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Monday, May 7, 2018

Backlash: A Sleepy Show and Other Thoughts

I am very fortunate that pay-per-view events are aired live on the WWE Network. For $9.99, not only does it not feel like a major commitment, but I can conk out when I need to.

As with the case Sunday night with Backlash.

After a long day that involved doing a charity walk, I fell asleep right when the AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura clash was about to happen.

Apparently, that was a good thing. A no disqualification match ended on a double countout.

Let me repeat that.


Both men performed a Bobby Hill to one another and this is the result? This is the kind of crap you do to midcarders on Raw or Smackdown as a feud enhancer, not with the prestigious WWE Championship at stake!

Before I get to the rest of the card, the disgraced WWE Championship must be contrasted with the other championship whom is chronically MIA: the Universal Championship as held by Brock Lesnar.

There was a piece somewhere on a forum that proclaimed Brock’s championship reign is a lot like Triple H’s “Reign of Terror” that happened between 2002-2005. It has to do with the length of the run(s), the amount of ridiculous predicaments they somehow got out of, and “burials”.

Okay kids let me get this straight off: These two title reigns cannot be compared apples to apples nor oranges to apples.

 In the year 2003, Triple H was more or less the diamond in the rough of this business. You don’t need to take my word for it, its more or less what he said every week at the top of Raw in those monotone 20 minute promos he cut. Most of his feuds revolved around WCW talent (Booker T, Scott Steiner, Kevin Nash, a little splash of Chris Jericho), which I’m convinced Vince McMahon wanted to look bad. Triple H’s ego is huge, but you need one to solidify yourself on a business level. I’ve addressed this in the archives in other posts.

By the same token the World Heavyweight Championship in 2003 was given a new life and thus a new identity. Keeping the belt on Triple H, an established talent, would make it a big deal for whomever would dethrone it. A long reign was needed, even if that meant doing some unpopular business. Hunter in this regard was always a company man and was also dabbling in certain aspects of production. He was looking to secure his future as early as then.

In the year 2018, Brock Lesnar was more or less an attraction that Vince invested heavily in. The fruit rollup of a championship belt showed up only on certain episodes of Raw and the PPV’s. Brock spoke very little, fortunately that assignment was passed off to his eloquent Advocate Paul Heyman. Brock’s feuds have seen him get his share of getting his ass kicked, but when it comes to PPV matches, it takes only one F5 to put most people down. It’s the sort of thing that ruins the credibility of the rest of the roster to keep Brock strong. The less said about Roman Reigns the better.

With minimal work, Brock is about to pass the 434 day reign set by CM Punk between 2011-2013 as the longest running in modern day WWE. Has Brock drawn? Sure, but he’s devaluing the championship by being an absentee figure. Brock is not the same character as he was in 2003, but he doesn’t need to be. He’s literally calculating every move with a dollar sign. This sounds GENIUS, but there’s only so many suplexes you can throw before you get called out on it.  WWE paid Brock a ridiculous amount for a set amount of dates. Any more dates would mean more $$, and that could be catastrophic too.

Back to Hunter for a moment. As noted, his reign was more or less conceived to value the World Heavyweight Championship as a bastard heel a la Harley Race or Ric Flair. In 2002, the WHC was resurrected to be the championship the Raw brand could fight for after the WWE Championship became exclusive property to Smackdown. With the exception of Shawn Michaels winning the belt at Survivor Series 2002, Triple H held the championship for about a year straight. Some of that time also included painful injuries, like a hematoma on his left thigh, crushed trachea, and a torn groin muscle. He still appeared every week making contributions wherever he could.

At the end of the day, here’s the final take: Brock Lesnar is a businessman who doesn’t really love the business, but Triple H is a businessman who actually loves the business. There is almost no fair comparison. I handicapped the situations as seen above, and any other opinions can be formed from the eyes of the reader. If only Brock and Hunter had a feud in 2002-2003, because those matches with Lesnar as a bump machine would have kicked ass.

Speaking of things that rhyme with ‘ass’, that’s the cue to segue from segment to segment, let’s go to the match with Big Cass and Daniel Bryan from Backlash. It was exactly what I thought it was going to be, and that’s not a knock. Cass is not exactly three dimensional in the ring, but he has the size that can’t be taught to his advantage. After 8 minutes of getting his ass whooped, Bryan slapped on his lock. Did Cass tap? YES! Cass would also beat down Bryan post-match to get his heat back. That being said, I think that feud is over, time to bring on Miz for DB.

Referring back to The Miz, he had his contractual rematch for the Intercontinental Championship against Seth Rollins at the top of the show. For as much as I rag on Miz for being bland in the ring, I have to give the guy credit for delivering moves with calculating effects. Rollins had his right knee buckle on him at times where he should have lost the title, but he didn’t. This bout lasted 20 minutes, and it was by far the best match on the show.

Another highlight was the Elias segment which turned into a cluster. New Day flap jacked the segment, followed by Aiden singing in English about Rusev Day, followed by an appearance by that new guy from NXT? No Way Jose! The punchline led to Bobby Roode coming out of nowhere giving Elias a Glorious DDT to end the segment.  I thought this was going to turn into an impromptu 6 man tag between New Day plus Rusev/English/Elias, but once the conga line came out it wasn’t going to be a trip. At least not for Titus O’Neil and crew. #titusworldslide

The women’s matches sucked generally, which was a shame. The pre-show bout with Ruby and Bayley was nothing home to write about, but Ruby gets the duke and a stroke of confidence. Alexa and Nia was more or less a small rehash from ‘Mania, but it gave Alexa more of a fighting chance. Nia’s promo post-contest seemingly brought back Be a Star from the ashes and got booed for it. That’s what happens when you deliver that white meat babyface promo in front of a Jersey crowd. Carmella beat Charlotte in a weird finish. No finisher, just Carmella takes advantage of Charlotte's knee and pins her. At least the pin combination made Grandpa Gustafson proud.

Of course Brashley won their tag squash against Kami, and a Samoan named Joe beat Samoan Joe in a “ROMAN MUST BE STRONG” match. That latter match was so captivating people left while the contest was in progress! Someone had to spear the midnight traffic.
Speaking of things that can’t go wrong, here’s a video of zen:

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Play Ball: The Dawn of a Stranger

It’s been roughly 3 years since I last wrote a blog post. Or really anything creative in general. A lot has happened personally in that time, up to and including being perennially busy with professional obligations. A creative jolt can wake up the dormant mind from time to time, and so with that being said...

Here I am!

Since my last blog post, which kind of telepathically predicted Seth Rollins would cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase at WrestleMania 31, a lot has changed in the WWE. Yeah sure the product is in a state of flux consistent with ‘The Simpsons’, and sure the product has several ingredients they don’t know what to do with.

We’re also seeing superstars and matches I never would have thought of seeing in the ‘E.

For example: Who in the blue hell would have predicted AJ Styles would not only come into the WWE, but be more or less the premiere driving force in the company? He brings out the largest pops on Smackdown each week, he brings out the best matches, and he’s quite a damn good talker. I’ve seen bits and pieces of him elsewhere, but not in a consistent light like this.

For my money, AJ’s hiring in the WWE is the genesis of an in-ring evolution. It’s a genesis that could go as far back as 2012 when NXT was becoming a baby brand.  Say what you want about Triple H with his in-ring abilities or his supposed ego, but he has a knack for putting his finger on what’s hot in the business. Seth Rollins became the inaugural NXT Champion, and from there the Orlando-based grappling developmental organization has grown quite a lot of prestige.

Look at the names of whom has come up since 2012: Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns (BOOO, sorry had to do it), Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, Charlotte, Becky Lunch, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, Erick Rowan, Apollo Crews, Asuka, Andrade Cien Almas, The Ascension (hey they try), Authors of Pain, and the list goes on and on.

Many fans might remember guys like Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn probably wouldn’t have been a second look if this was something like 2008 or 2010. Never mind the fact they’re from the proverbial island of misfit toys, but the overall consensus was that WWE was only truly interested in home grown talent at that point. Developmental was not as fleshed out either. There wasn’t a dedicated brand where its not just the talent that get to hone their craft, but the writing squads, and other administrative positions within. If it weren’t for this, those poor orphanages in Mexico might not have a representative.

The most ironic part here? For all that was just written, AJ was one of those few world traveler wrestlers who never had to go to NXT. He was 95% ready made for the WWE when he got there. For as crappy as TNA/Impact has been, it has done good in preparing worthy talent for the main stages. This is what NXT strives to be for the not as seasoned.

As fans will also tell you, whenever there is a ‘big PPV’ weekend like the Royal Rumble or WrestleMania, there is an NXT Takeover event that outshines the main card. The shows are between 2-3 hours long and deliver non-stop great stuff from bell to bell. Consider this: the last Takeover, which happened during WrestleMania weekend in New Orleans, was bookended by two literal five-star classics. Those matches in question were a ladder match for the North American Championship, and an emotional Unsanctioned Match between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano (aka Johnny Wrestling). If you have not seen this event, go out of your way to do so. It’s easily the best Takeover I’ve seen, which is not faint praise, and probably the best WWE PPV of this decade.

Admittedly I don’t watch a lot of NXT first-run programming. My heart and soul on Wednesday nights lies with Lucha Underground. It’s a more theatrical presentation of wrestling, as seen through the El Rey network and the production mastermind of Robert Rodriguez. As a whole that channel is amazing with grindhouse flicks, horror flicks, and samurai warrior movies on top of daytime runnings of old 80s action shows.

I digress on shilling El Rey. We’re here for the show that has a mariachi soundtrack, Matt Striker and Vampiro call the action, and the best damn heel authority figure in wrestling since Vince McMahon: Dario Cueto.

This magnificent son of a bitch possesses swagger and a set of bolas to match. Whether in produced vignettes or in front of the audience (aka The Believers), he wheels and deals like the evil underground he runs. There are cops trying to run his organization out of business, and the cops are either murdered or Joey Ryan.

Yes, that Joey Ryan. The one that Jim Cornette despises because he ruins the business like Bruce Prichard does with a botched Goldberg segment. The master of the dong style. His presence would almost make you think Rick Rude was his father, but then you see his wrestling and it cannot be further from the truth.

Over the years, many a wrestler has stepped foot in the Boyle Heights arena, which is affectionately known as ‘The Temple’. This is a sampling of whom has been in this temple: Prince Puma (aka Ricochet in NXT), Rey Mysterio, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Alberto El Patron (aka Alberto Del Rio), Johnny Mundo (aka John Morrison/Nitro), Pentagon (Dark), Taya, Fenix, Aerostar, Sexy Star (yes, I know the controversy), Mil Muertes w/ Catrina, Metanza Cueto, and that list goes on.

Most matches are quick but smash you in the mouth with their intensity. Some gimmicked matches, like an All Night Long match or the Aztec Warfare match (their version of the Royal Rumble), go the length of a whole episode.

If you're not familiar with LU in general, please click on the link provided here.

To finish this piece off, I’d like to thank all the visitors whom collectively have somehow given this passion project 100K reads. As a result, in addition to making new content, there are blogs with “gaps” in them that should be addressed. Gaps is defined as pictures/videos with broken addresses, such as to Photobucket (or photophuckit as I call it), or another online resource. There are many old blog pieces that have apparently found new audiences over the years, and in some ways the context is gone due to non-existent content. I hope to get those pieces as updated as much as possible. Maybe from here the creative spark comes back and more pieces can be written.

For now, here’s a video of zen: