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!

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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!

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 – 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: 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, 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!