Monday, March 23, 2015

WrestleMania Week - Phantom Troublemaker on the State of WWE

Welcome to WrestleMania Week here on Needless Things!

Over the course of this week leading up to the granddaddy of ‘em all we’ll be talking wrestling, reviewing figures, and wrapping it up with a WrestleMania episode of the Needless Things Podcast. Also, be sure to follow me on Instagram where I’ve been using the #wrestleraday hashtag to post a different wrestling toy every single day since the beginning of the month. 
I have been immersing myself in professional wrestling lately.

It’s partly due to the impending WrestleMania, but also partly because something about the convergence of various promotions and storylines has sparked that fandom in me again. I don’t know if today’s post will be more WWE-centric or if I’m just going to ramble about all of wrestling, but I’m definitely more invested in it than I have been in a few years. And I’m okay with that.

More than okay, as a matter of fact. I’m delighted that I once again care about what happens on Monday Night RAW. Not only that, but shows from two different companies are amongst my current favorite television programs – Ring of Honor’s weekly show and WWE’s NXT (which isn’t technically a television show, but whatever). Heck, I’ve even started visiting Online Onslaught again. If you don’t know, OO is a website directed towards more intelligent wrestling fans and used to be a daily (or more) stop for me.

I’m going to have to give most of the credit to WWE and their product since that’s the most omnipresent of them and definitely the focus of my interest. And before you roll your eyes and go back to taking that “Which Subway Sandwich Are You?” quiz on, let me explain:

First, like I said above, WrestleMania is coming. Regardless of anything else that’s going on, I always get a little more into wrestling at this time of year. But in 2015 I seem to be feeling it a lot more than I have for the past few years. And it’s mostly because of the WWE Network. Being able to relive the glory years of wrestling – which in my opinion ended in 2001 – whenever I want has enhanced my enjoyment of the current product immeasurably. That may not make sense because logic would dictate that continually comparing the current not-as-great product to the far superior (in some cases) product of decades gone by would be bad. But now, instead of having to slog through four hours of talking and shitty storylines a week just to get to one hour of wrestling I can have all the wrestling I want whenever I want it. So it doesn’t seem as terrible to have to sit and fast-forward through John Cena or Randy Orton’s shitty and interminable promos.

Now, having said that, you might wonder why I’m even watching the current product at all if I dislike it so much. The answer is that I don’t really dislike it that much. Right now I feel that there is a lot more good than bad on RAW and SmackDown. While there are specific wrestlers I’d be fine with never seeing again, most of the angles have somebody involved that I am interested in. So there aren’t currently any segments on either show that I simply don’t care about.

I think the easiest way to illustrate this is to run down the current card for WrestleMania. I had intended on closing this article with that, but whatever. I’ll wrap up with some comments on WWE Network programming.

AJ Lee & Paige v. The Bellas

I was a lot higher on these ladies before that stinker of a match last week on RAW. And it occurs to me that I should watch last week’s (though as I write this last night’s) SmackDown before I go any further. So I will.


Okay. I’m glad I did that because it reinforced my feelings about one match and altered them about another – this one.

AJ Lee fought Nikki Bella on RAW and it was pretty bad. I love AJ and try to be generous towards the Bellas because I don’t dislike them, but that match was the shits. On SmackDown Paige faced Brie Bella and it was intense enough that it didn’t matter so much if it was good. I mean, I think that it was good, but both ladies threw their hearts into it so it looked good.

It took me a while to warm up to Paige, but I’m definitely a fan now. She’s a hard worker and knows what she’s doing in the ring.

This should be an entertaining match with half of the competitors being very good, a fourth being solid, and the other fourth having a ridiculously sweet ass. I’ve tried to avoid objectifying the Divas in that way, but I am also not so absurd as to overlook what is clearly certain members of that division’s most valuable asses. Assets.

As a whole I’m not super into the women’s division, especially not after seeing the women of NXT absolutely killing it week after week. Those ladies are superhuman. I have never seen women work like Bailey, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte Flair. And the rest of the women there are great, as well. Those are just the three that have really blown my mind. But as I’ll explain later, NXT is a whole different level.

Oh, and I think it sucks that the Divas Championship isn’t being defended. Way to #givedivasachance, fucktards. And yeah – I understand that a tag match does get more per capita Divas involved in the biggest event of the year, but I feel like it undermines the division to not feature a title defense.

Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

I don’t give even a tiny little shit about this match. Cesaro’s win last year was fantastic and led to jack and squat for him. After Kane’s jobber battle royal on RAW I care even less about this than I did before. The only possible bright spot is in the potential for Axelmania to run wild. 
That’s how bad this match looks – I’m referring to the black hole of charisma,
Curtis Axel, as a bright spot. But I’ll go ahead and admit – the Axelmania gimmick has got me. If Axel can get into the rhythm and find his own thing once that gimmick gets stale, good for him. I wish the guy the best.

Having said all of that – this is still a battle royal and battle royals are fun. While I’m not a fan of every entrant, there’s a great mix here that will make for some entertaining stuff. And yeah – I know Miz and Mizdow are both in this, but personally I feel their excellently executed feud deserves better than to be buried in this thing. Even if Mizdow wins, what’s the significance, really?

Seth Rollins v. Randy Orton

I don’t like Randy Orton. I’ve never liked Randy Orton. I can’t imagine myself ever liking Randy Orton. Every single thing he’s ever done has come off as artificial to me. The guy always looks like he’s acting. And I need a lot more than “doesn’t hurt people” (though that is a great quality to have) to get behind someone.

I used to feel similarly about Seth Rollins. He was the guy in The Shield that just didn’t seem to have much to offer.

I’m a big enough man to admit when I’m wrong. Rollins has played his Money in the Bank/corporate douchebag golden boy role to a T. I have gone from indifference to a seething dislike for his character. I cannot wait to see him receive some come-uppance, and if WWE plays their cards right that won’t be for a long time. Kudos to Rollins for proving me wrong and stepping up to the Main Event pool. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that he’s great in the ring, we just don’t get to see a whole lot of that because of his Authority protected status. That will change Sunday night. Orton may be a big sack of duh, but he can have great matches with the right people. And I think Rollins is the right people.

My big problem with this one is that I love the classic scenario of a Golden Boy being protected by corporate types, but I need to be able to get behind the babyface looking to serve justice. And as much as Orton is a blah wrestler, he’s a rotten babyface. It’s not going to be anywhere near as rewarding watching him fend off and eventually destroy M&N and whatever other obstacles the Rollins has at his disposal.

US Championship Match

Man, this actually makes me sad. I know a lot of folks don’t agree with me, but I thought the Rusev/Cena feud was going spectacularly. Rusev was coming across as an indomitable beast and Cena seemed to be getting more desperate by the day after his devastating loss to Brock Lesnar and subsequent defeat at the hands of Rusev. And then WWE had to go and up the cheese factor by having Cena declare that this is about America rather than it being a personal challenge for him.

Dammit, fuckers, I was solidly behind Cena for the first time ever. I felt his pain at just not being able to do it and having to contemplate his own potential irrelevancy. This was a personal struggle for him unlike anything he’s ever faced before. The enemy wasn’t whoever happened to be standing in the ring – it was time and the passage of years and the inevitable failure of the human body. He was fighting against existence itself. Entropy was the enemy.

And then his big, goofy ass had to come and spout some stupid, hackneyed garbage about Rusev not being American enough and him holding the US Championship was an affront to all of us.

No sale.

I don’t give a shit who holds that title, what they look like, or where they’re from. I just want to have good narratives attached to that title. And the one you so inelegantly dumped on us, Mr. Cena, is so played out and tired compared to the human drama that seemed to be unfolding prior to that stupid promo.

This should still be a good match, but all of the drama has been sucked out of it. It also appears that all of the Lana has been sucked out of it, and that is fucking unacceptable. 
Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match

I can’t remember the last time the IC division was this hot. This was the match I was referring to above when I said that my feelings about one had been reinforced.

The six-man tag on RAW was great, but the gauntlet match on SmackDown was pay-per-view worthy. The chemistry that Bryan and Ziggler have is intense and could be the foundation for years of good TV.

Of course, I can’t dismiss the rest of the players in this equation. Wade Barrett hasn’t so much been a strong IC champ as he has been a great catalyst. R-Truth, as well, has been a critical element of this formula, as he’s the one that started the belt stealing trend. That’s been a fun aspect of this massive feud and one that is reminiscent of the 24-7 rule that was in effect for the Hardcore Championship all those years ago. 
Dean Ambrose and Luke Harper are both strong, unpredictable competitors and their portion of the gauntlet match would have been a show-stealer if not for Bryan and Ziggler’s white-hot confrontation. Harper and Ambrose have a similar but different kind of chemistry that I’d love to see play out over the next year or so.

Sadly, Stardust seems to be the weakest link here. I feel like the Dust Brothers ended too soon, to the detriment of both members of the team. Just when the tag division is really heating up (because of some scrambling due to an Uso injury, apparently), too. I feel like the Rhodes brothers are victims of bad timing. But I like Cody whether he’s in the paint or not, so I’m hoping he can find a way to make his star shine, so to speak.

This is the match that I’m the most excited about.

The Undertaker v. Bray Wyatt

I’m glad that Bray Wyatt is back on track because his character is the whole reason I started buying wrestling figures again. I still don’t like that they split the Wyatts up, (and I feel like Luke Harper has made the most of the split), but Bray has found his way in the form of a death wish.

It fits his character perfectly that he wants to challenge Undertaker and WWE has handled the angle admirably. Wyatt has made the point that yes, Lesnar did end the Streak last year. But Undertaker is still Undertaker. The Streak ended, but the Man is still around. And Wyatt wants to change that. He’s not worried about the number of matches won or lost – he wants to end the Phenom.

I’m into this one. It’s not as electric as some of ‘Taker’s past ‘Mania matchups, but it was inevitable. Undertaker will give a thousand percent of whatever he has left and Wyatt is a great hand and capable of pulling off those special big moments that make for memorable matches.

Oh – do you want predictions? Tune in to the Needless Things Podcast on Friday for those.

Sting v. HHH

It occurs to me that I’ve never written about Sting.

I love Sting. Of course I love Sting. Everybody loves Sting.

The question of whether or not Sting should have gone to TNA is a whole other article, but suffice it to say he has not been relevant to the mainstream since 2001. And I say that as a guy that was buying TNA’s Wednesday night pay-per-views in 2002 and loving eight out of every ten seconds of it.

Maybe seven.

But now Sting is back on television that people watch and he is feuding with not only one of the biggest names in the history of Our Great Sport, but a significant portion of the for-real Powers That Be at WWE.

This match has me more engaged than any other match on the card. Not because I think it’s going to be a phenomenal match. I’m sure it will be good, maybe even great. Triple H and Sting are veterans that know how to put on entertaining matches. I’m sure there are some surprises in store here. We might even see some old, familiar faces.

I’m engaged because I simply can’t imagine Sting performing in any kind of long-term capacity for WWE. He’s so 90s. Sting is so 90s that they wouldn’t even use his actual voice in his first VO promo. They ran it through a filter. And I don’t know what a character like his could do. The Authority tend to toe a line – they aren’t cackling villains. They might favor some folks that the fans aren’t too keen on and “hold down” your Daniel Bryans, but they’re hardly Mr. McMahon or Eric Bischoff. The Authority is oddly fair in their own way. And I mean all of this in the best way possible – I greatly admire the way that Triple H and Stephanie have played their roles. 
Anyway, this match will set the tone for whatever it is that Sting is going to do in WWE. Whether he’s going to take an active role, show up from time to time for specialty matches (I’d love to see him against ‘Taker and I feel like that’s the one everybody wants to see), or simply fight this one time and then be inducted into the Hall of Fame next year. This one interests me for the sake of what’s to come for one of the true legends of wrestling.

WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match

Brock Lesnar’s title reign has reinvigorated the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and made it seem special again. Like a rare prize that is to be cherished on the rare occasion that it can be wrested from the grip of the Champion that holds it.

I’m so fully into what WWE has done with Lesnar that I almost feel like it was a good idea to put him over ‘Taker last year. 
When Paul Heyman’s client, Brock Lesnar, shows up at TV with that title, it feels like a big deal. And more so than anybody else, Lesnar looks and projects that he is a champion. He is a force of nature that cannot be stopped. And I give a ton of credit to John Cena for putting Lesnar over the way he did at whichever of the new PPVs with stupid names it was last year. I can’t remember the pay-per-view name, but I’ll never forget the sight of Lesnar tossing Cena around that ring like a ragdoll.

I feel like the last time the Champion felt this legit was when Triple H last held the belt in 2009. I know that’s dissing a lot of Superstars, including one of my all-time favorites, but I’m not just talking about presence or talent, I’m also talking about the way the person is presented and booked. I like the idea that you have to be THE MAN to win the big belt. Make the secondary titles – the IC and US Championships – the ones that anybody can win. Book TV around those. But keep this belt Special.

Which brings me to Roman Reigns.

I don’t have anything against Roman Reigns personally, but he is greener than Kermit the Frog’s taint and it shows in every single thing he does. He is not bad by any means. He’s entertaining. One day he could be great. But his promos are tentative and weak. His ring work is not organic and natural. Watch him work a match and then watch a Dolph Ziggler match. Who owns that ring? 
I don’t say any of this to insult or disparage Reigns. He’s in a bad spot. I sincerely hope that he can make the most of whatever the plan may be. I also sincerely hope that the plan is to feed him to Lesnar and keep the Championship on that monster for another year.

Okay. That’s enough. I was going to talk about Ring of Honor and NXT, but I see that I hit 3,000 words and there’s a good chance I have 3,000 more for those two products.

I’m excited for WrestleMania. Not just for the card, but for the event. It’s WrestleMania. No matter who is booked, it’s an event like no other. There have been good ‘Manias and bad ‘Manias, but each and every one is special and in some way noteworthy. 
Sunday can’t get here soon enough.

In the meantime, be sure to check in here at Needless Things twice daily(!) today through Friday for commentary and action figure reviews. Follow me on Instagram for #wrestleraday and of course check out Needless Things on Facebook and Twitter.