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Clothes don’t always make the man

January 22nd, 2010 5 comments
More like Terry Taylor than tailor-made

Is that suit tailor-made...or a Terry Taylor hand-me-down?

While I’m pleased to see Ric Flair give A.J. Styles the superstar rub, the Nature Boy gimmick is not exactly tailor-made for the TNA World champion. Although, much like Flair in the ’80s, Styles is certainly one of the top in-ring performers of his era, A.J.’s innate personality doesn’t exactly exude that of a kiss-stealing, wheeling-dealing, limousine-riding, jet-flying son of a gun. (Painful to watch the new Little Naitch recite that line last night on Impact.) The Nature Boy gimmick clicked with Ric because it fit him as well one of those tailor-made suits from Michael’s in Kansas City that the NWA World champ used to crow about it in the old WTBS Studio.

If the angle had been slowly played out with a subtle, serious transformation of Styles into the gimmick, A.J. might have had a shot at pulling it off. But the whole angle with Flair/Styles feels rushed and forced, but that’s to be expected with guys like Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff, who have very little understanding of effective storytelling and psychology. Worse…with A.J.’s Southern accent and over-the-top delivery, the new Nature Boy gimmick came off like comedy, much like referee Charles Robinson’s transformation into Little Naitch in WCW years back. The Robinson stuff was hilarious because he was a small guy and legit Flair fan living out his fantasy–great TV. But this is your TNA World titlist, the wrestler whom many fans identify as the face of the promotion…the champion you’re trying to help get to the next level as bonafide superstar.  I understand the problem: as a babyface, A.J.’s a little vanilla; as a heel, he comes off as a goofy redneck. The pairing with Flair is an inspired idea but the hokey execution was way off the mark. When it’s played for laughs, there’s no way Styles can fill Flair’s alligator shoes, so he loses whatever benefit he might receive by associating with the 16- (18-?, 20-?) time World heavyweight champion. Here’s hoping Styles is a little more subtle and in control in his next promo as “the Champ.” (Having Flair rip off A.J.’s wedding ring from around his neck would be a nice touch: “You won’t be needing this anymore. Wooo!”) I would have built Flair’s influence over A.J. like a slow-simmering fire that gradually reached its boiling point after about two months. Instead, TNA tries to instantly repackage Styles into something he’s not.

Speaking of instant-gratification booking, even I was surprised they’d have yet another Styles/Angle title bout on free TV last night. Never mind the stip at Genesis that stated Angle could not wrestle for the championship again in 2010 if he lost–Hogan “changed his mind.” Geez. There went months of a possible slow, compelling buildup with Angle trying to goad Styles into another title match on PPV–all sacrificed to pop a rating for one night. (That’s the kind of short-sighted booking that buried WCW.) Even worse: another rehash of the Montreal Screwjob (the Orlando Screwjob?). My God, what a shit finish that was. Even more incredulous: Tenay and Tazz don’t even bother to show a replay of whether or not Angle submitted–instead a bloody Bisch comes out to no reaction to close the show. This does not bode well for TNA. As Santayana said, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Ring of honorable mention: ROH debuts on HDNet

March 23rd, 2009 1 comment

roh3

Ring of Honor debuted Saturday on HDNet with a decent effort that differentiated itself from current WWE programming—for better or for worse. Here’s a quick rundown of the good and the bad.

The Good:

Fairly competitive matches that were given adequate time to unfold as if actual athletic contests were taking place as opposed to the 2- and 3-minute bouts often featured on RAW. Bout times (approx.) for the four matches on the debut show were as follows: 6 minutes; 6 minutes; 7 minutes; and a 14-minute main event. In the future, ROH would be wise to cut to three matches to leave more time not only for the in-ring product (which is really the main thing that makes them unique) but also in getting their roster over as personalities.

Nice to see Jerry Lynn back as a competitor and he looked good, but I thought Delirious was off in spots in the fast-paced opener. Lynn’s Cradle Piledriver appears more devastating than any finisher in WWE right now. Jerry hadn’t been in the business long when he was working Memphis in spring 1991, around the same time I first started as a referee. He was always a nice guy backstage back then, and it was cool to see him develop into a top-notch performer over the years.

Rockin the cradle: Lynn delivers his Cradle Piledriver.

Rockin the cradle: Lynn delivers his Cradle Piledriver.

 

The handshake—as part of the Code of Honor—on display before the start of the first three matches delivered the feel of two athletes showing mutal respect before testing each other. 

The brief video of ROH history was well-done for the most part, trying to explain what makes ROH unique, and why we should care, in a short amount of time. An edgy onslaught of violent clips, many of which had a circa ‘95 ECW feel.  I’ve not seen much ROH, but I thought the overall product was supposed to convey a more serious approach to the “sportsmanship” of professional wrestling than promoting over-the-top violence—so the video was contradictory, at least to me, in that sense. Nice shots of Mick Foley and Ric Flair appearing to endorse the product. I was curious to see how long the debut show would devote to the history of the promotion and the careers they’ve helped launch, such as former ROH champs Samoa Joe and C.M. Punk.
 

Young Punk: CM in his ROH days.

Young Punk: CM in his ROH days.

With only an hour, the best thing the company could have elected do was emphasize wrestling matches; however, they needed a brief introductory video to those viewing the product for the first time and this was OK.

Brent Albright wouldn’t be a star in WWE, but he fits in perfectly with what ROH is (I think) trying to sell. Solid bout with Rhett Titus, who has a wonderfully sleazy charm to him and was much better in the ring that his gimmick might indicate beforehand. Titus’ facial expressions are great as well.

Tyler Black has the look of a major-league star and backed it up with a solid in-ring performance.

The main event of Black vs. Jimmy Jacobs was pretty strong, though the casual viewing audience had no time to care about their violent split, which they quickly tried to cover before the bout.  With about 14 minutes, they were given enough time to build a quality main event, so that’s a nice precedent for future broadcasts on HDNet. The SmackTalk feature—brief pre-taped promos airing as the competitors walked down the aisle—was an OK idea to maximize the allotted time, again allowing more time for wrestling. The “1, 2, 3” (as in three points) background info could have served as a more effective introduction for the boys to the viewing audience had the information displayed been more interesting, e.g., Kenny King is “Cocky/Arrogant.” (And King was the babyface…I think.)  It reminded me of the Matt Hardy V.1. gimmick, but at least Mattitude’s personality points were usually quite funny.

Overdressing the part: Titus oozes heel sleaziness.

Overdressing the part: Titus oozes heel sleaziness.

 

It was nice to hear the terms “professional wrestling” and “wrestler” throughout the broadcast.

The Bad:

The production values might have been an upgrade for ROH but are still miles behind WWE, and to a lesser extent, TNA, which will hurt them with casual viewers who have grown to associate slick presentation with a major-league product. I understand that ROH is a fledging promotion with a modest budget, but I’m reminded of Paul Heyman years ago explaining during the ECW heyday that the Philly hardcore promotion didn’t have the money to look as good as the WWF, so they didn’t try to be the WWF. ROH’s HDNet show appeared to aspire as times to look like RAW, which was impossible to achieve at this point. Clearly, ROH is banking on superior in-ring performance to WWE in making the crucial difference in building an audience on HDNet.

It was hard to tell if the crowd in attendance was dead or just improperly mic’d—either way, the atmosphere at the arena came off minor league. I expected a more passionate crowd, much like ECW (or even TNA) years ago. If I were a casual TV viewer, I’d think the live crowd was unfamiliar with the wrestlers and the ROH product.

At times, we appeared to be in the Land of Wrestling Gimmicks That Time Forgot. Kenny King, for some reason, came out in a suit blazer and trousers, which he awkwardly removed before the bout. Like rookies Jerry Lawler and the Rock years before him, young King smiled throughout the bout, which announcer Mike Hogewood tried to sell (repeatedly) as “He’s having a lot of fun out there.” Jacobs and Sami Callihan both had a Memphis 1990 feel to them: solid workers with a bad look who wouldn’t be getting any sort of push or TV time if the promotion had more depth.

The new Black: Solid in the ring, but watch his promos and you know why they call him the Silent Assassin.

The new Black: Solid in the ring, but watch his promos and you know why they call him the Silent Assassin.

 

On that note, Titus desperately needs to tweak his sleazy loverboy gimmick—losing the bowtie and the continual pelvis thrusts while wrestling would be a nice start. Again, Titus’ “Addicted to Love” persona came off like an outdated Memphis gimmick, but at least with him, that may have been the point. Titus has talent, but he’s stuck in the wrong gimmick.

With the exceptions of Jacobs and Titus, and possibly King, nobody displayed much charisma in their promos, rendering the “SmackTalk” feature less effective than it could have been. (King has potential, but he had nothing to say at all in his Saturday promo.) Tyler has the look and amazing athleticism but he is at least a couple of years away from being where he needs to be on the stick. Jacobs, on the other hand, is a natural menace on the mic, much in the same vein as a young Scott Levy (Raven) but I can’t imagine most fans taking him seriously because of his size. I don’t enjoy saying that because, as a Memphis fan, I grew up with smaller guys ruling the roost (Bill Dundee, Lawler, Eddie Gilbert, etc.) It’s hard to knock his work, but I’m not sure Jacobs belongs in your TV main event, especially on the debut show. The bloody, violent clips of the Jacobs/Black split seemed out of place within the Ring of Honor. I’d establish the sportsmanship of the promotion first on HDNet so it would mean more later when a personal feud makes two ROH competitors disregard the promotion’s principles to settle a feud. Those type of angles have a place in pro wrestling today, but less is more…and definitely not on the debut show.

A shame the snub of the prematch handshake (before the Black/Jacobs grudge match) had to be wasted on the first HDNet show.

The announcing team Mike Hogewood and Dave Prazak was pretty bland, with the former seeming particularly out of his element. “Backstage reporter” Kyle Durden came off green as well..not believable at all in the role.

With other promotions treating their title belts as props, it would have been a wise move to feature ROH champion Nigel McGuinness with a live promo. Nigel will appear in a taped bout next week vs. Jay Briscoe, but the Wrestling Observer is reporting that because of an injury McGuinness be out for months shortly thereafter.

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