Well hello there, (full) sailor! Don’t worry, you’re not in the wrong report. This week Brandon and I are doing a fun (I hope) little switcheroo. I get to write about people who were legitimately in Chikara without shoehorning it into the Impact column for no reason, and Brandon gets to marry Mark Harmon at the end. Or write about Impact. Whichever. A few things first:
– This week on The Mandible Claw Podcast, Brandon and I talk about the negative impact unfiltered social media can have on independent wrestling, ACW’s Queen of Queen’s tournament, the majesty of Evan Gelistico’s face, and things that are still fun if you’re not super into indie wrestling. Check it out!
– Last week my name was added to the storied list of Air Sex World Championship judges. The Toronto show may have been a bit of a bust, but the documentary is going to be rad. Donate here and help make it the best it can be! Real money for fake boning – the future is now!
– Before Brandon takes over the Best & Worst of TNA Impact for the week, be sure to get caught up on everything you missed here. The Main Event Mafia is back, and it’s just as horrible as you think it is!
This week on WWE NXT: Canadians! Run-ins! And the most beautiful bridge in pro wrestling! Note: there is a 0% chance it belongs to Mason Ryan.
Best: Renee Young
Switching columns this week got off to a bit of a rocky start. I fully admit that my WWE watching took a steep nosedive after WrestleMania. Aside from a few matches here and there, I’ve watched maybe one full episode of Raw, and one Smackdown since I got back from New Jersey. NXT is really the only thing I keep up with. I find, however, that watching and writing about TNA each week makes me feel a little lost when I come back to WWE. For all of its faults, it’s still the show I watch in full week in and week out, and devote the most time to writing about. Seeing Renee Young, or Paquette as I am still trying to get out of calling her, right off the bat made me a lot more comfortable coming into this episode.
For those of you who aren’t Canadian, and didn’t get to know her each week on The Score, Renee was basically the only worthwhile thing about being delayed 15 minutes each week because sometimes Canadian television doesn’t let us have nice things. She is roughly a million times prettier in person, and once, during a Smackdown taping at the ACC, after overhearing me discussing that fact, doubled back down almost an entire flight of stairs just to say thank you. I’m elated that she gets to have a way cooler job doing something she loves in constant close proximity to Dusty Rhodes. If Brandon’s dream is to have her live in his apartment and watch wrestling with him, then I’m shotgunning the rest of the time to hang out and watch Blackhawks games and be Canadian together. She’s a perpetual best, and I’m ever so glad you all get to adore her as much as I do.
Worst, I Think?: Bo Dallas, Now With Extra Tromsö
Bo Dallas is hugely confusing to me. A friend and I keep going back and forth on whether or not Dallas is intentionally and subtly heeling it up, or whether he’s just blissfully unaware that he’s kinda crummy and people don’t have stellar opinions of him. He is basically the equivalent of me assembling furniture from Ikea. All of the parts are there, and I think I know where they go, but it never seems to work out as planned. Unfortunately for Dallas, he can’t just leave the room for a while and come back to a fully assembled effective wrestling character because his boyfriend is just super nice like that. I’ll keep holding out for something great, but won’t be terribly sad when he fades into the background and Bryson Stillwater or whoever takes the belt from him. I will, however, give him a wee best for wearing a shirt with a giant NXT logo on it while holding his championship belt with a giant NXT logo. That’s commitment commitment you can Bo-lieve in!
Best: Antonio Cesaro, Let Me Love You
Oh look, a dude who was in Chikara! For those of you who don’t know, my three greatest wrestling loves are a) Chikara and all related persons and properties, b) Mick Foley, and c) the music video for Real American. I was pretty tepid on Cesaro when he was in Ring of Honor, and while I liked him in Chikara, he got lost behind a number of wrestlers I liked a whole lot more. Usually when a wrestler at the top of the indie circuit levels up to FCW/NXT, you worry that they’re going to misused or mistreated, and not get to do all of those things that made it so special to watch them with a handful of other people in some armory in the middle of nowhere. I feel like Cesaro has taken everything he learned kicking around school gyms and such and turned into a much more well-rounded, charismatic character. He’s transcended the default support I would give to him, and made me go full mark. He’s not wrestling at this exact moment, so I can’t talk about how effing fantastic he is in the ring for three more paragraphs, but I can say that he’s a Swiss-Engineered Super Best on any day, and if you want me to see the good in a Bo Dallas promo, you probably shouldn’t put him next to Cesaro in a beret.
Best: That beret, though
Ugh. Just let me love you.
Best: The Anti-Diva’s match
After a couple of weeks of matches I wasn’t overly thrilled with, it was great to see two ladies for real wrestle their butts off. I mean, as someone who has to watch Velvet Sky on a regular basis, any actual wrestling is a giant step up, but I digress. The last few NXT Divas matches had some good spots, but as much as everyone gets all gushy for Emma, last week’s match felt a lot like the one before, but with Summer Rae in her place. I feel like for all of the merits of women wrestling on NXT, matches fall into one of two categories: a few bright spots (the DilEmma!) shuffled into the same thing we see each and every time (I’m gonna sit on top of you and smash your head into the ring! Now we’ll switch!), or Actual Wrestling Match. WWE can’t seem to make up its mind as to whether or not we get good matches like this one, or the male gaze version of a match that is all Divas clotheslines (the bane of my existence), hairography, and pseudo-sexual submission holds. More of this, less of basically everything else you do involving females ever.
Best: Alicia Fox
“Oh, Alicia Fox is a heel now?” “No babe, she’s a Diva. She’s not anything.” That very real exchange from a couple of years ago has to be one of the most sobering truths of Divas wrestling. If Divas get to be anything, they get to be dumb, or catty, or boy crazy, or any number of stereotypes written by people with little to no idea how actual women function in today’s society. “Wrestler” often comes last, if ever. Getting to see Alicia Fox go from “wears a sailor hat” to “legitimate in-ring threat” is wonderful. She may have lost the match, but she went down fighting. I know Paige is talented, is pretty enough to make Chris Sims swoon, has the pedigree, and is basically biding her time on NXT until she’s old enough to move up to the main roster, but hey, thanks for letting Alicia put “wrestler” first, and “have a FOXY [insert holiday here]” second.
Best: William Regal, scholar and gentleman
The way William Regal, gentleman who likes the Smiths and also hurting people, talks about Alicia Fox just warms my heart. I could write this entire column (and then some) on the merits of Regal, but for the sake of this Best I will keep it to the subject at hand. When Jerry Lawler was off of television recovering from his heart attack, and JR took over, he referred to two Divas as “two intelligent, talented ladies battling it out in the ring.” No video game sound bites about their looks or what he’d like to do to them or talking about anything other than the match at hand. And that’s how it should be. Every time Fox hits that bridging Northern Lights suplex, invariably he’ll say she has “the most beautiful bridge in wrestling.” Every. Time. And he means it. There’s no HOO BOY I’D LIKE HER TO BEND BACKWARDS OVER ME LIKE THAT! It’s true admiration. And he makes the title seem important. It’s not just a belt with some sparkles. It means “more money,” and “getting noticed by the top brass at WWE.” Regal is pretty perfect on commentary (and also at everything) in general, but little things like that make me well and truly happy, and invest me in the match just a little bit more.
Best: The Hilarity of the Existence of the Ascension
Huh, so that’s who borrowed my Laws of the Night Storyteller’s Guide.
Best: Open the Regal Gate
Corey Graves is spectacularly awful at a lot of things (promos, appropriate waistlines, knuckle tattoos), and…well, I don’t really have much more of a point other than I don’t much care for Corey Graves. Regardless, while I think Neville (hey, badass Chikara Rey de Voladores participant!) and Graves should probably let most anyone else do the talking for them, the open invitation to have William Regal replace Kassius Ohno in the fight against the Wyatt Family tickles me pink. I love Regal on commentary, but I truly love when he thoroughly and systematically dismantles his opponents. A million yes pleases.
Worst: Oh no! No Ohno? No!
Dang. I guess I won’t get to fall off my own soapbox and write about my very sudden and legitimate appreciation of how Kassius Ohno is shaped. He must be jelly, ‘cuz…well…you know the rest. Meow.
Worst: WHAT Chants
This should be worsted in every possible way on every possible occasion until it goes away forever.
Best: Xavier Woods
Well…kinda. I don’t really have any feelings one way or the other towards Xavier Woods. But he tweeted this picture once, and I’m going to give him a single Best for that alone.
Worst: WWE Name Generator
I have a terrible memory. I reiterate this fact a lot, mostly because I can’t remember if I’ve explained it or not. I can tell you what happened in a match, or where I was when I watched it, and what I was wearing when I did so, but I couldn’t tell you the date, or sometimes the pay-per-view I saw it on. That’s why I have my boyfriend and Brandon and Google. Those are the places I keep wrestling details.
NXT is pretty bad for me because I legitimately cannot remember most wrestlers’ names most of the time. I glanced over the card right before watching the show and I had to look up who five people were. Unless it’s their first match, I can recognize them easily enough. Of course that’s Conor O’Brian, Tzimisce Antitribu. But if you asked me who the dude in the Ascension not named Rick Victor is (because max lulz at that one), I couldn’t tell you. I legitimately have to think long and hard as to what Brodie Lee’s name in NXT is. I had to ask Chris Sims if Scott Dawson was the one with the flashlight or the one who inherited McGillicutty’s backwards hat. It’s the worst thing. Half of it is my brain refusing to perform simple tasks like remembering the most ridiculous create-a-wrestler names ever, and the other half is that these are the most ridiculous create-a-wrestler names ever.
I’m fairly certain that their name generator is actually just a dartboard of phonics:
*toss* JAY *toss* DUR *toss* MAN *toss* WICH
“Ladies and gentleman, the winner, and NEW NXT Champion, JAAAAAYDUUUUR MANWIIIIIICH!”
Best: Jaydur Manwich
Still better than Bo Dallas.
Worst: Mason Ryan
Oh man. I legitimately didn’t think I would ever be writing about Mason Ryan. Well, until he came to TNA as “The Welsh Strongman Jason Brian” that is. I rarely, if ever, have nice things to say about Mason Ryan, and this unfortunately isn’t when that changes. Though he’s slimmed down (he is basically just a pile of shapes now), he still sums up everything I dislike about the stock wrestler ideal. I like big wrestlers and I like strong wresters, but overly muscled with no real strength, no personality, and zero ability to tell a story in the ring leaves me cold. The infatuation with this type of wrestler relegates so many talented ones to non-factors, or jokes, or fodder for big guys to squash in two moves while nerds like me clack away at their keyboards insisting that the little guy is actually way more talented and charismatic than the one doing the squashing.
Additional worst for having an unresolved storyline in Jack Swagger of Mars. I miss you with every fiber of my being, Jack Swagger of Mars. Hint hint.
Best: Antonio Cesaro, Part Deux
Guys. Guys! Look! I get to write about Antonio Cesaro on With Leather and it’s not using him as an example of what someone is doing very wrong in another company, or a very specifically Canadian thing he did while in Canada that I’m writing about because I’m the only Canadian. Ah!
Okay. So when I said I go full mark for Cesaro, I effing mean it. Full on, childlike wonderment, mimicking his entrance taunt and shouting C’EST VRAI! with his theme song mark. I love it. I love his theme song. I love his flags and his sashes and his beret. I love that he wore those wraps that looked like saucy thigh-highs and I love that he took them off and looks like someone who should be wrestling Red Bastien on the cover of a wrestling magazine from 1959. He makes me go into full-on wrestling swoon mode, usually only reserved for [insert night of King of Trios 2012 here] or Jojo Bravo doing a Bonsai Drop (or anything ever). These are Joseph Park levels of feelings, just a different type. I want him to wrestle Cody Rhodes. I want him to wrestle Alberto Del Rio. I want him to wrestle Mark Henry. I want him to wrestle the people I love. I want him to wrestle the people I hate. I want him to wrestle everyone. I want him to win every belt he can and walk around like Ultimo Dragon and perform olde tyme feats of strength and most importantly wrestle everyone. My dream WrestleMania card went from a regular number of matches to Cesaro wrestling every match for four hours. I probably would have enjoyed myself a lot more at ‘Mania had he wrestled even four minutes, but whatever. I loved watching my favourite goblin friend Kobald mark out because Cesaro is wrestling his favourite wrestler. I love that he’s living a dream, and making the people I love happy and proud while doing it.
Guys. Guys. I am kinda super into Antonio Cesaro, and it’s getting hard to type with all of these hearts in my eyes.
Worst: And then there’s Bo Dallas.
Sigh. I know I said “everyone,” but I genuinely think I’d rather see him wrestle Maude.
Best: Antonio Cesaro, the part where he actually wrestles
The very best part of this is that everything I pre-typed about what I like about watching Cesaro wrestle, William Regal says on commentary during this match. Well, he doesn’t lament that someone referred to him as “Pepperoni Nipples” in a conversation earlier in the week, but the rest of it is spot on.
I’ve written about this in my regular Best and Worst, but the thing I love the most isn’t necessarily Cesaro’s strength, it’s the way he moves. He’s always moving, and every movement has meaning. Take his match against Sin Cara a few weeks ago on Smackdown. I thoroughly enjoyed that match. Sin Cara has had a lot of bumps in the road (but hey, I don’t need to type 1000 words on why I hate “botch” culture), but he’s still a very good wrestler. Matching him up with someone who has worked with enough people practicing true lucha libre style like Cesaro is brilliant, and exactly the kind of person you should be pairing him with. Putting him alongside Mysterio is like putting me next to Chris Jericho. We’re both Canadian, we’re both well-liked by Kobald, but uhh…we’re not really the same. There’s a moment in the match, just before Cesaro does his finisher, when Sin Cara is bent over with his head trapped between Cesaro’s thighs. And I don’t mean that it’s gently placed there while he waited for his cue, like basically every wrestler to ever take a Pedigree. He pushed and pulled and struggled, but Cesaro kept him locked in because I’m pretty sure his thighs have the strength of ten bear traps. Little things like that make it go from a whatever match to something special. In a resting submission? He works the fingers. Little things. Little things that make these great big hearts in my eyes.
Worst: Bo Dallas does not do these things
Further worst: Bo Dallas, clean win over Cesaro
Best: Can I Best William Regal Again?
The incredulity at the mention of Tim Tebow right before he calls him a tosspot. It is the very best thing.
Best: Leo Kruger
1) Guess how long it took me to remember his real name and stop referring to him exclusively as “guy who eats people.”
2) Guess how often I still refer to him as “guy who eats people” because he’s f*cking weird and creepy and I love it
3) Guess how much I enjoyed the moment of hesitation before Cesaro and Kruger starting womping on Bo Dallas together.
I enjoyed it so much.
Best: Who is that unmasked man?
After stalking Bo Dallas at ringside the entire match, and gently sprinkling him with savory herbs and spices when he wasn’t looking, Kruger gets the jump on Bo Dallas, and alongside Cesaro, does Dallas harder than Debbie. Who comes out to the rescue? Oh, hey! It’s that guy who kinda looks like that guy who was at every single independent show I went to up until he got signed by WWE! Hee.
Fun fact: I cannot look above Zayn’s neck when he wrestles. It is somehow physically impossible for me to do so.
As inconsequential as this was, I’m still going to best it, because as I said: I get to write about guys who were legitimately in Chikara without shoehorning it in. They’re right there, on my TV, for free. And it’s wonderful. People who had no idea who he was before this get to see him on a regular basis. People who have no clue what a Bruderschaft des Kreuzes is are wearing Cesaro shirts. People are swaying along as *Googles* Luke Harper is kicking the faces in of basically everyone.
I fully believe that if you love independent wrestling, it will love you back. You get these amazing, intimate experiences that could never be recreated. There’s a connection that you just don’t get in big companies. But as special as those times were, the idea that millions of people can get to know and love a wrestler who may have only worked for door pay, or gas money, or as a favour – that’s really special. There’s this terrible attitude that comes along with it, though, and something that I see so often in regards to NXT. It’s the idea that because you watched, say, CM Punk wrestle in gym shorts in front of 30 people in an armory that smelled like socks, that makes you better than someone who got really into him during the SES, or after the Pipe Bomb dropped.
Let’s not do that anymore, k?
I may not always like WWE and their choices (see: clean win over Cesaro, Bo Dallas), but I’m going to support the wrestlers I love. Whether they’ve been there forever, or whether I just had a conversation with them at the last indie show I went to. It doesn’t matter. Wrestling is for everyone. Let’s keep it that way.
Best: Never forget