Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Can't Win Em All

I went into Sunday's Night of Champions pay-per-view as skeptical as I've ever been. The armfolded curmudgeon saying, "let's see how they fuck this one up." The Punk/Triple H story seemed to be lost in its own self-importance, Alberto Del Rio looked ripe to get thrown through the Super Cena Cycle, and I couldn't get past the feeling that despite Mark Henry's brilliantly orchestrated build up, that he would simply lose to Randy Orton and that would be it. And as I sat and watched with my roommate, I was reminded of the benefit of optimism when it comes to this sport.

My investment in CM Punk has made a transformation over the past few weeks. The real life implications of his fight, those blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction, have developed into a mindset (one that I think is seen all over the internet) that a Punk loss is symbolic of the old order in WWE. The refusal to commit to the change that Punk has proven is desired by the fans. Going into the match my belief was that if Punk were to do anything but win and win conclusively, than the WWE would be effectively killing Punk and his outcries. Choosing to side with business over sport, leaving us with memories of Summer of Punk II and the story that could have been.

This translates to views I and many others have about John Cena and Randy Orton. They represent the status quo. They are the golden boys chosen by the board of directors. When they win its to the delight of the masses and to the ire of those who consider themselves the informed wrestling fans, those who looks at the masses with scorn. The self-anointed purists. My approach to this event, the same as any other purist, was that if Henry, Del Rio, and Punk were to lose than this event was a joke or maybe something worse: a slap in the face.

Maybe it was the first match, or the fact that my roommate and I had just learned that we got the new apartment we'd been hoping for, but my doubts and fears were slowly eased as I settled into watching. By the time we reached the first of the three big matches (Henry vs. Orton) my mind had settled into less of "let's see how they fuck this up" and more into "let's see what they do here." I thought Orton's offensive was too quick, with Henry off his feet within the first minute and Henry looked admittedly sloppy taking a few bumps, but the story of the match was how Mark Henry contained Randy Orton. Even as Orton began to build momentum and reached that mythical "place," Henry did exactly what he needed to do--squashed him. Just like he has been doing for weeks. He fucking stomped on him and that was it. New champion. Henry followed with one of the most impressive promos I've seen. The man is mesmerizing, and with all the convoluted story lines taking place in wrestling today, it speaks volumes of Mark Henry's ability to garner so much response based on his presence as an intimidating and vengeful big man.

Before moving onto the other two matches, I would like to say that what bummed both of us out the most was Kelly Kelly beating Beth Phoenix. Phoenix easily received the biggest pop of the night from the hometown crowd and Buffalo was getting ready to jump out of their seats to see her win the Women's Title. That match was something else and that top rope Superplex was incredible. It would have been nice to see Beth take it, she's the best in the game right now.

The Cena/Del Rio feud had been stale leading into this. After Cena/Punk it was hard to get enveloped in another All American vs. Foreign Fanatic archetype. I think that Cena has taken well to accepting the fact that so many people hate him, and his demeanor in the face of this adversity makes me like him more, but what the fuck is he fighting for? What was unfortunate in this build-up was that Del Rio was forced to take on characteristics that weren't his own. Typical bad guy cowardice even though his ultimate act of poor taste was cashing in the Money In The Bank briefcase on CM Punk, an act which Punk himself said was justified, but for Cena, it's a point of contention. And so here we are, with Cena sent to beat the bad guy again. And that's what he did.

But the match itself was incredible through and through. Both guys looked solid, they worked well together to give us a match longer than expected. I loved Cena's fight to keep Del Rio from locking in the cross arm breaker and the finish, with Del Rio holding out for nearly a minute before tapping. I'll come back to this match when I make my point, and I assure you I have one.

Our main event was chaotic from the outset and we were lucky to see the Triple H of legend and Punk both took the beating half the crowd wanted to see him take and gave the beating the other half needed him to give. The Macho Man elbow drop through the table was as good of a spot I've seen this year. The match is being heavily criticized for being over-booked and convoluted, and while I think everyone agrees it was a little of the latter, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Disappointed in a Triple H win, but the ending made it clear that this story was just beginning to open up.

On paper this is an ending that I was fearing. John Cena is the new champion for the third time since Wrestlemania and Triple H defeated CM Punk. They are not the endings I wanted, there are points worth criticism, but the reaction that I found from the internet was a complete write-off of the quality of the two matches. In this age of speculation, theoretical "where to go from here" ideas, people have gotten far too hung up on their claims for how things should be done. To the extent that they're willing to ignore 99% of a match when they're making their judgment.

I was none too thrilled to see Cena celebrating last night, or Triple H to be the last man standing, but those matches were entertaining from beginning to end and to disregard that fact makes me wonder what these people are watching wrestling for. Is it to be entertained or to be the one that knew how the story would work out all along?

Criticism is a valuable commodity in professional wrestling. There are few examples in modern society where the voice of the consumer is so freely put on display. The business is based on the fan's reaction--we are encouraged to approve or disapprove. But the single-minded detractor, only satisfied with one outcome, achieves nothing for anyone. There was some great wrestling Sunday night, if you missed that part of the show, I'm not sure what good it does you to watch.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Jerry Seinfeld had a great joke about professional wrestling that went something along the lines of: "The one thing I wonder about professional wrestling was if it didn't exist, would you be able to come up with the idea? Could you imagine pitching this? 'I'm telling you it will be great we'll get these huge guys in their underwear, but here's the thing, they won't really fight. And millions of people will watch it.'"

Wrestling no longer exists under the same terms it did when Seinfeld was telling this joke (1992ish). While at it's heart this will always be about two guys pretending to fight, it's not the comic playground of superheros versus treacherous villains. Wrestling personas today, discounting the Great Khalis and the Kanes, are extensions of real life. One of the changes guys like Steve Austin and Mick Foley brought to the game was that if you’re going to sell the fans on your character, you have to sell them on you. What was unbelievable about Foley was that he took on so many characters and presented them all as a side of himself. Mankind was the tortured Mick, Cactus Jack the deranged, and Dude Love the 18 year old who dreamt of being Superfly Jimmy Snuka. We've been given a glimpse behind the curtain, we're aware that these people exist in the same reality as we do and for us to truly get behind Randy Orton the wrestler, we have to feel some connection to Randy Orton the dude, dad, Cowboy Bob's kid, whatever.

A personal connection has been garnered between one guy and hundreds of thousands over the past few months, and the entirety of this relationship has been formed not only without the use of a wrestling ring, but without the use of WWE television. Zak Ryder's Z Long Island Story has not only brought us laughs, catch phrases, and brilliant segments, but it's provided insight into the personal life of a guy whose simply pleading his case for tv exposure. We've learned about Zak's taste in music, from his extensive collection of action figures and memorabilia it's safe to say the guy's been a lifelong fan, we've met his dad.  Over a couple of months we got to know a guy playing a goofy, slightly self-deprecating character whose trying to make his case that he can do more than just make us laugh and when he walked down the aisle this past Monday, we were cheering for both Zak Ryder the character and Zak Ryder the broski.

Ryder can appeal to every member of the audience, from the casual fan to the little kids to the spiteful internet curmudgeons. His attitude is bright and contagious, watch Randy Orton on Episode 29, even he's smiling. My hope is that WWE will begin to rediscover the value of comedy in building that personal connection because I think it's become a lost art. Wrestlers are rarely given the chance to do comedy bits now, talks of conspiracy and "whose running the show?" have brought this overly serious air into every show, and while its important that those questions are answered, there is always room for this is your life. 

I'm wondering, with wrestling's veil slightly removed, with that access that we have been granted by guys like Foley and Austin and The Rock, is there room for wrestling to be ironic? Clearly it's self-aware. When Jim Ross says "how do you learn to fall off a 20 foot ladder," he's acknowledging the public perception that wrestling is not real. But can a business that must take itself seriously to sell you on the whole "two guys in their underwear pretending to fight" be the butt of its own jokes? I feel CM Punk is pushing this when he's bowing at Triple H and referring to Kevin Nash as "Super Shredder" but it's hostile, I think that there is a place for this sort of comedy. I'm not sure it will ever happen, but for now, I'm stoked for my broski Zak Ryder.