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WrestleMania 28: The good, the bad and the Brodus

April 3rd, 2012 1 comment

Rock Show: WrestleMania 28

The good: Twenty minutes before WrestleMania 28 dropkicked off, I noticed the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Earth Hour was trending on Twitter, while WrestleMania was nowhere to be found. McMahon was so angry at the irony, he blew out both quads.

The good: Show opened with a nice vignette showing The Rock and John Cena as kids posing with title belts (Rocky Johnson’s straps and homemade, respectively) and flexing as wannabe wrestlers, gradually evolving into chiseled men as they trained, said their prayers, and took their Hulk Hogan vitamins.

The bad: My feeling is that WWE announcing the matchup so far in advance made it challenging to maintain a high level of interest with limited physical interactions between the two. I was thinking a classic pull-apart brawl on last Monday’s RAW go-home show would have been more emotionally charged than the two once again exchanging clever one-liners. I kept waiting for Rock or Cena to respond, “We don’t have to wait”–and then a brief brawl before it was broken up by the boys and/or security. The fact that the March 26 RAW rating was low heading into the biggest PPV of the year indicates that perhaps fans were tired of the back-and-forth bitching–it’ll be interesting to see the buy rate on this one. (All that said, I expect the number to be bigger than last year.)

Broguen-hearted: Brisco vs. Funk Jr. it wasn't.

The bad: Thanks to a weekly swap meet on Melrose Ave. near my place, parking in my neighborhood was nonexistent. After pausing the broadcast just prior to Lillian Garcia singing so I could guide my guests into spaces behind my building, we resumed the show. After a few seconds, I realized I had the paused the channel on the standard definition broadcast, so I quickly flipped it to the real-time high-def version…just in time to see Sheamus celebrating with the World heavyweight title. No, no, no! Lucky for me, my buddies saw the humor in it, and we all shared a good laugh despite thinking we’d missed a good match. Then I rewound the match with the DVR remote–turns out we only missed the first Irish-born WWE heavyweight and World champion cutting down poor Daniel Bryan with a brogue kick for the 18-second win and the Big Gold belt.

After getting bumped from last year’s broadcast and relegated to a dark match, Daniel and Bryan had to feel like victims of the ultimate April Fools’ Day prank when their 2012 bout was slotted for less than 20 seconds. As one of my readers pointed out on Twitter, “At this rate, If Danielson and Sheamus wrestle 14 more times, they will have a 5-minute match at ‘Mania in 2026.” While I like the on-again push of Sheamus, as the company desperately needs to strengthen its depth of money players at the top, I think the same aura of the new champ’s dominance could have established if the two had been allowed at least 8 or 9 minutes. Bryan needed the title initially to get over as a conniving chicken-shit heel (who happens to be one of the best workers in the country), but Vince still loves to showcase big lugs at the top and Sheamus fits that bill. Sheesh–this made Diesel’s win over Bob Backlund for the WWE title look like Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair. And make no mistake, this wasn’t an unplanned quickie because the show was running late a la the Road Warriors vs. Power and Glory years ago–this was planned to get Sheamus over again as a force to reckoned with, fella.

The good: Before Bryan dropped the strap, the rabid Miami fans were chanting “Yes, yes, yes!” at a fever pitch. The next night on RAW, the savvy fans in Miami, realizing Bryan deserved better, responded with chants of not only the fastest-growing catchphrase since Steve Austin’s mind-numbing “What?!” but also “Daniel Bryan, Daniel Bryan.” While I think it would be wrong to yank the rug out from underneath Sheamus’s feet again so soon, Bryan needs to be kept at the top of the cards. Hell, oddly enough, this latest injustice could be another turning point in his career.

The bad: As someone who officiated one of Glenn Jacobs’s first bouts, I’m pleased that the talented big man was to overcome such gimmicks as The Christmas Creature, Unabomb, the fake Diesel, and Issac Yankem D.D.S. to go on to an amazing career in the Former Fed. And while his return under the mask is OK nostalgia-wise, I’m just not feeling the gimmick anymore. An upset here designed to swerve the fans, Kane got a clean pin following a less-than-devastating-looking chokeslam off the ropes. Perhaps this sets up a heel turn for Orton, who will once again embrace the hate and renounce the fans and his stagnant babyface character. Lackluster match.

The good: While I’m pleased with Cody Rhodes’s development as a heel, I was happy to see Big Show shake off his supposed WrestleMania jinx with a clean knockout punch win for the title. Show’s facial expressions were amazing in the aftermath, as he appeared to be in tears as he clutched the IC title like it was 1985, when that belt was usually reserved for one of the best actual workers in the company. Not exactly Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat from WrestleMania III, but a nice moment.

The bad: I don’t like commercials at the movies, and I don’t like them during PPVs that cost $65. Even worse, the Kmart ad featuring Sheamus lasted 10 seconds longer than his match.

The bad: The only way that “Extra” segment, which was taped at the Grove shopping area down the street from me (another traffic magnet for my neighborhood), involving the Divas and Maria Menounos could have been any worse is if Mario Lopez had been involved. (Incidentally, if Hollywood brings us a “Saved By the Bell” reunion movie, I hope it’s a concept like Battle Royale or The Hunger Games.)

The bad: With all that makeup in the ring (not to mention Jerry Lawler’s caked-on mug at the announcer’s table), it was inevitable that some of it would smudge on Menounos’s pristine white ring attire–shame it had to be directly on her ass, looking like a skidmark. Kelly Kelly did a Thesz press, which have sent former NWA World champion Lou Thesz spinning in his grave. The only thing worse than Kelly Kelly pinning Divas champion Beth Phoenix would be a TV presenter getting the pin–which is exactly what happened here, with Little Miss Crappy Pants winning with a school-girl roll-up. Maria appeared to be showing the effects of her recent legit rib injuries–either that, or backsstage-agent Steamboat gave her a crash course in effective selling. Missed most of this bout as I was placing orders over the phone for takeout. (A fan at the live event said the men’s bathrooms were full during this match and that John Cena’s new Celtics-style T-shirt sold out at the packed gimmick tables by the time the Divas bout ended.)

The good: A quick cutaway to an interview with special-ref HBK produced a funny moment, with his lazy eye appearing to veer off toward another camera, while the other one looked directly at us. The interview was shot from the waist up, so we all said a quick prayer to the wrestling gods that Shawn wasn’t wearing his low-cut, crotch-stuffed special-ref shorts of old. (He wasn’t; apparently Vickie Guerrero stole them.)

The good: Jim Ross was introduced, looking rather svelte and with a goatee–which can only mean one thing: He’s going heel and will be managing Brock Lesnar. (Nah.) Great to have Ross back to call the ‘Taker vs. HHH Hell in a Cell bout.

The bad: ‘Taker attempted to turn his male-pattern baldness into a positive, cutting it into a modified mohawk: He looked like Bruce Willis from the front and Road Warrior Hawk from the back. Should have perhaps gone with a classic Travis Bickle.

The good: An instant classic, with the ‘Taker and Trips giving us an old-school brawl, complete with a little blood and chair shots so stiff, Moondog Spot was wincing in hell, while Mick Foley and his kids were both crying backstage at the brutality. HBK only added to the drama, with his usual incredible facial expressions. HHH came out strong, chopping away at ‘Taker with a chair, as HBK begged him to end it and “cover him,” sounding a like special-ref Michael Hayes in the infamous Kerry Von Erich vs. Ric Flair cage match on Christmas night 1982. At one point, Michaels was bawling more than Flair following his WrestleMania retirement match. Although I fully expected ‘Taker to retain the streak, the false finish with Michaels letting his emotions get the best of him and delivering Sweet Chin Music to the Dead Man was a well-executed false finish. Despite using a night’s worth of cliches in one bout (I was almost expecting a “Stone Cold, Stone Cold” for no apparent reason), Ross greatly added to the drama, helping to tell the story of the match like no else could have. The fans were going crazy over all the near pins, including a shot of a crowd that appeared to show 2012 WWE Hall of Famer Mil Mascaras in the stands enjoying a cerveza. ‘Taker got the clean win with a second tombstone after about a half hour of excellence. In one hell of a WrestleMania moment, ‘Taker and HBK helped the Game to his feet and helped him out of the ring. As Ross called it, “That, ladies and gentlemen, is respect.” The last remaining full-time Attitude Era stars riding off into the sunset–the perfect ending to a bout that immediately cracks the top 10 WrestleMania bouts of all time, in my opinion. (I woondered if Triple H upon returning to the dressing room glared at CM Punk and Chris Jericho and bellowed, “Top that, fuckers!”)

Cell Mates: Three of WWE's all-time best hell-raisers.

The good: As the class of 2012 was about to be introduced, I was hoping that cameras backstage would catch the Four Horsemen putting the boots to Dusty Rhodes before calmly buttoning up their sports jackets and emerging onto the stage. Nice to see the best incarnation of the group inducted if not the original foursome with Ole Anderson, who won’t be seeing Vince McMahon until the two meet again in hell. In particular, I was happy for Barry Windham, who was so super smooth in the ring, in that same vein as Dory Funk Jr, Jack Brisco, Ricky Steamboat and Shawn Micahels. And there’s nothing like real emotion in wrestling–and for a longtime fan like Edge to be in the same company as the Horsemen after his career was cut short nearly a year to the day, clearly the moment overcame him. (Somewhere, Matt Hardy was contemplating his next insane tweet.)

The indifferent: I had nothing emotionally invested in the general manager storyline–except for my disappointment that Dolph Ziggler and Zach Ryder weren’t featured in singles bouts. This time next year, Ziggler could be in the World title picture, where he belongs. Pretty good action, with bodies everywhere hitting the floor in a nice over-the-top-rope aerial assault spot. Clearly, Miz is out of the doghouse as he scored the winning fall for Johnny Ace, who appeared to be honoring his old friend Bruce Prichard (who recently underwent heart surgery) by wearing a suit straight from the Brother Love gimmick days. Didn’t hate the match, but didn’t loooovvvveeeee it. And when will WWE learn not to make one of their top babyfaces look like a complete dope. I thought Eve was already a heel, so why was Ryder suckered into a nutshot ambush?

The good: As CM Punk was warming up backstage, an elated Johnny informed the WWE champion that if he were disqualified in his title bout with Chris Jericho he’d lose the strap. Turned out to be a wise sub-plot as it resulted in more of classic mat-wrestling match most of the way; after all, there was no way to top the brutality of the Hell in a Cell bout. Despite the dead crowd in the early going, this was a a brilliant match, with Jericho trying to bait Punk for a DQ, which would have been the worst finish possible. Both men idolized Savage and Steamboat growing up, so both brought their working shoes and delivered in a bout with several nice counters and reverses resulting in some clever false finishes that eventually woke up the crowd. Although Jericho escaped initially, he eventually tapped to Punk’s Anaconda (Miami) Vice, enabling the champion to retain after about 25 minutes.

The Brodus: After weeks of unrest in the Sunshine State, WWE did their part to promote racial harmony and squash stereotypes with Brodus Clay calling his mama, who just happened to be in the building, along with her bridge club: a dozen African-American dressed exactly alike with padded booties performing an ill-advised dance number designed, seemingly, for the sake of making Vince chuckle. Can we kill this Funkasaurus gimmick now…please?

The bad: Two bloated hip-hop entrances for both John Cena and The Rock preceded the main event. While Cena and Rock will almost certainly meet again, quite possibly at SummerSlam (Triple Threat with the returning Brock Lesnar?), I certainly hope these musical numbers were indeed “Once in a Lifetime.”

Superfly: The Great One rocks Cena.

The good: Solid if unspectacular bout that might have been better if it gone 20 minutes instead of 30. (Both men seemed to be out of moves by the 25-minute mark–everyone in my living room groaned when Rock went for a second sloppy sharpshooter.) Rock didn’t seem quite as crisp as he did at Survivor Series, and he was sweating like crazy after 15 minutes. Some nice psychology, which the crowd responded to, though not as insane as Rock vs. Hogan years ago. Some nice near falls before Cena cockily went for the People’s (Pebbles?) Elbow but got caught with a Rock Bottom out of nowhere for the pin. I was surprised over the dismay by some fans that a “part-timer” beat a “full-timer.” (One Cena fan held up a sign that “Cenation” would riot in Miami if their hero lost; instead, they blew up Twitter.) With Rock scheduled for more WWE dates, including a rematch with Cena and perhaps a WWE title showdown vs. Lenar next year, this was the only result that made sense–especially with the bout taking place in Rock’s hometown. Really, Cena gained more by losing clean.

Overall: A good show that could have been great–and one of the strongest overall WrestleManias ever without the Brodus deal and the time-consuming main-event entrances–and with at least 10 to 15 minutes of Daniel Bryan greatness. Yes, yes, yes! 

WWE’s John Cena involved in car accident; driver of other vehicle reportedly ‘couldn’t see him’

March 19th, 2012 No comments

Licensed to ill

Former (too-many-times-to-count) WWE champion John Cena was involved in a car accident this morning when the SUV he was driving in Philadelphia was allegedly hit from behind by a tractor-trailer.

WWE.com reports:

“…The SUV the WWE Superstar was traveling in was reportedly rear ended by a tractor trailer. Police arrived at the scene and no immediate injuries were reported.

Cena is scheduled to meet with WWE medical personnel when he arrives at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center for tonight’s WWE Raw SuperShow event.

In less than two weeks, Cena will face The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII in the most anticipated bout in WWE history. The effect this accident will have on the Cenation leader remains to be seen. WWE.com will stay with this story as it develops.”

Allegedly, the driver of the tractor-trailer has given a statement to police that he “couldn’t see him”–a classic case of life imitating art.

While I’m happy he’s not seriously injured, that’s what Cena gets for buying a used camouflaged SUV from Sgt. Slaughter.

The Rock has also supposedly issued a statement hoping Cena doesn’t offer this as an excuse as they prepare to meet in Miami for an iconic showdown. After all, the Rock was involved in a serious tractor-trailer accident weeks before his WrestleMania showdown with Hulk Hogan and still managed to defeat the leader of the NWO.

Hell, Jerry Lawler shook off this extreme car “accident” at the evil hands of Eddie Gilbert and was wrestling two nights later in Memphis. C’mon, Cena, get it together.

Punk’s title win, Rock’s mere presence save Survivor Series from turkey status

November 21st, 2011 2 comments

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.

Rock star: The Great One FINALLY returns to his adoring public in New York City.

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.

Bottom line: The Rock nearly knocks Cena out of his camo jorts.

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.