Kayfabe Thoughts: Summer Slam Predictions Edition – 08/19/18

Last night’s NXT Takeover: Brooklyn 4 event may not have been as solid top to bottom as this year’s prior NXT events, but once again the “developmental brand” set a high bar to challenge for tonight’s 30th Anniversary Summer Slam.  2 of the 4 NXT title matches changed hands last night, and as Summer Slam can serve as an opportunity for WWE to make short term tweaks to the title scene or even test out possible storylines ahead of the Road to Wrestlemania, I expect some big moments in this evening’s show.

Predicted winners in bold and defending champions noted with (c).

Pre-Show

 Andrade “Cien” Almas & Zelina Vega vs Rusev & Lana – I can’t see Almas and Vega taking the loss here simply because they both have so much damn upside. It’s hard to believe at this point that Rusev was in a title match just last month, but here he is on the pre-show. I guess that’s better than being at catering with Naomi and Asuka.

Cedric Alexander (c) vs Drew Gulak (WWE Cruiserweight Championship) – It seems like 205 Live, while still solid and very much worth watching, has again lost some of its steam. Alexander is spectacular, but smiling babyface champs can be boring and at least a heel champion like Gulak can have a JBL/Cena “you’re too young to beat me” type feud with Lio Rush. Truthfully, my feelings on the whole 205 Live scene can be summed up in 3 words: I miss Neville.

The B Team (c) vs The Revival (Raw Tag Team Championship) – Listen, I love The Revival. Their matches in NXT with DIY and American Alpha were incredible examples of how great tag team wrestling can be when it’s executed by guys committed to performing as a team. But they’re short. Like noticeably shorter than all of their opponents. While that may have been ok for Arn and Tully in Crockett, that’s not what Vince likes. The B Team aren’t big guys either, but what they are is a comedy act and we know that Vinny Mac loves the ha-ha’s as much as he loves chocolate ti…well, you know. The B Team won’t be champs for much longer, but they won’t lose here.

Main Show

 Finn Bàlor vs Constable Baron Corbin – This story has gone on too long and has gone nowhere in the process. It’s clear that Vince and creative feel like Bàlor is missing something now, despite feeling decidedly the opposite way about him 2 years ago when he was made the first Universal Champion. Likewise, Corbin has muddled around the midcard since failing on his MitB cash in a year ago. Thankfully, Corbin saw the writing on the wall (not to mention the hair in the sink sadly) and ditched what was quickly becoming a “skullet” for a much better look. Too bad it came with a Corporate Kane starter kit. Oh yeah: there’s a match here. Bàlor wins, but it wouldn’t shock me if the WWE Creative Match Generator 2000 continues to glitch and we inexplicably get another turn on the booking merry-go-round.

Bludgeon Brothers (c) vs The New Day (SD Live Tag Team Championship) – There have been some very positive things to come out of the former Wyatt Family’s repackaging as the Bludgeon Brothers. For starters, I like the Bludgeon’s outfits just fine. I’m also glad Luke Harper got to change his clothes and they gave him a clip to hide his thinning hair. I’m happy that Erick Rowan no longer has to dress in a janitor’s jumpsuit for work. However, the hammers are bad cosplay though and every time Corey Graves has to try and sell us on the idea that the hammers are actually heavy, I hear him die a little inside. For Corey’s sake: ditch the hammers. For our sake: put the titles back on The New Day.

Braun Strowman (MitB) vs Kevin Owens (Strowman’s Money in the Bank contract) – Kevin Owens has no momentum going into this match. He’s spent the better part of the summer running from the Monster Among Men, playing the chickenshit heel perfectly and getting beat down by Big Braun at every turn. For these reasons I was thisclose to picking Owens. Only in the strange world of WWE booking would this make sense, but I’m still not convinced that Owens won’t win the MitB away from Strowman. WWE has had several opportunities to give Braun a run with the title, but hasn’t yet pulled the trigger. With Lesnar’s time as the WWE’s unbeatable monster coming to a close, this seems like a “if not now?” moment, and a Braun cash-in seems to be the easiest way to test those waters, but more on all that later…

Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Jeff Hardy (United States Championship) –Sadly, reading this will probably take longer than their last title match and there hasn’t been much physicality between the two in the aftermath. Since then, creative has done little to set up an actual Nakamura/Hardy rivalry, instead focusing on pushing things toward Hardy/Orton. Maybe Orton interferes and costs Nakamura the title, adding a championship aspect to the Hardy/Orton angle, but I think in light of recent allegations, Orton should refrain from giving a hand to anyone. Nakamura retains because there’s no good reason to put the title on Jeff Hardy here and Nakamura as a heel is gold.

Dolph Ziggler (c) vs Seth Rollins (Intercontinental Championship) – Rollins brought Ambrose back on Monday Night Raw to even the odds against Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. Ziggler has been really good with McIntyre as his running mate, but they need to have a run with the tag titles to really solidify the latter-day Shawn and Diesel vibe and that can’t begin until Dolph loses the IC title. Besides, the newly jacked Dean Ambrose can’t complete his Super Saiyan transformation until he helps Rollins become champion, only to immediately turn on him by beating the crap out of his old Shield mate.

The Miz vs Daniel Bryan – Honestly, I don’t know what to make of this. On one hand, it appears that WWE is actually going to pay off a storyline that has been building for nearly a decade, something they rarely do. On the other, it’s been rushed in such a way that makes me wonder if Daniel Bryan is really not actually on his way to being All Out. Still, I can’t imagine that WWE would set up Bryan’s exit by giving fans the match they’ve been clamoring for. I always thought Miz and Bryan deserved a bigger stage (WRESTLEMANIA!) with some real stakes (WWE CHAMPIONSHIP!) and perhaps this is the beginning of the road and not the end. We can’t get there with Bryan winning this one, so I’m picking the Miz and hoping for the best.

Carmella (c) vs Charlotte Flair vs Becky Lynch (SD Live Women’s Championship) – I’ll go on record as saying that no one in WWE, man or woman, “gets” who exactly their character is more than Carmella. She knows that character needs to be loud, obnoxious, and generally unbearable to be successful and she absolutely NAILS it. She is the company’s most hatable heel; she’s the female Miz. It seemed like the Women’s division ultimate white-meat babyface, Becky Lynch, was going to get her chance to shine by beating her for the championship, but then WWE made a very WWE decision and added the returning Charlotte to the match. Now I can’t help but feel like it’s a near lock that Charlotte walks out champion and that makes me sad because Becky isn’t a heel (they tried that in NXT and it just didn’t work IMO) and that’s how I see this going. Becky needs the title for a stretch, not to end up in catering learning Japanese puns from Asuka.

Alexa Bliss (c) vs Ronda Rousey (Raw Women’s Championship) – Ronda was ringside at NXT for fellow Horsewomen and NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler’s somewhat surprising loss to Kairi Sane, which appears to free up Baszler to support Rousey. WWE also confirmed a match featuring Alexa Bliss and Trish Stratus for the inaugural Evolution PPV in October. Though it wouldn’t shock me if WWE found another way to keep the title on Bliss to pay it off with Rousey at Hell in a Cell in September, the amount of buzz a Rousey win would make in the mainstream media is too hard to ignore and they won’t.

AJ Styles (c) vs Samoa Joe (WWE World Heavyweight Championship) – I can’t help but assume this is the match that WWE wishes they would have gotten to book 10 years ago, when both had a bit more tread on their tires. That’s not to say both aren’t still great, because both men remain among the top 8 talents on the roster, but the end of the road is closer for both than the beginning and Joe has had some injuries that may have delayed his ascent in WWE. For me, this is another of those “if not now, when?” moments in regard to Samoa Joe’s championship opportunities in WWE. AJ Styles has proven to be an effective babyface champ and re-lighting the fire by having him chase an old nemesis in order to regain his lost championship would be a great way to stoke the AJ Styles fire further over the course of the fall season. It’s Joe’s time and I think he becomes king of SD Live’s mountain.

Brock Lesnar (c) vs Roman Reigns (WWE Universal Championship) – I can’t see Vince paying Brock Lesnar to take the Universal Championship to UFC, so this has to be Reigns. And then it immediately has to be Strowman with the cash-in. I’m not going to bash Roman beyond I think his gear is lame and his character is stale to me, and I don’t even think either of those things are Roman’s choice. I also am unsure if Strowman is necessarily fully-baked enough as a character to carry the company. What I am sure of is that adding a desperate edge to Roman by having him finally achieve victory over one monster only to lose to another is perhaps the best (and maybe only) way forward as a babyface (or at least non-heel) for Reigns in order to get Roman to become the universally cheered superstar WWE wants him to be. Reigns history with Strowman is far from decided (Roman did try to murder Braun afterall) and there is plenty of good meat on the bone to chew for both. Both men continuing to build their legacies together benefits the company and the performers best (see also: Bret/Shawn and Austin/Rock) and would be a great story to tell this fall/winter on the Road to Wrestlemania, so I’ll pick Reigns over Lesnar, but the show closes with a post cash-in Braun holding the Universal Championship high above a fallen Roman.

Wanna give me a high five for being right or tell me how wrong I was? You can contact me with any comments either by posting in the comment area below, @-ing me on Twitter (@factfreemedia) or by emailing me at factfreemedia@gmail.com You can also find me at my website: http://www.factfreemedia.com where I host my wrestling history podcast “Kayfabe Forever”, which drops each Friday-ish. The podcast is also available for download by searching “Kayfabe Forever” on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, iHeart Radio, or Tune In Radio and by following the show page on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kayfabe Forever: My Wrestling Story – Pat Baer of UCB Theatre NY and League of Heels – 08/17/18

Join me for a trip deep into the heart of the Baer Caev, as this week I am joined by Pat Baer from Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre NY and League of Heels. We talk WCW, WWE, comedy wrestlers, League of Heels (duh!), Chikara pro wrestling and more! Also: can you recognize the intro/outro music?

THE LINKS!

Follow Pat on Twitter here!

Subscribe to Pat’s YouTube where you can find Pat’s Twitch panels, League of Heels stuff, Pat playing video games, and some really great builds!

Wanna give Pat some money so that he can continue to build things and deliver great content? Click here for Pat’s Patreon page.

Here is Pat’s profile page at Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre NY with some links to UCB videos featuring Pat and other talented UCB players.

League of Heels: West Coast Wishes is at PAX West on 9/1 from 830-10pm. You can watch it on Twitch live and catch up on past Pax shenanigans over at their website.

Follow League of Heels here!

Here is the League of Heels store over at Pro Wrestling Tees if you want some of that sweet LoH merch!

Lots of talk about Chikara pro wrestling in this episode. Here is a link to the promotion’s website and the roster can be found there as well.

Kayfabe Thoughts: Roman Reigns Is So Fetch

(Note: This opinion column also appears over at NODQ.com)

“Stop trying to make “fetch” happen! It’s not going to happen!” – Regina George

Nope, this column isn’t misplaced. I’ve just been recalling this phrase a lot lately when watching WWE.

This iconic line from 2004’s Mean Girls rings in my ears each and every time Roman Reigns appears on my screen. It also quickly follows any utterance of the phrase “THE BIG DOG!” by Michael Cole. It’s usually accompanied by a deep exhale, an eye roll, and the sudden urge to stop paying attention to whatever is on the screen.

Simply put, like a portion of the WWE Universe, I have a clear-cut case of Roman Fatigue.

Now, if you’re expecting a Roman Hate column, you won’t find it here. Roman is over and is no doubt the face of the company.

In fact, this really has nothing to do with Roman.

It’s not his fault.

If anything, his only perceived “crimes” are being too talented, too good-looking, and too charismatic. In reality, Roman Reigns ticks all the boxes of a traditional babyface and the WWE is sticking to how that specific star has been booked FOREVER and that, for me, is the heart of my real issue.

Babyfaces should lose in order to keep heat on whoever they are chasing in order to build sympathy with the audience and that is fundamental storytelling. It’s why Luke didn’t kill Vader in Episode 4, why Rocky didn’t beat Apollo in Rocky, and why Mario still fights Bowser.

But that’s not exactly how our entertainment works now.

We live in a hot-take, hot-n-ready, world. Everything moves faster. We want everything now or in as little time as possible. We don’t want ties – we want winners and losers. If the team struggles – fire the coach or trade the players. Don’t tell us Rose’s story – stick to Luke’s. (BTW: I love TLJ, don’t @ me!)

But with Roman, all of it has taken too long to pay off, and it seems like he’s shouldering the blame for years of booking decisions that were no fault of his own:

Roman didn’t hotshot himself into the championship picture as soon as The Shield broke up.

Reigns didn’t fail to book Daniel Bryan for the 2015 Royal Rumble.

He didn’t choose to book Rollins to cash in and win at WM31 while Reigns was at his absolute hottest (a fantastic moment) and I’m going to assume that it wasn’t his idea to lose to Brock again at not only WM34, but also Greatest Royal Rumble.

Creative is to blame for all that.

Bad luck in the form of contagious illness scuttled any goodwill that might have come along with The Shield reunion last fall.

Now, could Roman do some things better? Sure.

He certainly didn’t help himself by being suspended for violating the wellness policy while WWE Champion in June 2016 and killing any momentum from a program with former Shield-mates Rollins and Ambrose.

Reigns also continues to wear the tactical vest and cargo pants that he wore while a member of The Shield which makes his gear seem a bit boring after 5 years (also, even D’Lo Brown wonders why no one makes a big deal out of Roman wearing that vest!).

Finally, his handsome face is rather punchable while playing the cocky babyface.

In fact, Roman has been most interesting in the past year or so when he’s been on the arrogant side of things, be it with AJ Styles or The Undertaker, because he naturally gets heat. He’s a big, talented guy and the underdog angle doesn’t work for him because WE know he’s been on top for so long.

And that’s why creative should turn him heel for a stretch and hook him up with The Authority.

He should be a heel long enough to “reset” the character by being a badass, smug, unbeatable corporate heel.

Long enough so that when Reigns has had enough of being Triple H’s errand boy (as he used to call Seth Rollins) and rebels against them or when The Authority feels like he’s outlived his usefulness and they turn on Roman, it feels like something major is happening.

Long enough so that when his Shield brothers save him, it means something.

Not forever.

Just long enough.

Romans greatest potential lies in being a strong babyface because he IS one. But he can’t hit that potential without starting over and to start over in wrestling means either a turn or to go away and WWE would be foolish to bench Reigns for a long stretch.

It’s imperative that WWE finds a way to reset fan perception of its most bankable star quickly, just the same as they once had to with a stale Bret Hart.

Make Roman matter again.

Make Roman Reigns a heel.

You can contact me with any comments either by posting in the comment area below, @-ing me on Twitter (@factfreemedia) or by emailing me at factfreemedia@gmail.com You can also find me at my website: http://www.factfreemedia.com where I host my wrestling history podcast “Kayfabe Forever”, which drops each Friday-ish. The podcast is also available for download by searching “Kayfabe Forever” on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, iHeart Radio, or Tune In Radio and by following the show page on Facebook.

Kayfabe Forever: My Wrestling Story – Jan Ochoa from Giantbomb.com – 07/20/18

I’m back from a long break and this week I’m joined by Giantbomb.com Video Producer Jan Jerome Ochoa. Listen as Jan talks about becoming a fan during the “Attitude Era”, how Triple H made him irrationally hate sledgehammers, and what it was like when NJPW invaded the legendary Cow Palace earlier this month. There is so much good content in this episode, why are you still reading this?

THE LINKS!

Follow Jan on Twitter by clicking this! Come for the hot wrestling and video game takes, stay for the random pics of Jan contorting himself!

Here is Jan on Instagram. You know, he might just have an eye for creating visually appealing things…

You can help keep Jan and a bunch of other incredibly talented folks employed by visiting Giantbomb.com and subscribing! They have a TON of content and if you like video games and other ridiculous things, there’s really no reason you shouldn’t.

Here is a link to the Brian Pillman biography written by Liam O’Rourke that I mentioned on the show. Buy it or download it for free if you are a Kindle Unlimited member.

Kayfabe Forever: My Wrestling Story – Aaron Trites from League of Heels – 06/22/18

What happens when you combine the worlds of video game media and video game wrestling? My guest this week is Aaron Trites from League of Heels and he dared to ask this question 5 years ago and has lived to tell the tale. Find out how young Aaron fell in love with wrestling through a book, how college-era Aaron got interested in Kaiju Big Battel, and how Xavier Woods and Kenny Omega got involved with League of Heels. Plus, find out one unique change he would make to the current WWE. There’s a lot here, so get listening!

THE LINKS!

You can follow Aaron Trites on Twitter here. He’s got some cool stuff cooking that he can’t talk about quite yet, but you might be interested. Plus, he changed my life with his s’mores recipe…

You can keep up with League of Heels nonsense on Twitter here…

And if you want to see League of Heels roster and learn the history, visit the website by clicking here.

Kenny Omega did the intro for last year’s Pax Rumble V event. Here is a link to the LoH Youtube page so you can watch all the ridiculousness unfold. Also: subscribe!

As Aaron mentions on the show, League of Heels has a storefront over at ProWrestlingTees.com. Go buy some merch!

Kaiju Big Battel is TOTALLY RAD. Follow them on the tweeties!

 

 

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 14 06/15/18: Owen Hart Remembered

In this episode, I celebrate the career of the late Owen Hart. Join me as I look at the many highs of the man I refer to as “probably your favorite wrestler’s favorite wrestler” and talk about the legacy left by his untimely accidental death.

THE LINKS!

I posted a thread on Reddit asking for the best Owen matches and a bunch of Redditors came through with suggestions. Check them out for yourself!

Martha Hart wrote a book on Owen’s life and career. You can buy it here.

Here is a link to Bret’s book on Amazon as well.

Owen: Hart of Gold is one of the best ways to see Owen’s greatest matches and learn about his life. It’s a bit glossy, since it is a WWE product, but worth watching.

Wanna learn about why Jerry Lawler was pulled from Survivor Series 93? Click here to find the story on prowrestlingstories.com

Here is the star-studded tournament bracket for the tournament to determine the 1st ever WWF European Champion

Bruce and Conrad did a great episode on Owen. You can find it on their podcast page over at MLW Radio.

Kayfabe Forever: My Wrestling Story – Kenny Herzog of The Ringer – 06/14/18

Here it is listeners: the first of 2 new episodes this week! Join me as I chat with Kenny Herzog from The Ringer about his “Wrestling Story”. Kenny talks about growing up during the WWF/E’s heyday in the 80’s and 90’s, how he got into wrestling journalism, and if he thinks WWE fears New Japan even a little. Kenny has some interesting opinions and he shares a bunch of them with me! Also, keep an eye out for the nearly-lost Owen Hart episode that drops tomorrow. You won’t want to miss either episode, so hit play NOW!

THE LINKS!

Follow Kenny Herzog on Twitter!

Kenny has a website, and it includes a picture of Jiminy Glick! (it has other info too, but JIMINY GLICK!)

Here is Kenny’s LinkedIn profile. It really is quite comprehensive and is a great place to start if you want to read more of Kenny’s stuff.

“The Acute Angle” Kenny’s series on WWE’s foreign heels is really great. Click here to find everything he has written for The Ringer

Kenny also has written a TON for Rolling Stone. Here is one of my favorite articles. It’s about Cody Rhodes and his decision to become an independent wrestler.

 

Kayfabe Forever: My Wrestling Story – Greg Hyde (aka Stat Guy Greg) from ESPN’s Cheap Heat – 05/21/18

Greg Hyde, aka Stat Guy Greg from ESPN’s Cheap Heat podcast, is my guest for this installment of Kayfabe Forever’s My Wrestling Story series. Greg tells us how he became a fan, what he thinks is the greatest wrestling storyline of all time, and shares his thoughts on the current WWE product. Make sure you listen to the intro, as I reveal the identity of the next guest on “My Wrestling Story”. Also, make sure to tune in this Friday for my special Owen Hart career retrospective episode!

THE LINKS!

Stat Guy Greg on Twitter!

Cheap Heat on ESPN!

Check out our next guest Michel Mulipola’s stuff over at his website!

My article over at nodq.com from last week: John Cena Thinks You’re Stupid

My other article over at nodq.com from last week: Daniel Bryan Should Beat Brock Lesnar NOW!

My article for thechairshot.com from 05/11/18: WWE’s Vince Problem

Kayfabe Forever: My Wrestling Story – Jared Rea – 05/11/18

I’m sure you’ve found yourself wondering exactly how someone else became a wrestling fan. Well, I’ve decided to start asking that very question (along with some others) and I’ll be bringing you those interviews on this Kayfabe Forever series that I’m calling “My Wrestling Story”. My guest this week is the Internet’s own Jared Rea who will join me and tell his wrestling story. Find out how he became a fan, what he would change about the current WWE product, and why he loves Velveteen Dream SO DAMN MUCH! We had such a good time, we had to cut this one short!

Links:

Jared Rea on Twitter

Giantbomb.com, home of the Power Bombcast (it’s premium content, but the duders are worth the membership price if you love videogame ridiculousness).

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 13 04/06/18: WELCOME TO WRESTLEMANIA (WEEKEND)!

Unlike the stupidity surrounding the potential Undertaker and John Cena match, I’m not just teasing, I’m delivering! Join me as I talk myself into picking winners for every single match across this weekend’s most high-profile events: NXT Takeover: New Orleans and Wrestlemania 34. I also get a little cranky when talking about the battle royals and again towards the end when I discuss the whole Undertaker/Cena thing, so apologies in advance! Kayfabe Forever Episode 13: It’s What the World Is Listening To!

 

Kayfabe Thoughts: Raw is Bore…

WWE has a problem. The “go home” episode of Raw, the Raw that is supposed to set the table for half the Wrestlemania card’s matches (not to mention 2 matches that might potentially be the main event), was a total snore last night.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some good moments (Finn and Seth with Miz on commentary was pitch perfect), but by and large the second most important Raw episode of the year took a very safe, paint-by-numbers approach to match making and booking. In fact, the shot sheet for the show found its way into the hands of Fightful.com’s Sean Ross Sapp well in advance of show time and the show was note for note as he reported.

Now, Wrestlemania is the biggest wrestling show of the year for WWE, and in order for WWE to achieve the level of spectacle that “The Super Bowl of Wrestling” demands, WWE must protect storylines that, in some cases, have been planned meticulously for up to a year.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to book a tank for a party at the last minute, but it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not like you can just call “Tanks R Us” and somebody will show up an hour later with an Abrams. You have to plan that out well in advance.

It’s also a bit unfair to expect much match variety and excitement from this Raw. The last thing that WWE wants to do is have a superstar booked in a high-profile match to be injured performing a high-risk spot less than a week before the biggest show of the year. Likewise, talent don’t want to find themselves missing out on the year’s most lucrative payday.

Future WWE Hall of Famer Bubba Ray Dudley shared similar thoughts on his Twitter feed last night after the match between Finn Balor and Seth Rollins concluded, saying “The #RAW and #SDLive before ‘Mania are probably the most “nerve wracking” shows of the year because no-one wants to get hurt before the big one.”

So, if the storylines are baked and the in-ring performances play it safe, what makes it to air must be crisp and interesting and that is where Raw failed last night.

The in-ring work last night was largely solid. Most of the blame lays with the continued lazy booking and writing of the creative team. Unfortunately, clunky promos meant opportunities to heighten interest further were missed.

For example, Nia Jax’s interview segment with Renee Young may have been the best thing we’ve seen during her time in WWE and was among the high points of the show. Nia was at the same time vulnerable and strong, fiercely focused on getting revenge on her former best friend Alexa Bliss.

On the other side of the story, Alexa delivered what I consider one of her worst promos, punctuated by the WWE’s continued use of pop-up, bold font text. As in previous weeks, Bliss and Mickie James again poorly delivered the content of this Mean Girls like program, being more shrill and whiney than Regina George cutting and cruel.

What’s most troubling is that lately it feels like Alexa’s standing with the crowd might be suffering as a result of this booking, as her once narcissistic but charming character is receiving a bit of the infamous X-Pac “GO HOME!” heat from the crowd. Hopefully, once this story has run its course that the character recovers and no long-term damage has been done, because Alexa Bliss has developed into a bankable villainess on the main roster in a way unseen during her time in NXT.

Finally, the John Cena/Undertaker program still continues to confound much of the WWE Universe. Weeks of Cena calling out the Undertaker on Raw still ultimately led to nothing in return from the Deadman. With less than a week to go before Wrestlemania, WWE’s biggest star of the last decade and a half still has no opponent.

Personally, I’m in favor of the Undertaker continuing to remain retired, as last year’s swan song with Reigns at least made up for the uneven performances of the previous few appearances while providing a proper sendoff. However, the persistent, somewhat desperate pleas from Cena made a return seem imminent but still only silence. Ultimately, if there is no resolution here, if Big Evil and Super Cena don’t come face to face on the grandest stage of them all, fans will be left asking what all of that posturing was for if not a match between the two icons?

Of course, all of this will be forgiven if the payoffs for all these angles live up to their potential on Sunday, and I can’t wait to find out how Smackdown Live unfolds tonight.

WWE needs to be wary of the potholes on the home stretch of the Road to Wrestlemania. McMahon and company just need to keep their eyes and ears alert along the way.

Thanks for reading!

Kayfabe Thoughts: The Best Wrestling Week of the Year!

My 8 year old son loves the holiday season. Beginning on November 1, as he comes down from the candy high of Halloween the night before, he begins his countdowns: the first to Thanksgiving and then the big one to Christmas. His excitement grows every day as he anticipates the upcoming time with his extended family and, of course, the gifts. When Christmas finally comes, he wakes up early and with more enthusiasm than for any other day, determined to milk every moment out of the day he knows he only gets one time each year.

That’s me (and probably you, too) this week.

Get excited: it’s Wrestlemania week!

There are nearly 50 wrestling or wrestling-related events going on in New Orleans from promotions big and small. From NXT: Takeover and the flagship to “Pancakes and Piledrivers” presented by Pro Wrestling Revolver and WrestleCon; and even as far out as Kaiju Big Battel there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. Fans from around the world make plans up to a year in advance to attend, planning out their itineraries more meticulously than my wife planned our first trip to Disney World, in order to take in as much as possible and make memories that last a lifetime.

For those lucky enough to be in attendance, 3 things are for certain: sleep will be minimal; relationships will be tested; wrestling will be consumed.

Those of us who cannot attend will still find plenty of ways to take in as much as possible, pushing our ISP download speeds and couch cushions to their limits in the process. We can do so thanks to the number of streaming services offered these days by various wrestling promotions willing to take our money. While I can’t physically be present to see Cody and Kenny battle for Bullet Club supremacy (Bullet Club is FINE!), I can watch it all go down live for just $9.99 a month from the comfort of my own home.

Ah the internet: not just for porn anymore.

And the internet will be there for all of us fans, allowing those in attendance and those on their couches to give us their hottest takes about the week’s happenings, both real and fictional. Nope, scuttlebutt isn’t just for Meltzer anymore. Fans will take to Twitter and Periscope to tell us about how they had a friend who hooked up with a WWE creative team member and they saw the official match order and OMG Nakamura/Styles is on the pre-show and Alexa/Nia is going on last. They will tell us they saw Kenny kiss Kota outside a sex club on Bourbon St the night before SoH.

And we will eat that shit up, RTing and favoriting faster than a strike from Asuka and with less regard for the source than a GTS from KENTA.

We will also do our best to not just use wrestling’s biggest stage (bought and paid for by wrestling’s 800lb gorilla the WWE) as a platform to bring more people into wrestling’s fold, but we will use it as a device to continue to fracture and disenfranchise existing fans. We love to hate on each other in the name of what we think is the best way, instead of appreciating the differences between each promotion’s approach to booking their business.

There is nothing quite like the irony of someone in an Okada shirt berating a person in a Roman Reigns shirt because “Roman isn’t good. He’s just shoved down our throats every week.” It’s really quite breathtaking, but mostly it’s frustrating. One of my favorite places to browse for wrestling thoughts and ideas is r/SquaredCircle, but this week, I’ll try to avoid it. During this week, reason gets replaced by irrationality and flame wars abound. Still, to loosely quote the WWE philosophy, a negative reaction is still better than indifference, and there will be none of that to be found.

Still, there is so much more good than bad that will happen this week and, as always, I’m ready for it. Truthfully, I’ve been waiting for it since last year’s ended.

The best wrestling week of the year begins with excitement for ALL THE WRESTLING, ends after next Tuesday’s Smackdown with a feeling of gluttonous exhaustion from TOO MUCH GODDAMN WRESTLING, and usually features an apology to my wife somewhere in between.

Maybe I should go ahead and post a spoiler that the apology is coming via some theater tickets and a nice meal now?

Nah. Plans might change…

Thanks for reading!

 

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 12 03/30/18: Wrestlemania XIV 20th Anniversary Edition

With the height of wrestling season upon us, while others may Punch Out!!!, I’m punching in to bring you this week’s episode celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Wrestlemania XIV. I’ll take you through all the highs (Undertaker/Kane!!!), lows (Marco? Mero!), and groans (Gennifer Flowers) of this truly industry-changing event.

THE LINKS!

Fightful’s Brandon Howard wrote an excellent piece about Wrestlemania’s Business Stats that I found very insightful and it provided me with the financial info I mention about WMXIV early in the show. You should read it!

Here is the video of Undertaker’s WMXIV entrance featuring “O Fortuna”. So very cool.

An incredible promo featuring some great wrestling stars from the WWF’s early days. I forgot to mention Killer Kowalski is featured in this video, too. Watch it and know that  Vinny Mac’s eyes will well up with tears!

I mentioned that I’m writing an opinion column for NODQ.com now. Check them out over here!

 

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 11 – 03/24/18: Between The Rock and a Stone Cold Place

Oh hell yeah! Kayfabe Forever is back from a work-induced hiatus with the story of most electrifying trilogy of Wrestlemania matches in the history of sports entertainment: The Austin/Rock trilogy! I’ll take you from the roots of this rivalry as an IC title feud all the way through Austin’s final match at WMXIX, with plenty of clips included so you can experience again the moments as they happened. We’re on the Road to Wrestlemania, but take a detour down Jabroni Dr and stop off at the Smackdown Hotel.

THE LINKS!

The best thing Limp Bizkit ever did was allow their songs to be used by WWE. This promo package for the Wrestlemania X7 match between Austin and Rock is awesome. Watch it here!

One of the best sing alongs in the history of sing alongs. This is the full segment that is not available on “The Network” currently.

“The Mania of Wrestlemania” is one of the best things the WWE has ever produced and clearly influenced the popular 24/7 series on “The Network”. In addition to the behind the scenes stuff with Rock and Austin, there are some candid moments from the Undertaker, Kurt Angle, and Brock Lesnar. It’s worth your time.

 

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 10 03/09/18: Wrestlemania IV 30th Anniversary Edition

Wrestlemania IV is “What the World Is Watching” on March 27, 1988, and this year’s edition of the Colossal Tussle would feature a tournament for the vacant WWF World Heavyweight Championship. In this episode, we’ll take a No Holds Barred look at why they WWF found their championship vacated, for both kayfabe and real-life reasons, and review the entire card of Wrestlemania IV along with who wins it all.  A winner is YOU, this week on Kayfabe Forever!

THE LINKS!

Fightful’s Brandon Howard wrote an excellent piece about Wrestlemania’s Business Stats that I found very insightful and it provided me with the financial info I mention about WMIV early in the show. You should read it!

There is a great list of all the WWF supercards and tournaments, and the match order and times for a whole slew of PPVs over at prowrestlinghistory.com. Check out the bracket by clicking here!

If you want to buy No Holds Barred, you can do so via Amazon by clicking here (I don’t have a linked page or get any kickbacks, just so you know.)

…before you buy NHB, please check it out on Rotten Tomatoes first!

Bob Uecker gets choked by Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania IV!

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 9 03/02/18: A Completely Savage Episode

OOH YEAH! This week’s episode is about the one and only Macho Man Randy Savage. I’ll discuss his life and career (ok, I’ll try not to spend too much time on his WCW run) and spend some time breaking down some of his classic matches and feuds along the way. This one takes a little longer to listen to than your average cup of coffee, but I’ve heard that the cream always rises to the top, so give this week’s Kayfabe Forever a listen, DIG IT?

 

Macho Man Randy Savage – “Be A Man” on iTunes

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 8 02/26/18: Where Do Horsemen Come From?

Gather around everyone, it’s time for Episode 8 of Kayfabe Forever! This week,  I’ll tell you a tale of Golden Lovers; Elimination Chambers good and bad; and the cautionary tale of Jim Crockett Promotions: the most talent-rich wrestling promotion ever.

“Mark, where do Horsemen come from?”

“That’s easy, sport: Jim Crockett Promotions!”

All that and more, this week on Kayfabe Forever!

Links:

Jim Crockett Promotions: The Good Old Days documentary on HighspotsWrestlingNetwork.com

Tyson Kidd and Cesaro watch the Elimination Chamber match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

Upcoming Show Schedule:

March 2: Macho Man Randy Savage

March 9: Wrestlemania IV

March 16: Rock/Austin Trilogy of Wrestlemania main event matches

March 23: Wrestlemania XIV

March 30: Andre the Giant

April 6: Wrestlemania’s Top 10 Matches and Wrestlemania 34 preview

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 7 02/15/18: I Hart You!

While recording this episode, I almost lost my smile. Don’t worry: sunny days are ahead for Kayfabe Forever! Join me this week when I talk about the great Bret Hart’s incredible WWF tenure and I take you through some of the “The Hitman’s” greatest matches, some of which you know already and some are lesser known hidden gems. While not exactly excellently executed, this episode of Kayfabe Forever is beyond a shadow of a doubt the longest there is, the longest there was, and the longest there ever will be!

Here is the link to the reddit thread that has the list of Bret Hart matches put together by redditor MatthewMir (H/T to redditor NewSpicey for the rec!)

Kayfabe Forever Special Episode – 02/01/18: SO…MUCH…NEWS…

Since this Friday’s regular episode is all about The Hitman, I went ahead and eliminated the news segment from the show…by making it a stand-alone mini-sode (not a word)! In this special news-isode(also not a word), I’ll talk all about the big weekend that WWE had in Philly and get you up to speed about the latest Bullet Club drama that came out of New Japan’s New Beginning’s event in Sapporo.

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 6 – 1/26/18: Royal Rumblin’, Fumblin’, and Stumblin’

We’re back again this week, with an episode fit for royalty! This week, we’ll talk about the good, bad, and just plain weird of all things Royal Rumble in both our History and Main Event segments. We’ll also discuss the very strange news week that was had by the WWE and look ahead at next week’s very pink episode (hint, hint…). All of that (and some shameless self promotion) on this week’s over the top rope episode of Kayfabe Forever!

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 5 – 1/19/18: Finally The Mark Has Come Back…To Podcasting

They say that you can’t keep a good man down, but the illness running wild through my house sure tried, BROTHER! Kayfabe Forever is back and we’re here to talk 2017’s best wrestlers and matches, along with what we expect in 2018. I’ll also talk about some books (you know, those things you were forced to read in school?) that I read while trying not to tap out to The Reaper, and I’ll recap NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 12. This week’s episode is more than just a run-in, so grab your best hold and give it a listen!

Podcast Update: Too Sick, Bro!

Hey!

Unfortunately, the illness that started creeping up on me last week while podcasting has taken my voice completely, so there will be no new show this week. Sorry!

In place of the audio, I will be posting an article as part of the “Kayfabe Thoughts” series. It will be published Thursday morning, when the podcast would normally drop. Check it out then!

Also, we are now on Tune In Radio, just search “Kayfabe Forever” (or click the link here).

Thanks for listening and talk to you soon!

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 4 – 12/21/17: Deck the Hall (of Fame)!

Technological gremlins tried to play Scrooge with this week’s episode, but we said “bah humbug!” to them and prevailed. On this holiday edition of Kayfabe Forever, we’ll talk all about the WWE Hall of Fame. We’ll talk all about the naughty and nice honorees, see who’s stocking might contain an invite soon, and I’ll even play Grinch to some members who maybe should have gotten coal instead of a ring. Toss another Yule Log on the fire (or find that nifty channel on TV that plays it 24/7), pour yourself a hot beverage, and unwrap this week’s Kayfabe Forever!

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 3 – 12/14/17: Kayfabe Forever 4Life!

Hey yo! It’s Episode 3 of Kayfabe Forever and this week is all about factions. In the news segment, I’ll tell you all about the finals of NJPW World Tag League and the fallout from Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho’s first in-ring encounter as well as look ahead to WWE Clash of Champions. This week’s history lesson is about the legendary feud between the Von Erichs and Freebirds. Finally, in the main event, I’ll give you 6 factions that the WWE should be using right now. This episode is just TOO SWEET!

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 2

Check it to wreck it, let’s begin! We’re back for Episode 2 of Kayfabe Forever and this week we are all about tag teams! In the news segment, I’ll talk about some of the latest goings on in New Japan’s annual World Tag League event. In this week’s history lesson, I’ll tell you all about one of the greatest tag team matches EVER. Finally, in the main event, find out who I consider to be the best tag teams of all time! C’mon party people, let’s make like Tom Zenk and hit the HOT TAG, this week on Kayfabe Forever!

Kayfabe Forever, Episode 1 – 11/30/17

Episode 1 of Kayfabe Forever is finally here, and while we might not yet be the cream of the crop, we like to think we are certainly worthy of being snapped into. In this episode, we introduce you to how we think about the silly world of pro wrestling (while making a regrettable middle-initial swap), recap this week’s RAW and Smackdown episodes, and take a walk down memory lane as we revisit Survivor Series 1992. All that and an apology at the end? Yep, there is a lot to be sorry for here, but hopefully also enough to enjoy!

Subscribe to Kayfabe Forever!

UPDATE!: We are now able to be listened and subscribed to on a number of other podcast apps, including Google Play, Pocket Casts, and Stitcher! Enjoy and let me know if there are other apps that you would like to hear us on!

Hey everyone! Now you can subscribe to the Kayfabe Forever podcast via the Apple Podcasts app! We are working hard to get approval from the other podcast providers and will keep you updated as they become available! Click on one of the links below to go to our show page and download the latest episode and subscribe!

Subscribe to Kayfabe Forever on iTunes

Subscribe to Kayfabe Forever on Google Play

Subscribe to Kayfabe Forever on Pocket Casts

Subscribe to Kayfabe Forever on Stitcher

 

Kayfabe Thoughts: John Cena Thinks You’re Stupid

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

To be regarded as “the top guy” in the wrestling business is something all wrestlers aspire but few actually achieve. In the ring, the wrestler must be charismatic to both adults and children, possess the gift of gab, and be technically proficient enough to have good matches with competitors of all shapes, sizes, and skill sets. Outside the ring, they must be able to carry the weight of being the ultimate brand ambassador and able to withstand the additional scrutiny that comes with heightened visibility and expectation.

John Cena carried that weight for the better part of 15 years for WWE. Night after night, day after day, Cena worked tirelessly to live up to the expectations thrust on him as WWE’s standard bearer. Appearance after appearance, charity event after charity event, town after town, all over the world, John Cena came to epitomize what WWE is as a company, both inside and outside the squared circle.

Young Cena shifted his persona to reflect his status. Gone were the chains and hip hop lyric insults. No more rap albums or edgy promos.

Just hustle, loyalty, and respect.

The new Cena wore brightly colored shirts to appeal to his younger fans. He kept the jorts, but they became less baggy. He learned Mandarin, so that he could speak to his fans in China. Super Cena even re-invented himself somewhat in the ring, learning some new tricks along the way to mix in among his infamous “Five Moves of Doom” in order to have more exciting matches with new, younger opponents. Cena evolved and it paid off handsomely for WWE and Cena.

But Father Time is undefeated and the tastes of wrestling fans change.

Physically, Cena is fit as ever. He has stayed relatively injury free throughout his career and his commitment to maintaining himself has clearly benefitted him. But his youthful looks are trending toward middle age and there is now a bald spot struggling to be masked by even the most closely cropped fade.

More troublingly, fan patience with and interest in the Cena character has waned. The former 50/50 “Let’s go Cena/Cena sucks” chants skew far more negative. Time off to make WWE financed movies that served as expanded marketing ventures was once ok because fans loved to see Cena in action movies like “The Marine”. Today, fans question his commitment to the WWE and deride him as a part timer who only comes back to WWE to promote his films, shade a younger Cena once threw at the Rock.

While the clearest path back to relevance seems to be Cena finally giving in and turning heel a la Hulk Hogan 20 years ago when he found himself in a similar place, Mr Make-A-Wish has refused. As a result, Cena’s position at the center of the WWE Universe has drifted.

Consider his last 3 WM appearances: an injury limited appearance at WM32; a WM33 appearance hinged on completing a storyline from his girlfriend Nikki Bella’s reality show by finally giving in and asking her to marry him in the ring after their match with The Miz and Maryse; and at WM34, a 3 minute squash match loss vs the seemingly retired Undertaker. The Undertaker match felt especially weird in that it left everyone confused as to what exactly the point was of the build which featured Cena seeming less like a tough guy calling a reluctant opponent out but more like an entitled, petulant child whose parent won’t get him the toy he so desperately wants.

Cena’s spotlight, one that burned brightly and only for him, has dimmed.

So what does Cena do?

He works. He hustles.

But this time it’s the fans who are being hustled and worked, with no respect for the fans intelligence to be found.

To the surprise of no one paying attention, Cena and Nikki announced on April 11 that they would not be getting married in a matter of weeks as planned. This announcement came just 6 days after a promo for the upcoming season of “Total Bellas” teased that there was trouble in paradise and also before the release of Cena’s movie “Blockers”. All of it happened so quickly and so seemingly coordinated that not even the most cynical of fans began to wonder if something was afoot.

Still, a certain contingent of fans immediately threw around phrases like “this is heartbreaking”, “poor Nikki”, and “we must respect them during this difficult time” because “this is real life stuff, not wrestling stuff”.

In light of all that has occurred since, I’m going to go ahead and tell the Bella Army that they need to stand down, because they all just got WORKED along with the rest of the WWE Universe.

Three weeks later, it’s even more clear that the probability of all this being a work is closer to the truth than not, despite consistent denials otherwise. As the premiere of “Total Bellas” drew near, Nikki released a heartfelt vlog, makeupless and emotionally drained. Cena then made a few statements in interviews claiming he still loves Nikki and always will. Cena upped the ante when during an appearance on the Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda, John stated that “I still love Nicole, I still would love to marry Nicole, I still would love to have a family with Nicole”. Later, during a red carpet interview on Extra, Nikki would be informed of Cena’s comments and reply with an unconvincing “Wow. I’m speechless.”

Nikki might be speechless, but I’m not.

This is garbage.

Furthermore, neither is a skilled enough actor to convince me that any of this was ever real.

While I am absolutely in favor of personal, real life situations being kept out of the wrestling realm, all of this has taken place very publicly in front of the WWE Universe. Everything that has been presented for consumption within the confines of WWE produced television is subject to criticism and speculation. Anyone saying otherwise is engaging with the product on a level that makes me uncomfortable.

Fans were right to question the entire Cena/Nikki engagement from the beginning. Cena had long portrayed himself both on “Total Divas” and “Total Bellas” and, most tellingly, IN REAL LIFE as someone who’d rather set all of his cars on fire than subject himself to marriage again or children. I think John Cena’s nightmare’s all begin with him finding himself on the set of “Maury” with the host hanging on the verdict of whether or not he is a father.

So why the change? Certainly not for love, but instead for the love of one’s self and the spotlight. Plucking at the heartstrings of easily manipulated fans landed Cena a heavily promoted spot at last year’s Wrestlemania, so mission accomplished. Maybe a breakup will pop “Total Bellas” ratings and help push along those pesky contract negotiations with NBCU. Heck, maybe Nikki can even sell some more Birdie Bee product by playing the clueless girl one more time!

Either way, the warm spotlight Cena loves and has come to crave so much returns.

There is a famous line uttered in an equally famous scene by forgotten and delusional starlet Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson) in the 1950 film “Sunset Boulevard” that comes to mind when I consider where John Cena is now and what track he seems to be willing to take in effort to return to the spotlight.

In my mind’s eye, I can see today’s Cena backstage at RAW, the Cena who continues to stick with the jorts and bright tees because that’s what his fans used to love, the Cena with a fuller bump card and less full hairline, the Cena who apparently traded loyalty and respect for notoriety and a paycheck. He marches with purpose down the hallway, flings the door to the room where creative meets to discuss upcoming storylines open and announces to Vince and everyone inside: “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr McMahon.”

Thanks for reading!

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Kayfabe Thoughts: WWE’s Once and Future King

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

As Wrestlemania neared, it appeared that Brock Lesnar would be leaving the WWE to return to the UFC. Lesnar, who had held the WWE Universal Championship since defeating Goldberg at the previous year’s Wrestlemania, found himself as the ire of many fans due to the attraction nature of his booking and the resulting sporadic defenses of his championship. While it seemed that the equally (if not more) reviled Roman Reigns would be the beneficiary of Lesnar’s departure, fans were at least happy that 1 of the 2 most high-profile championships in the company would begin to make regular appearances on TV and at PPVs again.

But of course, in the words of Uncle Dave, plans changed.

Lesnar and WWE came to terms on a new deal that would allow Lesnar to work UFC dates in addition to his WWE deal just hours before WM. Not only did Lesnar retain the title vs Reigns at WM, he also prevailed in the subsequent rematch at The Greatest Royal Rumble, much to the chagrin of the WWE Universe.

The Mayor of Suplex City hasn’t been seen on WWE TV since and unfortunately the legit contenders are few it seems.

In their last head to head encounter, Braun Strowman, the current monster of the WWE, ate the pin clean. I’m all for Braun getting a title run and I think that getting it by absolutely destroying Lesnar would make a statement in the process. However, it seems like if WWE creative wanted to protect the Monster Among Men mystique, he would have beaten Lesnar already.

Samoa Joe is in almost the same boat as Strowman. Despite building a program last summer between Lesnar and Samoa Joe around Joe’s persona of being a legit badass, the Samoan Submission Machine came up short against Lesnar at 2017’s oddly named Great Balls of Fire event in one on one competition and again in a Fatal Four Way match that included Strowman and Roman Reigns at Summerslam.

In my opinion, the challenger who made Lesnar look most vulnerable (and most like the Lesnar of old) last year was AJ Styles at Survivor Series 2017. However, unless the WWE wanted to do some sort of title unification bout with the Universal and WWE Championships, it’s unlikely to be revisited.

Is there a light at the end of the Brock Lesnar tunnel?

In a word: YES!

In 3 words: YES! YES! YES!

Daniel Bryan should be the guy.

I understand the WWE’s hesitance to re-insert Bryan into the main event picture. Bryan’s health issues derailed the last 2 high profile programs Bryan had before his retirement, when Bryan was WWE champ and again during his brief return as Intercontinental champ. The potential disaster for Bryan and WWE to have to deal with another head injury warrants all the caution that seems to be taken right now.

But man, what a story it could be.

When Bryan announced his return in March, the entire sports world, not just the WWE Universe or wrestling fans, stood up and took notice. The news of his un-retirement sparked a reaction that isn’t seen often within the IWC: universal happiness. Paying off the “Believe in your dreams and your dreams will believe in you” idea with a win over the reigning, defending, undisputed Universal Champion Brrrrock LLLLesnar would punctuate the story with a what might be a bigger moment than Bryan’s WMXXX win over the Authority.

And Bryan could no doubt have a great match with Lesnar. Think back to the Styles/Lesnar match I mentioned earlier. Styles in-ring approach is so diametrically opposite of Lesnar’s that it was believable that he could keep the Beast Incarnate on his heels and perhaps pull off the upset. Bryan would be positioned in a similar way and with a larger variety of submission holds at his disposal, the potential to weaken Lesnar’s base (Brock always seems to skip leg day) can easily be established.

Imagine the pop if the biggest underdog, a man who was told he was too small to compete with the heavyweights and one who had to give up his title due to injury and retire, emerges victorious in a match with one of the most unstoppable forces in wrestling and combat sports history.

Goosebumps (or goose pimples as the great Gorilla Monsoon said)…

With one moment, WWE could go a long way to stealing back some of the magic that the stale, lazy booking stole over the last few months. And with most of the recent positive wrestling headlines going in the direction of a show headlined and promoted by a man who asked to be released by the company (Cody), this is a great way to bring some of that positivity the WWE’s way.

Bryan as champ works right into a program with longtime nemesis The Miz. From there, all the dream Bryan battles could go down (Styles, Balor, Nakamura, Joe, Zayn, Owens among others), provided his health continues to hold. Ultimately, maybe the WWE revisits Bryan/Reigns and uses Bryan to legitimize Reigns as champ like they did with their matchup before WM 31. The possibilities are endless and with the stacked roster of talent WWE possesses right now between the main and NXT rosters.

Bryan is the man that can bring the magic back to WWE.

WWE just needs to take a real look at what is going on and act fast.

Thanks for listening!

Kayfabe Thoughts: WWE’s Vince Problem

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

In 1982, Vincent K. McMahon purchased Capitol Wrestling Group and the WWWF from his father, Vincent J. McMahon. Between 1954 and 1982, the elder McMahon built his version of the WWWF around the old territory idea of how wrestling promotions were run. Business was good, as the WWWF had long been regarded as one of the crown jewel territories because it was among the first promotions to split gate dollars with talent and controlled the New York market, and Vincent J. McMahon was very happy to keep the status quo.

However, the younger McMahon had a larger vision for not just the WWWF, but for the wrestling business as a whole that his father could not or did not want to see. In fact, “Junior”, as his father’s friends called him, changed the business so drastically that even he admitted to Sports Illustrated in 1991 “Had my father known what I was going to do, he never would have sold his stock to me.”

As fans, we’ve been able to watch that vision turn into reality, as Vincent K. McMahon would turn the world upside down again and again, turning his father’s regional promotion into one of the largest entertainment companies in the world. Along the way, he has given us some of the most memorable characters, moments, and storylines in the history of the sport. He has also pushed the now WWE to the forefront of innovation, re-writing the book on how wrestling is marketed and produced.

Truly Vince McMahon is one of the most innovative, creative minds in the history of entertaiment and the father of modern wrestling (insert genetic jackhammer joke here).

Except he’s killing WWE and needs to go.

Now, I know someone is rolling their eyes at this, frantically getting ready to type something about “WWE revenue year over year”, “#LOLZWUTAMARK”, “You don’t understand wrestling” etc. but just take a minute and keep reading.

Vincent K McMahon is 72 years old, 3 years older than his father when he passed away as a result of pancreatic cancer and 5 years older than his father was when he was bought out. Some of the same things in regard to presentation and being overly reliant on old ways of doing things that the younger Vince held against the older are now somewhat afflicting the current WWE.

Brock Lesnar as an attraction-type champion is a bad and antiquated approach. Attractions worked when the WWE didn’t produce so many hours of content each week. That’s not to say wrestlers as attractions can’t draw. Attraction matchups still work, look at the interest in the Undertaker or HHH’s yearly Wrestlemania matchup, but it’s a really bad look to have all this content, but not be able to feature one of your top 2 champions.

The same can be said of the repetitive, dogmatic approach to Roman Reigns booking. I like Roman. I think he’s an excellent performer, good looking, popular with kids. He ticks all the “top guy” boxes. He is SUPER over without question. But Vince and creative have tried out every single approach to cementing him as champion without giving that character time to breathe with the fans. Think about it (or maybe, more appropriately, #UseYourHead): he’s tried the dominant Hogan booking, the bad-boy Austin booking, the screwed over by the Authority booking, and now the scrappy underdog booking with Roman all to NO AVAIL.

I could go further with this, but by now you are already thinking of other examples of the WWE’s repetitive approach to main roster booking and production.

Truthfully, the best parts of WWE right now are NXT and lately 205 Live, both Triple H’s pet projects. Triple H smartly seems to have built both to more closely resemble the style and tone of promotions like ROH, New Japan, and PWG which are currently popular among younger and international fans alike.

Perhaps most troubling is when NXT stars get to the main roster, many struggle because Vince’s approach is so very different. As de facto god of all things wrestling for the main roster, Vince has to be held responsible for the product’s inability to evolve.

It’s really simple business. Any business that can’t grow its talent to success will always have trouble on multiple fronts and eventually will endure long-term difficulty. Mid-level talent and below will continue to do just enough to stay around because they are just happy to get a paycheck. Good players who feel abandoned, mishandled, or ignored will leave, taking their talent elsewhere and succeeding when given a platform that is better suited to their strength (see also: Cody Rhodes).

When the growth problem becomes most debilitating is when the talent exodus eventually breeds a more competitive market. What’s worse is the eventual whisper campaign against your company which impacts the ability to attract new up and coming talent. Right now, WWE can still cover their imperfections with the promise of a bigger paycheck for young, starving performers eager to make it to the big stage.

But if what continually occurs is that they fail not because of their lack of skill or an inability to connect with the crowd but because of a failure to connect with a septuagenarian who rules with an iron fist, eventually the chorus of bad experiences gets loud enough to drown out the siren’s call of the money. The consequence becomes inevitable and your company goes from being stocked deep with young talent to having to hire the 3rd, 4th, and 5th best candidate in order to fill a roster (see also: The Island of Misfit Toys that was mid-90’s WWE or the later days of WCW).

Predictably the product suffers, market share shrinks, and one of two things happens: the company changes course radically and bounces back (late 90s WWE) or your former fans serenade you with a rousing rendition of Vince’s favorite song as the lights go dark for good.

A wiser man than I once said “Enough is enough. It’s time for a change.”

Vince has to go.

Just don’t blow him up in a limo this time.

Vince Blown Up

Kayfabe Thoughts: Running on Empty

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

Well, it’s been a while.

More specifically, it’s been since before Wrestlemania.

I won’t go into specifics, but it’s been a bit of a month. Infection. Surgery. Recovery. Not my favorite 6 weeks personally.

And still, I feel like my time post-Wrestlemania has been better than WWE’s.

Wrestlemania weekend started out strong. Takeover NO was one of the best cards WWE has put together in years and the talent delivered, setting the bar high and making for a tough act to follow. To the pleasant surprise of most fans, the early part of the card (minus the pre-show battle royals) featured several excellent matches. From the Miz/Rollins/Balor classic at the outset of the event all the way through the Rousey/Angle/HHH/Stephanie match, it seemed that the main roster was ready to meet that challenge.

However, after a few so-so matches mixed in among an underwhelming payoff to the Undertaker/Cena build, Daniel Bryan’s triumphant return to WM, and the weirdly constructed Styles/Nakamura match, it was clear that there were cracks throughout the foundation.

Then the house fell in on itself: Lesnar beat Reigns and the fans who were already actively antagonistic showered Lesnar and Reigns with boos all the way to Gorilla.

Creatively, WWE seems to be caught in a free fall ever since.

The tone-deaf money grab that was The Greatest Royal Rumble was hugely disappointing for many fans. The event was highlighted by yet another curiously booked Lesnar/Reigns match and culminating in an apology for mistakenly showing the “Best of Both Worlds” promo during the event and exposing the crowd to images of scantily-clad women, a big no-no in Saudi Arabia. Not a good way to punctuate what was intended to be an opportunity to promote the progressive agenda espoused by the current regime through good, clean fun (for anyone who isn’t a woman).

Oh, and Brock Lesnar, still the Universal Champion, hasn’t been seen since.

WWE proceeded to throw gas on the fire by having one of the worst PPVs ever just 9 days later. Aside from another really good match between Seth Rollins and The Miz, the remaining matches were predictably, if not curiously, booked. Also, I thought back to Seth Rollins’ promo on Raw, when he talked about the grind of the touring schedule, because it seemed like everyone was just missing a gear in regard to ringwork. Hopefully the extended time between Backlash and Money in the Bank will let the overtaxed talent heal up mentally and physically from the toll paid over the last month.

Perhaps most troublingly are the continued issues WWE creative has introducing or re-introducing talent to the WWE Universe. While I can’t fault fans for not immediately getting back on board with Bobby Lashley (yawn) or Big Cass (he didn’t do a single crunch while he was out?), my biggest concern still rests with how promoted talent are handled.

NXT stars brought to the main roster have been met with a TON of indifference, aside from the now-double-I IIconics. In fact, the most high-profile additions, Andrade “Cien” Almas and SaNity, have yet to be seen outside of a few “coming soon” vignettes. Regardless, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that anyone promoted from NXT is going to have their character augmented and usually it’s changed in such a way that fans lose interest quickly.

Oddly, the only character who didn’t undergo a change thus far are No Way Jose and that is a gimmick that was already dead in the water. I don’t care that everyone at house shows loves the conga line, it’s Adam Rose and the Rosebuds 2.0. He’ll probably be feuding with a person in a “jalapeno on a stick” suit soon given the success of “Bury the Drug Free Bear” and creative’s penchant for cultural misappropriation.

Overall, it hasn’t been the hot start to the new wrestling year that I’m sure WWE anticipated. Though the company itself might be coming off its greatest revenue year in history, time is already beginning to run short with the WWE Universe’s patience. If reports from some in attendance are to be believed, fans may have already been headed for the exits before the end of the Samoa Joe/Roman Reigns main event.

For a company that believes that anything that gets a reaction is good for business, that kind of action from fans is decidedly NOT good business.

Thanks for reading!

Kayfabe Thoughts: The Most Wonderful Time of the (Wrestling) Year!

(I’ve written a few columns this year for some other online sources and now I’m making those available here, so you might have already read this or it’s subject might be dated. If you’ve already read it: THANKS! If you haven’t: here you go!)

My 8 year old son loves the holiday season. Beginning on November 1, as he comes down from the candy high of Halloween the night before, he begins his countdowns: the first to Thanksgiving and then the big one to Christmas. His excitement grows every day as he anticipates the upcoming time with his extended family and, of course, the gifts. When Christmas finally comes, he wakes up early and with more enthusiasm than for any other day, determined to milk every moment out of the day he knows he only gets one time each year.

That’s me (and probably you, too) this week.

Get excited: it’s Wrestlemania week!

There are nearly 50 wrestling or wrestling-related events going on in New Orleans from promotions big and small. From NXT: Takeover and the flagship to “Pancakes and Piledrivers” presented by Pro Wrestling Revolver and WrestleCon; and even as far out as Kaiju Big Battel there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. Fans from around the world make plans up to a year in advance to attend, planning out their itineraries more meticulously than my wife planned our first trip to Disney World, in order to take in as much as possible and make memories that last a lifetime.

For those lucky enough to be in attendance, 3 things are for certain: sleep will be minimal; relationships will be tested; wrestling will be consumed.

Those of us who cannot attend will still find plenty of ways to take in as much as possible, pushing our ISP download speeds and couch cushions to their limits in the process. We can do so thanks to the number of streaming services offered these days by various wrestling promotions willing to take our money. While I can’t physically be present to see Cody and Kenny battle for Bullet Club supremacy (Bullet Club is FINE!), I can watch it all go down live for just $9.99 a month from the comfort of my own home.

Ah the internet: not just for porn anymore.

And the internet will be there for all of us fans, allowing those in attendance and those on their couches to give us their hottest takes about the week’s happenings, both real and fictional. Nope, scuttlebutt isn’t just for Meltzer anymore. Fans will take to Twitter and Periscope to tell us about how they had a friend who hooked up with a WWE creative team member and they saw the official match order and OMG Nakamura/Styles is on the pre-show and Alexa/Nia is going on last. They will tell us they saw Kenny kiss Kota outside a sex club on Bourbon St the night before SoH.

And we will eat that shit up, RTing and favoriting faster than a strike from Asuka and with less regard for the source than a GTS from KENTA.

We will also do our best to not just use wrestling’s biggest stage (bought and paid for by wrestling’s 800lb gorilla the WWE) as a platform to bring more people into wrestling’s fold, but we will use it as a device to continue to fracture and disenfranchise existing fans. We love to hate on each other in the name of what we think is the best way, instead of appreciating the differences between each promotion’s approach to booking their business.

There is nothing quite like the irony of someone in an Okada shirt berating a person in a Roman Reigns shirt because “Roman isn’t good. He’s just shoved down our throats every week.” It’s really quite breathtaking, but mostly it’s frustrating. One of my favorite places to browse for wrestling thoughts and ideas is r/SquaredCircle, but this week, I’ll try to avoid it. During this week, reason gets replaced by irrationality and flame wars abound. Still, to loosely quote the WWE philosophy, a negative reaction is still better than indifference, and there will be none of that to be found.

Still, there is so much more good than bad that will happen this week and, as always, I’m ready for it. Truthfully, I’ve been waiting for it since last year’s ended.

The best wrestling week of the year begins with excitement for ALL THE WRESTLING, ends after next Tuesday’s Smackdown with a feeling of gluttonous exhaustion from TOO MUCH GODDAMN WRESTLING, and usually features an apology to my wife somewhere in between.

Maybe I should go ahead and post a spoiler that the apology is coming via some theater tickets and a nice meal now?

Nah. Plans might change…

Thanks for reading!