A few random thoughts about last night’s show, but first want to say that I’m behind–already–in my Memphis/Mid-South series. Unfortunately, over the last few months of very long days at the computer, I’ve developed carpal tunnel syndrome. There are times when the discomfort is so great that I just can’t write or must take frequent breaks during writing sessions, which is slowing me down. This has been especially frustrating since I make half my income from freelance writing, in addition to my full-time editing job, but that’s life. I’m undergoing physical therapy and should learn this week if I need surgery. At any rate, I’ll catch up over the Thanksgiving break.
With the best announcer in the business relegated to the sideline, Booker T joined Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole on commentary at Survivor Series. My goodness. Look, I respect Booker as a performer and as a man who overcame a troubled past to make something special of himself; however, his commentary is so unintentionally hilarious and distracting that he’s wasted in the role. His “wowwww” has become the modern-day “What a maneuver!”–a McMahonism that Vince would bark every time a spectacular move he was unfamiliar with would unfold in the ring as innovators like the British Bulldogs, Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, the Rockers and Bret Hart joined the company in the mid- to late ’80s and greatly changed the Former Fed’s in-ring product (especially the undercard, until they eventually outshined dinosaurs like Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant). Booker’s observations, such as that was “the biggest armdrag I’ve ever seen” (during the the Mark Henry and Big Show bout, which featured so much mat wrestling that I believe it must have been laid out by Daniel Bryan as a rib), leave my friends and me howling with laughter and mocking his comments; e.g., later, I crowed that Guinness people just confirmed that Show’s DDT was the largest on record as well. The two huge moments booked for the show–CM Punk’s WWE title win in the storied venue that at one time was the company’s showcase arena for major title changes, and the Rock’s return to MSG and most likely his final appearance as a wrestler in the building–could have been made to feel that much more special with Jim Ross calling the action and helping to masterfully shape the storylines. Meanwhile, Booker brings out the worst in Michael Cole, whose heel shtick peaked during his WrestleMania buildup with Jerry Lawler. Oddly, Booker’s role in the main event seemed to be painting Rock as selfish–which is unusual because the Samoan people, with the exceptions of Afa and Sika during their heel run as WWF tag champions with Capt. Lou Albano, are traditionally very giving people.
Meanwhile, WWE had the decency to bring back legendary ring announcer Howard Finkel, who was replaced years ago when his dated look became more important than his wonderfully booming voice. Finkel was so choked up over his return to MSG and the crowd’s reception that he botched Punk’s intro, struggling to get the words out and maintain his composure. Lawler issued a great old-school King line, saying Fink was enjoying this so much he may never make the intro. Of course, he finally did, and Punk covered it by rolling his eyes, jokingly looking at his watch and then hugging the Fink. Punk then took a page from the Fantastic Four’s “The Thing” and delivered a battle cry of “It’s clobberin’ time” as he charged the ring. While I’m sick of the WWE title bouncing around like the AWA Southern title in Memphis, I liked the call to make the switch here, especially in NYC, to help reignite Punk’s character, which has cooled recently over poor booking and politics out of his control. The bout itself was solid, especially the last five minutes, when the crowd suddenly woke up after enduring the proverbial Go To Sleep of Henry vs. Show. The title win came via Anaconda submission after a cool flurry of reversals (during which Punk’s tights came down, exposing his bare ass a la Ric Flair in the late ’80s, which earned the biggest pop of the night from my wife). The new champ dove into the audience in celebration twice in the aftermath, showing more agility and safety than Sin Cara, who injured his knee during yet another botched dive during the traditional Survivor Series elimination matchup. I hope the title gains some stability at this point, with Punk heading into ‘Mania as the champion.
Show vs. Henry was pretty bad, though both were trying. Hell, Big Show, even hit a Randy Savage elbow, despite the fact that it took him approximately 9 hours to get in position on the top rope–much like the Beth Phoenix/Eve Torres spot earlier in the evening, which appeared to do more damage to the Divas champion than the challenger. The NYC crowd never gave the match a chance, with several vocal chants directed at men nowhere even near the arena on this night (Undertaker, Daniel Bryan), which is never a good sign for the two guys in the ring. Major step back for Henry on top as champion.
Despite being booked to lose often (which used to indicate a top or mid-guy might be getting the title to build up credible challengers; nowadays, who knows…), Bryan remains over with the fans because of his obvious talent. This vocal NYC crowd, more demanding than most, was desperate for the Show/Henry program to end, so they really hated the finish, with Henry getting himself disqualified for a low blow. Plans could and often do change, but it appears Henry/Show will meet yet again in a gimmick match for the blow-off.
The Rock’s return was the highlight of the show, and WWE masterfully focused the spotlight on the returning Great One. He lit up the Garden with a long promo early in the show, mentioning his grandfather, Peter Maivia challenging Superstar Graham for the WWE title (technically, the WWWF championship in those days). Funny-in-hindsight start to the Maivia/Superstar feud: the champion smashed the High Chief’s prized ukulele over his head, breaking the Samoan’s heart as well in the process…and inspiring a young Wayne Ferris. Rock also mentioned his father, Rocky Johnson, and his run as WWF (leaving the F in this time, which was censored) before closing by leading the crowd in a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”–this segment was going so long, I was thinking Rock was preparing to say, “And for my next number….”, but he instead wrapped things up. Still, he had the crowd in his hand most of the way, and the more Rock, the better, right?
The match itself was pretty damn good, despite the poor buildup for the heels. Cena entered to a loud chorus of boos, reminiscent of a hot heel in the kayfabe era…or maybe the current First Lady of the United States at a NASCAR event earlier that afternoon. Cole mentioned Rock’s seven WWE title wins, which means he’d likely have at least 25 reigns by now if he hadn’t left for Hollywood. Rock looked amazing here, physically and work-wise. He’s in the best shape of his life, so he was moving with a quickness that he didn’t even have eight years ago. His timing was flawless, a credit to Miz and R-Truth as well, who reportedly worked out in the ring with Rock a few weeks ago. Even his usual lame Sharpshooter looked more believable with him really cinching down on the Miz. The crowd largely jeered when Cena was on offense; it would have been the perfect environment for a heel turn, but he may not have made it out of the Garden alive. Besides, that’s still two years away, when his merchandise-buying fan base starts junior high and doesn’t find Cena so cool. Rock got the pin after the People’s Elbow on Miz, who seemed to be relishing his role as Johnson’s opponent. The aftermath dragged a bit and was anti-climatic, with Rock predictably hitting Cena with a Rock Bottom following a handshake and a long stare-down. Cena took a powder, leaving Rock in the spotlight to salute the MSG crowd to close the show. Nice moment, but it was a little too safe, in my opinion, to get people really talking about the WrestleMania main event. Yeah, yeah, the match is still months away, and you don’t want the heat to peak too early, but I wanted something a little more here, perhaps even a pull-apart between the two. Ah, well, it was certainly fine for what it was. They clearly wanted to close the show with Rock shining in the spotlight as a wrestler (superstar…whatever)–not just a Hollywood actor who sends in taped promos between breaks the set. In that sense, mission accomplished, as the Rock proved he’s still one of the all-time natural greats for the business and came off like a badass.