An affecting portrait of the voice of combat sports, Mauro Ranallo.
An affecting portrait of the voice of combat sports, Mauro Ranallo.
Lots of unpack here in this enlightening essay on the Kofi Kingston storyline headed into WrestleMania 35 this weekend. It highlights one of WWE’s worst aspects, which confirms that while you can take the show out of the carnival, you can’t take the carny out of the show. And to add: Kofi has long been ignored as one of WWE’s biggest assets. He’s a rare commodity in being a natural babyface, an underrated performer, and someone who’s been absolutely over with kids for the last decade. The company massively dropped the ball when he got his last main event push a million years ago; it would add insult to that injury to do the same this time around.
This is the ‘John Oliver thing’ I was referring to previously: an acerbic takedown of WWE’s dodgy labour practices for the week that’s in it.
The ‘dream match’ between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania 34 turned out to be a bit less than what we were sold. But this gallery on WWE.com in the run-up to the event was a nice touch regardless.
Which is weird, as there’s an awful lot of good journalism being done about wrestling. Mind you, it’s not really being done by the likes of Dave Meltzer. There’s another question beyond this piece: about wrestling dirtsheets as a branch of entertainment journalism, not sports, and their closer relation to the kind of access and relationships between writers and PR in music and film. But I’d say the same about wrestling as I’d say about issues of potential compromise and conflict of interest in mainstream entertainment: ‘access journalism’ only gets you so far. Look how much it’s ruined political journalism in the US, after all.
Here's a good breakdown of tomorrow’s Greatest Royal Rumble (a glorified house show, no matter what people will try to tell me) and what it means, politically speaking. It’s no apologia for ‘cultural differences’, as if that’s some organic social contract and oppression of women and minority groups isn’t a top-down strategy for control.
I don’t agree with everything David Shoemaker says here about WrestleMania 34 last weekend (Ronda Rousey grumble mumble) but the central thesis is spot on, and it’s something I’ve felt for the longest time: WrestleMania 31 was the moment to make Reigns, even with such a disastrous set-up, then Vince panicked and broke him. He’s not beyond repair; Reigns more often than not really brings it in the big-match situation, and he’s compatible with more opponents than you might think. But his persona is non grata. Perhaps WWE should take inspiration from Reigns' former Shield teammate Seth Rollins as for what to do with him: redesign, rebuild, reclaim.
I’ll be honest, one part of me is like ‘OMFG 50-man Rumble!' while the rest is thinking ‘Wow, WWE’s really going all in with this Saudi partnership, hmm.'
WWE profiles indie darling, wrestling mega-nerd and NXT returnee Kassius Ohno. Thinking of Ohno as a player-coach, as Johnny Gargano comments here, seems like a perfect fit as this stage of his career.
It’s a rare modern wrestler that inspires such emotions.
Ahead of tonight’s Backlash PPV, David Shoemaker over-analyses the Jinder Mahal ‘phenomenon’. But it’s strangely fitting, considering the ruckus his push has caused among wrestling Twitter, etc. My take? He’s boring, it won’t last, the end. And if I want to see a real heel in WWE, I need look no further than the conclusion to last night’s NXT TakeOver: a masterful presentation, not just by the wrestlers but the TV production side as well.
In a week that saw even The New York Times get in on this wrestling thing, this is the most fun non-fan take I’ve read, capturing genuine enthusiasm — but also highlighting that feelings on some of the worst aspects of the show are shared by hardcore fans and more casual viewers alike.
It’s wrestlers talking so much of this is bullshit, but it’s the kind of bullshit I never tire of.
Some quick notes on this past weekend’s WWE shows for WrestleMania in Orlando, fleshing out my tweets you might have already read as I watched things live from home.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s ‘Enchantment Under The Sea’.
He’s not wrong. WrestleMania weekend is here and I should be excited but that’s the wrestling fan in me, who needs to remember this is a WWE show, not a WWF show. Still, those parody videos by The Miz and Maryse are fantastic stuff.
“When it makes sense,” said Stephanie McMahon. Which translates as ‘probably never’. We’re not even at the point where, say, ‘Darren Young’ the on-screen character reflects Darren Young the real-life openly gay man. Maybe that’s because he’s a face? WWE tends to save its better character development for its heels.
So this is a nice surprise: an insider-ish parody of 1980s territorial wrestling by the current WWE roster, and one that gets the tone mostly right, being more affectionate than mean-spirited. The gags don’t always land but it’s funnier than it has any right to be.
Something to revisit when I’ve finished watching all these Monday Nitros.
Pro wrestling is all about exaggeration (all that stuff about a programme between the Macho Man and Shawn Michaels is case in point) but this match is one situation where they’re not wrong: it’s an amazing bout even by today’s standards. Randy Savage brought a playbook mentality to wrestling’s improv culture, and it paid off in spades. (Also, interesting to note they had a subsequent house show feud in chain link steel cages, not the notorious ‘blue bars’ cage introduced the year prior.) [c/o MetaFilter]
It’s from 18 months ago but it still holds in terms of explaining why I’m into wrestling. Though I have to say, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I persist when I’m not getting now what I got out of it in years past. That’s something for a longer post.
Chyna’s story needs to be told, beyond the exploitation of the woman, Joanie Laurer, and her memory. But what also needs to be said, amid all the historical revisionism, is that there’s a reason she was billed as ‘the ninth wonder of the world’: like Andre the Giant, she was booked as a novelty, a freak-show attraction. Any boundaries she might have broken for women are only in hindsight, or out of context. Few are willing to address that; wrestling remains deeply problematic.
Of course I LOLed. And then realised I’d actually love to see any of these happen.
I won’t say it’s not gratifying that more mainstream outlets are finally grokking what makes WWE so compelling, and not purely from a ‘business’ standpoint. I’m talking about investigating things often glossed over or even missed entirely by fans or fan media, like Vince’s compulsion to inflate attendance figures, or Shane’s friendship with noted fake memoirist James Frey. (Factual errors aside: Ali didn’t fight at the first WrestleMania; he was a guest referee, being already diagnosed with Parkinson’s.)
WWE’s website does it again with a fitting tribute (and introduction) to one of the company’s bright new stars. If only their TV product did the same.
It’s not much of a match; it’s sorely missing the context of Sawyer and Rich's previous battles and weekly TV promos. But it’s heartening to see WWE paying some attention to wrestling history by recovering ‘lost’ tapes such as this.
I need say no more.
GQ gets in on the Four Horsewomen business. But is the change they herald really a sure thing? With matches still being booked in the Divas-era ‘girly’ style (catfights with hair-pulling, basically), we’re a ways off yet.
I like Shoemaker but I don’t agree with the premise of this piece at all. When did SummerSlam become ‘the smart fan’s WrestleMania’? Isn’t that still WrestleMania? Also, it’s comical in hindsight, what with this year’s SummerSlam being such a drag, and the subsequent minor PPVs being stronger in both ‘workrate’ and entertainment value.
More than three months into the ‘New Era’ brand split and it’s a bit late now to give you a full-on essay on the whats and whys and wherefores. Suffice it to say it’s hard to call it a disappointment when the overall results are about as much as I expected. Does that mean they can’t do better? Of course not. But with the people WWE has in charge right this minute, change for the good is at best piecemeal, or accidental.
You know what? I agree with this, pretty much. [c/o MetaFilter]
‘Poetic impressions’ of the annual Royal Rumble. Just three months till the next one!
I saw some ragging on this piece for being a lift from Vince’s infamous Playboy interview, and not even a lift of the juiciest quotes. But the point of it is more as a sampler for people to go read all of these sources in greater depth, is it not? Take it for what it is, not what you think it is, people.
Tables, Ladders and Chairs in Boston on 13 December was nothing to write home about, although I’ve just written about a thousand words on it that you’re about to read. But let’s go with the spirit of that figure of speech, shall we?
Is the so-called ‘Divas Revolution’ finally paying dividends? Maybe so, going by the impressive clash between new champ Charlotte and the dethroned Nikki Bella at last weekend’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view (or special event, as they’ve now been branded in the WWE Network era). That came two months after the amazing Sasha Banks and new NXT Women’s Champion Bayley tore down the house in Brooklyn the night before SummerSlam, and again more recently in a superb 30-minute iron man — or rather, iron woman — match in the main event of NXT TakeOver: Respect.
But it also came after a middling few weeks for the Divas division on the main roster — the wrestlers that populate the weekly flagship Raw and the more lowly but still high-profile SmackDown — where the ‘Revolution’ has manifested in an awkward triangle of trios in lieu of any real character development.
When all you really recall is the crappy ending, it doesn’t matter how good the preceding match was. And SummerSlam‘s main event was indeed a very good match, if not a great one. We were teased the big Undertaker comeback, the Dead Man getting his revenge on the dastardly Brock Lesnar for ending his WrestleMania streak 18 months ago. But Brock was having none of it, not even letting Taker remove his hat and trenchcoat before launching his assault. The rest of the match was a pure fight, playing to Brock’s strengths as a ring bully while hiding Taker’s weaknesses as a performer well past his prime, and making them both look like they belonged in the main event of the second-biggest show of the year. Also, there was this:
With Extreme Rules coming later tonight, it’s about time (after four weeks, I know) that I reflected on this year’s WrestleMania, which did not have the most auspicious of beginnings. Last time out I said I was “hopeful that some exciting TV” would come out of the post-Rumble mess on the road to the Showcase of the Immortals. Alas, the build-up was fairly weak, despite all the potential being there.
So MetaFilter caught on to the Royal Rumble shenanigans, and I contributed a couple of cents to the conversation, partly to answer and contextualise other users’ questions about the whole wrestling thing in general, and party to elucidate, for myself as much as for others, why I’m into this crazy world.
And at the moment, it’s the politics of the situation that intrigue me the most. I mean, where does WWE go from here? This Monday’s Raw, after last week’s fortuitous snowstorm interruption, we got the first indication. It was an exercise in damage control, but more nuanced than we’ve come to expect from their direction as of late.
Some quick thoughts on last night’s Royal Rumble, then. First off, the WWE Network live stream worked great throughout, with only a handful of pauses for buffering that didn’t distract from the show. I can’t even blame the network for that as it’s more likely my ISP’s fault, considering the connection dropped in the last 20 minutes and even after a reboot we were stuck with a low-res stream for the end. Thanks, UPC.
Aside from the Royal Rumble match itself, it was a one-bout card, although it was interesting to note the undercard comprised all tag-team matches. Weekly TV calibre matches, yeah, but still. I’ve got my quibbles, particularly with the Ascension angle (why the hell are JBL and the other old fogeys going out of their way to bury them when the whole point is that they’re being booked like an old-school tag team that squashes jobbers?) but they served as a decent warm-up for the World Title triple threat match, which I’m gonna watch again because it was a Cena match and I naturally tuned out but that was unfair to Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar, who put on a hell of a show in the final few minutes (the only bit where I paid attention).
I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed the set-up for a future John Cena heel turn, as The Masked Man writes on Grantland about the ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ of the erstwhile wrestling rapper’s newfound power to reinstate The Authority as ‘the powers that be’ in WWE. It’s a twist that was clearly designed to plant the seed in every Cena-hater’s mind that there may come a day when the children’s champion swerves on the good people of the ‘WWE Universe’ (I hate that phrase so much) and throws in his lot with Triple H and Stephanie and company. That it will likely never happen is completely beside the point; it’s enough for the smarks to be flattered that Creative put something in there for them to ‘get’ and feel smug about. That’s some nice misdirection, there.
Dolph Ziggler and The Miz made a good fist of transcending their lowly mid-card status with a heated opener for the Intercontinental Championship at SummerSlam 2014. Still, it was a match that, while plenty entertaining and well put together by two able grapplers who have good in-ring chemistry and can really go, only made me think of those great IC Title matches of SummerSlams past, those proper storytelling feud-settlers preceded by weeks of build-up; Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart vs Mr Perfect is still the apex of that kind of match for me. This, while good, was nothing of the sort, especially with a finish that more-or-less came out of nowhere. (Ziggler’s the new IC Champ, by the way.)
So it’s a week and a bit after WrestleMania XXX, and the Internet Wrestling Community is still on a massive downer after the ending of The Undertaker’s vaunted ‘Streak’.
I understand that disappointment, and upset, and frustration. To be a wrestling fan is to know these things all too well. So it’s easy to fall into the trap of blaming Vince McMahon for The Worst Booking Decision Ever, since he’s the boss and nothing goes on the show without his approval (and by golly, he’s approved some clunkers over the years).
But that’s to assume the Phenom himself had nothing to do with it. And that’s just plain crazy talk. This is The Undertaker we’re talking about; the locker room leader, the elder statesman of WWE. Nothing happens to his character without his say-so. Make no mistake about it, the end of The Streak was his decision.
And more to the point, can anyone seriously say they didn’t see this coming?
I haven’t done one of these in a long time, but wrestling is something I want to get writing about again; it’s an interest of mine, and this is a place for my interests, so it makes sense to me.
Anyway, best to jump right into things I think, with my as-live show notes from the most recent WWE pay-per-view, Over the Limit: