad when the heel cheats. He won not because he’s the best competitor but because he’s lucky and intelligent. Tag Team wrestling changes the dynamic by making it about the team and not the individual. It also changes the way a match is built. Suddenly there are four people involved in the match and conditioning and timing changes. You have to showcase all four people pretty evenly to be successful which means all four guys should be interesting. This has failed in the past but it has also succeeded spectacularly. In fact, some of my favorite matches have been tag team matches.

So let’s look at a few successful tag teams and look at what type they represent and my theory on why they were popular. Just as a note, I’m going to be using male terms a lot because tag teams are used infrequently in women’s competition.

The Motorcity Machineguns

Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin are two guys from Detroit who came up in the business around the same time and (from all appearances) are two guys who had worked together a lot before they were officially a team. These guys knew each other’s rhythms and timing and they absolutely killed it in the ring. They started as heroes who repped their hometown of Detroit by pointing to their hands (think about it) and defeating their opponents. Later the two became arrogant heels while still performing awesome moves. The two worked together so well because they were technically sound and knew each other so well. Some other great tag teams that knew each other well were Edge and Christian, AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels, The Mega Powers and the Thrillseekers.

Team Extreme

Sometimes tag teams are closer than two guys who have worked together for a long while. Sometimes they’re actually family. Matt and Jeff Hardy are two brothers who are very close in age and both of them loved Pro-Wrestling. They happened to break into mainstream wrestling just when hardcore wrestling was becoming huge at the same time as a resurgence in tag team wrestling. The two created a lot of tag team wrestling innovations and helped to turn the whole concept of a tag team on its ear. They also sacrificed their bodies to make it in the business and fans definitely respected them for that back in the nineties. Unfortunately both have hit hard times off and on due to drug problems and such but we’ll always remember the team that I refuse to call the Hardy Boyz. Some of these sort of great tag teams are The Rhodes Dynasty, Owen Hart and The British Bulldog, The Briscoe Brothers, The Young Bucks and Harlem Heat.


Beer Money

Sometimes instead of taking two guys who know each other well, you throw together two guys who aren’t doing anything at the time. Sometimes the promoter just hopes to fill a spot for the night and sometimes they’re hoping to throw crap and have it actually stick to the wall. James Storm and Robert Roode did not have much to do with each other. Storm had been in America’s Most Wanted but was now a hard drinking cowboy. Robert Roode had started a rich guy gimmick after Team Canada disbanded. So the TNA writers threw the two of them together in a move that baffled a lot of fans. The two of them defied all odds and worked on meshing their styles together. They made compromises and Robert Roode became less sophisticated and James Storm became more driven. Some other tag teams like this were The Rockers, The Timesplitters, Chris Jericho and Big Show and Miz and Morrison.


The Shield

Sometimes tag teams seem to succeed because everybody designs it that way. Everybody involved moves heaven and earth for the team to be a cohesive unit, almost a brand. The Shield appeared out of nowhere to aid CM Punk in keeping his championship during a PPV. However, they trained together before that at what is now known as NXT. To the average viewer (myself included) the three had come out of nowhere and acted as a cohesive and dominant unit. They dressed alike, they acted as one and they seemed extremely coordinated. Eventually, they slowly formed personalities of their own in preparation for them disbanding but they gained fan and notoriety by being a trained tactical unit. Some other tag teams like this are MNM, The Major Brothers, London and Kendrick, The Road Warriors, The Hart Foundation and the Four Horsemen.


Team Hell No

Some teams just don’t make sense on paper. Some teams it’s funny to see two people who cannot possibly get along enter into a team together. At one point, Kane was hated and feared as Hell’s Favorite Demon. Not only was he a Big Red Machine but he was the Undertaker’s brother and a supernatural force to be reckoned with. Daniel Bryan was a young and exciting wrestler who had won the world title and then lost it, becoming embittered with the fans and angry with his fellow performers. The solution? Send them both to anger management therapy. Eventually part of their therapy was to team up together and despite their intense hatred of each other, they were successful. Some other great teams in this vein were The Rock ‘n Sock Connection, MVP and Matt Hardy, Raven and Tommy Dreamer, Goldust and Booker T, The Two Man Power Trip and the Corporate Ministry.

This Week in Steves 5

March 11, 2015

TWS


Steve, the Eddie Izzard Extra

I love Eddie Izzard as a comedian and an actor. He has a lackadaisical delivery that almost sounds like he’s making it up as he goes along. The thing is, I know he plans his act to minute detail because he has translated it into other languages and performed it in front of non-english crowds. One moment he’s casual about things and then the next he’s really excited but always there’s an improv kind of feeling, like he’s experiencing it for the first time with us. He tends to cover a lot from the bible and history more than stories from his own life. He wore a dress and make up on stage and it was cool. It was no big deal.

I noticed a while ago that whenever Izzard needed a name of a character he leapt on the name Steve. I had listened to and watched plenty of his stand up routines to come to this conclusion but I thought I might be hearing things since it is my name and I might be blowing it out of proportion. After a little research, I found that I was correct. He more often uses the names Steve and Jeff when he needs to name a character or extra in his stories. Not much to say about that but I like that my name is constantly honored or shamed by one of my favorite comedians.

Steve Borden aka the Man Called Sting

As I’ve said before, I was not as big a fan of WCW when I was growing up because DVR didn’t exist yet and brand loyalty kept me from changing channels. What I did see was because of the US Open or the Westminster Dog Show and it was interesting but I was kind of lost except for the ex-WWF guys. Some stuff started to filter to me about the real WCW guys by reading wrestling magazines a little so I started to learn more about Flair, the Steiners and a few others but really I was totally in the dark. It wasn’t until after WCW fell apart that I got introduced to some of their talent. The rise of the internet and specifically Youtube did a lot to educate me about how the other half lived.

This brings us to a guy who was one of the crown jewels of WCW, the man they call Sting. He first caught people’s eye as the more skilled and more succesful partner of the Ultimate Warrior. He went on to be a hero to the people, borrowing from and learning a lot from Ric Flair while remaining a good guy. He spent quite a while as a guy who beat the odds and killed monster heels dead. His matches with Ric Flair are legendary and definitely elevated Steve to star status. Eventually, he took a cue from the nineties fascination with The Crow and changed his look and never looked back. He stuck with WCW until the end and then vanished. He reappeared in TNA and arguably became even better on the mic and gained superior acting skills. I would have to sell my soul to Satan to get his physique at his prime but I’m glad to share his creativity.

Steve Martin

I have also talked before about my love of Steve Martin as a stand up comedian. Of course, as a performer he was actually one of the most guarded about his personal life that I remember seeing. While other stand up comedians were going into great detail about their lives, he was basically a cartoon character being silly on stage. I loved the guy but I really knew nothing about him for most of my life because his work only reflected so little of the real him. I was pleased when I saw his play Picasso at the Lapin Agile because it showed a more subtle, less silly side to him. Likewise, his serious music pursuits showed a passion for a form of music I had kind of dismissed. His further writing showed a sensitivity that wasn’t visible before.

Recently, I read his autobiography and I was completely blown away. It shows how the wild and crazy guy has been in show business most of his life. From working at Disney into his teens and then working at Knotsberry Farms and then hitting the club scene as a young magician/comedian. There was so much I did not know and so much that had been kept hidden from me. I learned a lot more about his anxieties and his humanity that I ever thought was possible. I’m proud to be a complex onion just like Steve Martin and I hope that I have even a fifth of his comedic talent.

Why I Love Pro Wrestling Episode: Horrible Gimmicks

December 30, 2014

WILPW

I’m now back on track with watching sports entertainment and I am really enjoying it.  I am especially enjoying watching Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Dolph Ziggler and the Dust Brothers but there’s quite a bit of good stuff happening.  I really liked Survivor Series as I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.  Anyway, onto this edition of Why I Like/Hate Pro Wrestling.

Horrible Gimmicks

There has been a long history of performers who had horrible gimmicks.  Now, I could gripe about them (and believe me I do) but that doesn’t get any of us anywhere.  Eventually a bad gimmick will disappear and it’s a lot of fun to look back and shake my head at how stupid they were to even think they had a good idea.  Here are just a fraction of the black holes of creativity that I’m glad are gone.

Willow The Wisp

I admit it.  I used to be a pretty big Hardy Boyz fan in the nineties.  Not the mystery solving duo but the two brothers who were billed from the wrong Carolina.  The guys who jumped off of ladders and moved with a rugged kind of grace that was probably born from the connection that brothers have.  Unfortunately, as time went by the Hardys split up and both went through some really tough times.  Jeff Hardy became a huge drug enthusiast and got sloppy and lost a lot of his appeal.  It was probably during one of these binges that he came  up with Willow the Wisp.  At some point Jeff Hardy became known as an Artist with a capital A.  It always came off as both really pretentious and kind of rednecky.  Willow the Wisp was an idea where Jeff was trying way too hard and it ended up as a really annoying gimmick.  Everything about it just seemed stupid.  The promos looked like they were filmed behind Jeff’s trailer in the woods and he carried around an umbrella because it was “quirky”.

Eugene

So imagine you’re a multi-billion dollar corporation who regularly puts on television programming and live shows and your product has carried a social stigma off and on since its inception.  You would think that company would refrain from upsetting any special interest groups, wouldn’t you?  Well, you would be right but the WWE would neglect that good advice and instead they would help create Eugene, a crime against everyone who watched WWE programming at the time.  The storyline was that Eric Bischoff had a nephew and was somehow forced to let him wrestle.  His “nephew” was played by Nick Dinsmore who was allowed to fake being somewhere on the autism spectrum.  He played the worst stereotype of somebody who is “retarded” even though Dinsmore was not.  The worst part was that this was played as an inspirational story.  It made me embarrassed to be a fan.

Akeem the African Dream

In the history of the WWE (at this point it was the WWF), there have been plenty of moments where the company capitalized on race relations.  The Gang Wars of the 90’s, the Nation of Domination, Rodney Mack and so many other regrettable moments.  At least those examples made some sort of sense even if they weren’t exactly sensative to our nation’s already tense history with racial issues.  Let’s see if you follow the logic on this one and maybe you can see where logic left the building.  In the eighties there was a wrestler who went by One Man Gang.  Tough name, right?  He was a tough guy who came in to the ring and beat the crap out good guys.  While this is not an automatic recipe for success, it was a solid gimmick.  Now, the One Man Gang was white.  I only mention this because at some point they decided to perform an “African ritual” to infuse him with the spirit of Africa (or something) and renamed him Akeem the African Dream.  So, basically he operated in blackface without the blackface make up.  Awesome idea.

The Black Scorpion

It’s long been a popular practice to combine two great things that go together.  Reese’s candies definitely showed this to be true.  So why wouldn’t it be a success to combine two things that a lot of people like in the world of sports entertainment?  WCW decided to combine mystery and stage magic to create a villain worthy of facing Sting, a guy who had become a huge draw and needed a legit opponent.  A mysterious black-clad man suddenly appeared and threatened Sting.  Usually when a new character is revealed, they prove that they are a threat by beating a string of opponents or at least beating a bunch of people up.  What did they have Black Scorpion do?  They had him speak through a really hokey voice distortion device and he also performed pretty lame magic tricks.  The other big problem they ended up with was that they never properly planned who was under the mask.  It was supposed to be somebody from Sting’s past but that literally could be anybody in the company.  They came up with at least three possibilities and none of them were surprising or exciting and the gimmick ended with Ric Flair unmasking.  Boring.

Lord Tensai

Matt Bloom had been with the WWE for years as the unfortunately named Prince Albert and then A-Train.  He was a pretty good wrestler but wasn’t really used very well for a big man who had a fair amount of skill in the ring.  He was eventually let go probably because the company didn’t really have anything for him to do because they had made him lose too many matches.  So Bloom went to Japan and became a huge success as a monster heel and won more belts than he had probably even glimpsed during his time with the WWE.  From all reports, the Japanese fans bought into Bloom who had renamed himself Giant Bernard, a name that probably made sense in Japan.  With all this success, you’d think that his former employers would sit up and take notice.  Well, they did but they decided to screw it up.  They brought Bloom back in as Lord Tensai, a Japanese lord with fake face tattoos.  Yet again they decided to take a white performer and have him pretend to be a different race.  They could have just brought him in and talk up how much he learned in Japan but instead they pretend that we can’t tell who he is anymore.  After a couple months he turned from a credible threat into a joke and they abandoned the gimmick.

Why I Love Pro-Wrestling Episode: DVR-less

October 15, 2014

WILPW

State of the Programming Address

Since I only have access to my DVR on the weekends, I fell behind on watching the WWE product.  Since their programming is more or less live, it really must be watched weekly to keep up with it.  I guess I could binge watch the programs but watching the main roster is about 5 hours a week and that takes up a lot of viewing time.  Besides, I had gotten a lot of pleasure out of live tweeting Monday Night Raw and loved experiencing events along with everybody else.  I have to avoid spoilers like crazy which I have done pretty unsuccessfully.  This also puts me behind on listening to my favorite pro-wrestling podcast: The Rough House (NSFW use headphones)

At the height of my Sports Entertainment watching habits I watched nine hours per week.  On Monday I watched WWE Raw (3 hours).  On Thursday I watched both NXT (1 hour)  and TNA Impact (2 hours).  On Friday I watched WWE Smackdown (2 hours).  On Saturday I watched ROH Television (1 hour).  If I ever wanted to watch anything but wrestling then I was going to have to cut back.  I sadly cut ROH and Smackdown out which brings me down to 5 hours with fast forwarding through commercials which is more manageable.  Tack on the monthly Pay Per View event and you have 23 hours a month.

I have kept up with TNA Impact and some of you in the know might be wondering why.  The show has been on Spike TV and no matter what they do, they have never risen above a 1.0 rating.  At certain points they have had Hulk Hogan, Sting, Ric Flair and ton of old legends and young talents involved.  Unfortunately they hire people like Vince Russo and allow people like Dixie Carter to have creative imput.  Spike TV has finally had enough and will be pulling the plug at the end of the year (Merry Christmas!).  The product is alternately horrible and great and lately it has picked up quality not unlike Angel Season 5.  World Championship Wrestling lost their TV time on TNT and died out in 2001.  WWF lost their deal with USA in the nineties and ended up thriving.  Either way, I’m intensely interested to see how it shakes down.

Being behind can definitely feel daunting and I feel disconnected from something I really love to experience.  In the meantime I have been scratching the sports entertainment itch by discovering Insane Championship Wrestling on Youtube.  ICW is hardcore Scottish wrestling promotion operating out of Glasgow.  As such, there is a huge amount of Scottish wrestlers with a smattering of English, Irish and Welsh performers too.  The promotion feels rebellious and fun and is definitely worth a watch.  Two little warnings:  Some people have trouble with foreign accents but I happen to love the Scottish accent and I have experience deciphering it.  Also, here is quite a bit of blood and violence and one of the commentators tends to be pretty intense i.e. “I hate him!  Give me a coat hanger and a time machine!”

As stated in a previous post, I want to branch out and occasionally try to watch other promotions.  I want to get my hands on some CZW footage as I hear rave reviews of Dean Ambrose’s time there.  I want to check out AAA and EMLL as they are pretty well known as the top Mexican promotions.  I have tried a little bit of Japanese promotions but the language barrier has been tough.  I really wish there was either an English dub or subtitles.  There probably is and I just have not found it.   I want to watch more MCW and support Maryland performers and shows.  I want to watch promotions that I’m not even aware of yet.

Most of all, I want to relax on my couch and binge watch Monday Night Raw and NXT but I guess I’ll have to wait for the weekend.


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