Pre-show notes, with no sign of Zack Ryder:
– As a prerequisite for this column, make sure you’ve read The Best And Worst Of Raw Gets Rocked and our first ever attempt at a Smackdown live-blog. I’m considering starting a Raw open thread just to let you comment as you go and steal all your jokes.
– Your comments are begged-for and appreciated. That goes for everything posted on With Leather, but especially so here. Also, hey, if you like this go read everything else on the site. We write about actual sports, too. Facebook likes, Google +1s and so on are also encouraged and appreciated.
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– A.J. and Kaitlyn actually showed up on this show, so look for them inside.
And without further adieu, please to enjoy the Best and Worst of WWE Survivor Series 2011.
Oh boy, this Sunday was the “25th anniversary of Survivor Series”! The first Survivor Series was in 1987.
I know it’s beating a dead horse, but that’s not how it works. And while we’re at it, stop dividing 100 by the amount of participants in the match and telling me that Triple H has only a 25% chance or whatever of walking out of In Your House: International Incident with the title. That’s not how it f**king works. I know at least some of you have college degrees. Michael Cole won’t shut up about how he was a Serious Journalist who went to Syracuse. I do my best to be both a wrestling fan and an intellectual and I hate having it f**king ruined when the biggest company in the world doesn’t understand basic concepts of mathematics and probability.
(Note: This entry, sans picture, is quoted verbatim ((mostly)) from my good friend Mike Ondrick.)
Best: New York City, The Most 2005 ROH Crowd Ever
I’ve written at length about bad crowd attitudes, from counterproductive, ill-informed “What?” chants (WWE) to chanting “This Is Awesome” and clap clap clapclapclapping to anything with even a moderate amount of effort put into it (Ring Of Honor) to chanting non-stop and acting like an idiot to get yourself over (TNA).
Last night’s Madison Square Garden crowd dipped into all three of those, but I’d be kidding myself I didn’t Best them for being hot all night and making being in a WWE audience seem fun again. That’s been missing from crowds for a long time, hasn’t it? When I think of ECW, I don’t think of hardcore wrestling, I think of a thousand people crammed into that dirty, crime-infested pool hall to be the sixth man for a genre redefinition. When I think of Nitro, I don’t think about the cruiserweights and the stupid swerves as much as I think about that sea of posterboard with “Eddie Mowed My Lawn” on every fourth sign. Those people really enjoyed being there, whether the shows were good or not. Now we’ve been so beaten down and conditioned to act as expected that a Hammerstein Ballroom crowd treating Big Show versus Batista like it’s the rape scene from Irreversible isn’t seen as a response to the product, it’s seen as anarchic and gets shut down. We’re expected to hit our cues and follow along.
Crowds like this remind us that we’re supposed to be enjoying the show, not simply watching it. Doesn’t that seem so far away, now? Imagine knowing you’ll go home happy when you get tickets to Raw. Imagine knowing you’ll get your money’s worth when you buy a pay-per-view. It might as well be organic chemistry.
Best: I’m Popular Enough On The Internet To Get Masked Man To Do Guest Blurbs
Here are a few thoughts on the crowd from Deadspin and Grantland’s David “The Masked Man” Shoemaker, who was there live. I’m going to get him to do a full Best and Worst, one of these days.
The star of every MSG show is the MSG audience. I’ve read some guys online say things like “It was the typical ‘look how smart we are’ douchebag crowd.” Well yeah, just like every ECW crowd was a typical “look how smart we are” douchebag crowd, and how every Canadian crowd is just full of sourpuss antihistorians. I was there one night in ’05 when Viscera made a surprise run-in to rescue Trish Stratus from a beatdown by Lita and Kane and the crowd immediately launched into a booming “Let’s go, Mabel!!” chant, which was the only redeeming thing about that angle. A really good Edge-Benoit brawl was overshadowed by “You screwed Matt!!!” chants directed at Edge (that, if memory serves, morphed into a back-and-forth routine with half the audience adding, by way of explication, “Lita screwed Edge”). Vince was booed lustily when he interrupted a Christian promo, and he scowled with visible bewilderment at the roars Christian elicited from the crowd. And when Shawn Michaels was getting beat down by Muhammad Hassan and Davairi, and Hulk Hogan made the “surprise” save… well, the crowd went absolutely nuts for Hogan. Some things are sacred.
But even if wrestling’s their religion, the MSG crowd — just as with the ECW fans — sees themselves as an integral part of the ceremony. It’s a burden sometimes, frankly.
At the end of the show last night, after The Rock dispatched Cena with the Rock Bottom and sent him (oddly) limping to the back, Rocky was left alone in the ring, and the crowd went absolutely crazy. “You still got it!!” from one side, “Wel-come back!!!” from the other. Finally we were cheering the way we were supposed to. We weren’t just cheering the Rock at the expense of Cena, we were cheering for him because we wanted to. Frankly, it was a relief.
After the show I went to the Upright Citizens Brigade theater for the UCBW’s special Survivor Series aftershow top see Mick Foley do his comedy act. (And since Brandon spends paragraphs in every column pimping indie feds, allow me to do the same for UCBW. These guys, top-notch improv comics, do a weekly comedy wrestling show. It’s really hilarious, and totally respectful (well, given that it’s comedy) to their source material. There are some serious wrestling fans in the bunch. Totally worth checking out if you’re in NYC, or just visiting. Last night’s main event — it was a Stepladder Match (heh) for the championship between the irksome Little Brother and UCBW’s own hardcore legend, Whole Lotta Denim –featured an crazy tornado DDT, a guy fighting with a legit broken collarbone, and a Chris Farley-level table spot. Just spectacular stuff.) The crowd — 200 or so folks, most of whom had walked down 10 blocks from MSG — were serious wrestling fans almost to a one. But we weren’t saddled with the expectation of irony there — the UCB crew took care of that for us — so we could just be fans. You haven’t heard anything until you’re in a packed little theater with everybody screaming “Foley! Foley! Foley!” I half expected people to start tossing their folding chairs onto the stage in honor. And when Foley pulled out Socko to ice the main event match, the place went nuts. It was earnest fandom, and it was wonderful. It was an even better feeling than cheering the Rock. I mean, it was nice to have these guys take us fans seriously enough to just let us be little kids again.
Best: The Best John Morrison Match Since Survivor Series
Remember this time last year, when John Morrison was jackal-jacket deep in a feud with Sheamus, and circa Survivor Series we were sorta reveling in how good they were together in the ring?
They had a great match at Survivor Series 2010 and followed it up with another good match at TLC, but Morrison had spent all Autumn trying to get his parkour thing over and it seemed less about wrestling and more about him Mirror’s Edging things. Then came his admittedly rad-as-hell Spider-Man spots in the Royal Rumble and we (not for the first time) thought he was going to be a Huge Deal. He got put into a high profile Wrestlemania thing with Snooki, but then the rumors started spreading about Melina being upset about “losing her spot” or whatever and some combination of Internet Confirmed Doghouse and “I like parkour” being his only character development grounded him, and he mired in that six-to-whatever months of mailed-in boring. He could jump, sure, and he could find fifteen different ways to clear a production cart, but his matches looked like a failing business chart from an ’80s movie. Just a big red arrow peaking, then sloping to the ground. Breaking the bottom of the chart and hitting the floor, because that’s hilarious.
Anyway, regardless of what did or didn’t happen, Morrison seemed like his old self last night, at least the old self who could hang with Sheamus and be carried like Frodo f**king Baggins by Rey Mysterio. His moves connected with urgency, he moved like a guy trying to win a wrestling match and even his overshot Starship Pain seemed to make sense in context. It was good, and more importantly made better BY John rather than in spite of him, and a reminder that I only talk so much sh*t because I know he can be better than his last year.
Best: Dolph Ziggler, The Only Person Who Can Make Me Go ‘Ooooh” At A Nearfall
Dolph Ziggler is one of those things everyone is going to agree on five years from now. Today when you type “Dolph Ziggler is awesome” into Twitter (into it), somebody always chimes in with “yeah right whatever CM Punk something something” or “lowered expectations”. I don’t know what bar you think I’m looking at, but when Ziggler can get a convincing near-fall out of John Morrison with a Rocker Dropper while making one of the dumbest moves in wrestling history look 1) real and 2) painful, no, he’s awesome, I don’t care if you’re comparing him to 1990s All Japan or WOW: Women of Goddamn Wrestling.
He does just enough to make me think he’s on the cusp of losing. He postures too much, takes too many liberties, walks around yelling at the crowd and pushing Morrison’s face with his foot. He gets hit with moves and dies a thousand deaths, and you’re all NO NO NO and he kicks out, or he turns a headscissors into a sleeper out of nowhere and it f**king rules. If you read this column and don’t agree with me on this point, watch him sell Zack Ryder’s Jumping Cock To The Face and compare it to anyone else in wrestling. Anyone. Daniel Bryan couldn’t sell that move better. Eddie Kingston couldn’t sell it better. Dolph eats it and launches himself into the mat like he’s been shot through the windshield of a car. It’s great, and even better it’s great in a way few things in TV wrestling get to be great.
Best: The We Want Ryder Chants Actually Accomplishing Something
Am I the only one who felt terrible for John Morrison during this match? He was working hard, but he was a glorified jobber and no matter what he did the crowd chanted “We Want Ryder”. In any other world this would end with John Hennigan throwing his sunglasses in the garbage and walking away all sad with MORRISON NO MORE across the page.
I’ve never understood WWE’s penchant for giving fans the opposite of what they want, be it humiliating guys in their hometown or listening to a crowd chant “we want” something and not giving it to them. Maybe “giving it to them” is too strong … giving it to them in any capacity. If you have Zack Ryder backstage and the crowd has been chanting WE WANT RYDER through the dark matches and opening bout, send Ryder out there, have him do something. For once they did just that, and look how it worked — the crowd LOVED Ryder jumping Ziggler and booed the hell out of Dolph for daring to throw shade. It was simple but it worked, and now that kid from Long Island who begged his parents to take him to Survivor Series and bought all that dumb Broski sh*t you peddle can go home with a happy memory instead of wondering why you hate him.
Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.
Best: Chickbusters Alert, Woop Woop
The best part of live-blogging Smackdown was being able to enjoy A.J. and Kaitlyn in full, and not have to screencap them the two seconds they were visible on screen and get a paragraph out of it. But here we are at Survivor Series, enjoying the fact that the Chickbusters are standing close to each other and not further that break-up tease they hit us with on Friday. I’m sorry you had to stand out there doing nothing for five minutes while Eve lost, but at least you aren’t making me shoot my television with a gun.
Worst: The Pointlessness (and Misogyny) Of Lumberjills
Two important points:
1. Calling female lumberjacks “Lumberjills” is the worst. Let me put it to you this way, the term was especially used to describe women doing the work of lumberjacks in Britain during World War II. That’s the timely reference you’re going with? I guess there isn’t a sexist way to say “logger”, so why not call them “timber-cunters” and be done with it.
2. The lumberjills in question came into play exactly once in this match, when Eve tried the Coochie Pop Press and Beth rolled out of the ring to avoid it. Eve didn’t even really instigate it, Beth just Gail Kim’d herself and got rolled back in. The rest of the match was a by-the-numbers Divas affair. So why have the lumberjacks out here at all?
Best: Super Glam Slam
Regardless of how inoffensively short and kinda crappy Eve/Beth was (something I’m giving Eve 100% of the blame for, because why not … have you ever heard a crowd go from being SO HOT to being SO QUIET before?), I think we’re in agreement that Beth’s Glam Slam from the second rope was the stuff dreams are made of. In a better world (2002 NOAH) Beth would’ve hit Eve with a clean Glam Slam in the middle of the ring and had it kicked out of, causing her to then elevate her move to a more dangerous place to put Eve away, but that’s purely a nitpick. Eve went up for the second-slowest top rope move of the night, got caught, and got got. It was wonder.
That being said, it also looked like it hurt Beth way more than it hurt Eve. She basically had to leg drop nothing and Psicosis herself asshole-first into the ring. Watch her when she goes for the pin. No, not the part where her skirt comes up, the part where she can’t do her normal Glam Slam rollover cover because her pelvis is split in two. It was like something out of Dreamcatcher. We saw her (barely) get to her feet, so I hope she’s okay. If we lost Kharma AND Beth … I don’t know, I don’t want six more weeks of the winter that is Bella Twins tag matches.
Also, supplementary worst for this conversation:
Lawler: “Well you said that Beth Phoenix may be unbeatable…”
Booker T: “As well as unstoppable!”
Lawler: “Well I say she’s unbearable!”
Why? Why do you say that, King? Is it because she’s never been on the cover of Maxim? She’s said like ten sentences in the last six months, and eight of those were picture-in-picture. She’s not Vickie Guerrero. What’s the problem you’re having with her, exactly?
Worst: The Rock, Reading Aloud From His Book The WWE Encyclopedia
and speaking of having problems
I run the risk of starting every Rock paragraph with “I’ve been reading what you had to say about it online, and” and then ranting for 800 words about how awful it is. I don’t want to do that too many times in one report, but I will say that Rock bringing up “The Rock” on Wikipedia and listing off his catchphrases in order, then (badly) singing Frank Sinatra to get a cheap pop in New York is neither “epic” nor “amazing”, despite those being the only two adjectives used to describe it. I agree with you that Rock is a better talker than almost anyone in pro wrestling, still. I agree with you that he’s got more charisma in his brow than most people have after a career of work, even if that specific kind of charisma turns me off. I understand his worth and see why you like this.
But seriously, come on. Is the secret to Rock’s success that he stays gone in long-enough intervals that when he returns you’ve reset to just wanting to see him move and hear his catchphrases? Is it like how I feel about the Muppets? I know those Jim Henson-less Muppets aren’t the real f**king Muppets because he was the entire point, but I miss him so bad I’ll deal with wrong-sounding Kermit and listen to what ultimately is a cover of “The Rainbow Connection” with tears in my eyes. Is that how you feel about the Rock? You don’t care that he’s not SAYING anything or DOING anything or HELPING ANYBODY, you just miss wearing plain black shirts with plain black lettering and hooting along to some guy threatening to stick sideways versions of things up peoples’ asses? Is Team Bring It Rock your Wrong Sounding Kermit?
At any point during this I would gladly accept glass breaking, ATV driving, beer tossing and a more valuable-to-pro-wrestling prejudiced nostalgia.
Best: CM Punk Is Incapable Of Having A Conversation
I mentioned it in Monday’s report, but it’s hard to enjoy wrestling when the heels share your point of view. At the same time, that very feeling makes any conversation between CM Punk and David Otunga interesting to me. It always seems a second away from Otunga bringing up the New Nexus and tying up a half a year’s-worth of loose ends but never quite gets there. They don’t say anything, but they SEEM like they’re going to say things, and that always keeps me watching. Also, one of these days I want Punk to do his nerdy REGULAR, OR UNLEADED and try to punch Otunga only for Dave to WRECK him, screaming F**K YOU I’M BLACK AND STRONGER THAN YOU.
Best: Cody Rhodes, Superstar
Before I start, yes, Cody Rhodes suddenly having kneepads feels like a personal betrayal.
But no, the best moment of Survivor Series (and WWE pay-per-view since at least July) happened the moment Cody Rhodes made a blind tag to Hunico. Mason Ryan grabs Hunico in a full nelson, leaving him wide open for Cody to springboard off the ropes and catch him in the mouth with a Beautiful Disaster kick. Cody grabs Mason by the head, snaps him down with Cross Rhodes and pins him clean, in the middle of the ring. He slides back into his corner on his belly with a huge smile on his face and his team pats him on the back. The Madison Square Garden crowd starts chanting CO-DY CO-DY CO-DY and it cuts over to Sheamus, and in the background Randy Orton is nodding his head at just the right time to look like he’s keeping time with the beat. It was a few seconds of wrestling perfection, and I loved it so much.
And sure, these kinds of pinfalls only tend to happen in elimination matches and yeah, Mason sorta kicked out at 1 1/2, but who cares? The crowd isn’t cheering Cody to be contrarian, they’re cheering him because he’s awesome at wrestling and just nerfed the big slow sh*tty guy with his specials like a boss.
Worst: Sin Cara, Opposite Of Superstar
Sin Cara running to the ropes for his first move of the match, blowing out his entire leg and just sorta hopping into the ropes with a full-body Test was the exact opposite of the Cody Rhodes moment, and one that will hopefully be the last in Mistico’s depressing, confusing WWE run. Whether that means he’ll work hard to improve his big match performance or simply be released and sent back into the lucha wild remains to be seen. Parts of this don’t feel entirely on the level — for example, the announcement of a ruptured patella tendon came back awfully quickly and he did always use messed up dives to the outside as excuses to be pinned in Mexico — but no, the white Sin Cara gear is cursed and everything Botchamania has MS Painted about him is true. He needs to cut some eye holes in his mask, or they need to put the hood back on Hunico, or they need to bring back Zack Gowen and get Averno used to working with a guy with one leg.
Worst: Sheamus Had A Hard Knock Life, King
The commentary during the traditional Survivor Series tag had about fifteen facepalm moment, but Sheamus got the two biggest, right in a row:
1. Michael Cole explained that Sheamus grew up being bullied for his pale skin and red hair. You know, in Ireland. In Ireland.
2. He also explained that the reason why Sheamus is so tough is because he’d been bullied. Being picked on all the time hardened him and made him a big tough great fighter. Keep in mind that WWE is currently running a Sheamus-headed campaign against bullying, so what the hell do we believe? That bullying is wrong, or that just nutting up and getting over bullies makes you strong and awesome? If I’m being bullied, aren’t the bullies doing me a favor? They’re teaching me to be a REAL MAN.
That “real man” thing people are doing lately needs to die in a fire. Daniel Bryan does it all the time on Twitter. “Real men READ!” “Real men grow beards!” There’s no such thing as a real man, and unless you’re the protagonist of goddamn ‘Home Improvement’ you should probably stick to wrestling well and being tolerant you f**king vegan.
Best: Going The Route Less-Traveled
A lot of recaps I’ve read didn’t like the Survivor Series elimination tag, and I have to admit that “elimination tag match storytelling” is right behind “battles royal” on my list of hacky wrestling tropes I fall for. I tend to forgive the wrestling in matches like those for the overreaching stories, so if Ziggler gets pinned out of nowhere like a chump and Sin Cara hurts himself unceremoniously I’m not picking it apart, I’m thinking “okay, so that brings it back to four-on-four, so what’s going to happen next?” It’s the more statistical approach to me enjoying that battle royal thing where you stand in the corner leaning against a guy’s leg and it’s supposed to be a thing.
That all being said, I (like many of you) thought the “four guys from Team Barrett vs. one guy from Randy Orton” was going to be four straight RKOs and some turnbuckle posing and was pleasantly shocked and surprised to see them let Team Barrett win, especially with more than one guy remaining. Going over Orton here makes Wade Barrett and Cody Rhodes look a thousand times better, and Orton doesn’t lose anything because he fought hard against impossible odds. This is the easiest booking in the world. People go into the match at one level and leave on another. Now an Orton/Barrett match would have some gravitas, and wouldn’t just be a “sample of what we’ll see this Sunday at Survivor Series”. The problem with giving away good matches every week is that you forget what makes matches good. It’s not always the wrestling.
Also, if at any point I’m complaining about lack of post-mach selling (and I’m sure CM Punk won’t make me do that), please look to Cody Rhodes having his hand raised and still standing there holding his face like he’d been concussed by the RKO.
Worst: Sole Survivors
Going back to that thing about math, Cole refereed to Barrett and Rhodes as the “sole survivors” of Team Barrett. How can I expect them to figure out anniversaries when they can’t tell the difference between two and one?
Best: WRESTLING, YAY
I always like it when Big Show breaks out the SCIENCE~ (see also, Big Show vs. Kane), and I like it even more when it leads to an exasperated Mark Henry on the outside yelling things like YOU LETTIN’ HIM PULL MY TIGHTS ON PURPOSE to Charles Robinson. Charles Robinson should referee every match. If Mark Curtis is dead and nobody wants to pay Bryce Remsburg to be on TV, your only choice is Lil’ Naitch. Naitch may be lil’, but his contributions to WWE and making matches better are anything but lil’.
Worst: “Boring” Chants
ECW’s worst contribution to wrestling (and while we’re at it, Steve Austin’s worst promo ever) was the “boring” chant. There is never, ever a legitimate reason to chant “boring” at two wrestlers wrestling. Yeah, most of Show/Henry was pretty boring. It started off fun with the chain wrestling and built to a couple of memorable spots, calling back to the SummerSlam match against Sheamus and the Hall Of Pain story arc, but the bulk of it was … well, a Big Show match. Big Show is not Mike Awesome and Mark Henry is not Masato Tanaka, and as much as I’d like to see Show hit Henry over the head with a chair only for Mark to clench his fists and make a pooping baby face at the crowd to show Fighting Spirit, this is built to be plodding. The sell is in the monstrosity, not the workrate. “Boring” is disrespectful, and makes you look like an asshole. Bottom line. “Boring” is the reason why wrestling became so ADD in the late 90s … 24/7 hardcore titles were born, people started turning on each other every week, and even the Gods of Puroresu gave up complex storytelling for head-drops. “Boring” is a statement on you, not what you’re watching.
Have fun with a boring match, you know? Boo hard, get ironic with your enjoyment, hell, use it as an excuse to go buy a t-shirt and a pretzel. Take a piss. Don’t just assume the Divas match is when you pee. You should wait and see. Sometimes Divas matches can be good, and even when they’re bad, they’re never long enough for you to get to the bathroom and back in peace.
I can’t hate the crowd during this match too much, though, because they chanted “Sexual Chocolate” and, more importantly, “D’Lo Brown”. We will never stop recognizing, D’Lo.
Best: The Hilarious Spectacle Of It All
Besides, Henry vs. Show got decidedly Not Boring when the sh*t started to go down. Henry couldn’t put Big Show away with a World’s Strongest Slam or a series of splashes, so he tossed him to the outside and put him through the barricade. Even THAT wasn’t enough to stop Show, so Henry went for a superplex and ended up getting kicked and having the biggest flying elbow in the history of mankind dropped on him. If you didn’t laugh out loud and clap your hands when Big Show came off the ropes like a helpless fat kid with cruel intentions I don’t know how to explain it to you. He stayed up there forever … I thought he was doing the memorial Kane “choke a guy and wait for someone to hit their mark” thing, but no, he was just 40 and 500 pounds and nervous about falling. Or jumping. Something.
Big Show’s flying elbow was the next step in the collapsing ring story, and it played out perfectly. Henry kicked out but he wasn’t ready to take something like that, and when he was able to dodge the Kiss That Don’t Miss he just booted Show in the nuts to escape the match. This was as far as his gameplan played out and he was in hostile territory. It was a smart move for the champion, even if it robbed us of a spectacular follow-up finish (a second rope World’s Strongest Slam, maybe? Beth already used a Super Finisher, so you couldn’t go there).
Worst: DQ Wins You Have To Pay For
As much sense as it made, as a wrestling fan I hate non-finishes on shows I
illegally streamed online paid for.
Worst, But Also Best: Daniel Bryan Chants Not Accomplishing Anything
They chanted DANIEL BRY-AN and clapped, but he never showed up, not to save Big Show from a Hall Of Pain induction, not to cash in his Money in the Bank on an injured Mark Henry. I’m happy they didn’t have him cash in because I’m emotionally invested in seeing the biggest moment of his career at next year’s Wrestlemania, but I wish they’d have acknowledged his decision on commentary as Henry was down and his name was chanted instead of waiting until next week to have A.J. or whoever be all “I thought you were gonna cash in” and him going “oh, no” before some Alberto Del Rio type interrupts him.
Best: I Just Figured Out Who Matt Striker Sounds Like
Listen to him interview Wade Barrett. He sounds like Pac-Man from the Pac-Man cartoon.
Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but it’s what he reminds me of. Maybe we can convince Josh Mathews to start his segments with “Pac-Baby LOVE interviewing the Viper Randy Orton!”
Secondary Best: Your American Charlie Sheen
Wade Barrett is one of those guys who can benefit from upward momentum, because his success lies in little moments like doing the “you can’t see me” to an Incredible-Hulk-walking-away John Cena or phrases like “I believe your American Charlie Sheen calls it winning”. It’s not funny to reference Charlie Sheen in November, but it IS funny to reference Charlie Sheen in November when you’re a literate Englishman who thinks Americans are stupid and has to preface Charlie Sheen with “your American”. Wade is solid in the ring, but he’s exceptional as a personality. Heath Slater’s wellness violation suspension should be up any day now, bring him back and let him stand in the background making Heath Slater faces at whatever Wade says. Bring back Skip Sheffield as Wade’s “trained American”. Whatever, just keep him on TV, doing things and moving forward.
Best: Do You Know What The Pigeons Said
And on the flip side, the Awesome Truth has severely limited our straight R-Truth insanity promos, and last night’s discussion on what pigeons say when put on the spot was an outstanding. It wasn’t quite John Morrison getting gotten backstage or throwing a drink in Big Jimmy’s face (and having Cena wipe it off with his sweatbands), but it was great. And here I thought Miz was the Bert of the team.
What kind of heartless bastard would I be if I didn’t give Howard Finkel a big, stinking Best for showing up as CM Punk’s personal ring announcer? It was the best part of Punk’s ice cream bars nostalgia trip, and seeing as how ring announcing involves nothing but your voice, I’ll go ahead and state the obvious: Howard Finkel should still be the every day WWE ring announcer, and Justin Roberts should take his love of entertaining the fans and his JEEEEEEEEEERN CENA and go screw. When you talk about Jim Ross you have to qualify it with “one of” the best announcers of all time, but for ring announcers? Nobody’s even in Fink’s ballpark. I like Gary Michael Cappetta more than most, but come on.
Worst: Colt Cabana Chants Not Accomplishing Anything
It’s the deadest horse to beat, but Colt Cabana not being employed by WWE is continually weird and dumb. I mean, I enjoy the fact that I got my picture taken with Matt Classic at last year’s King Of Trios and I like seeing Colt show up randomly in Austin to wrestle Bolt Brady or whoever, but he’s the most unrealistically pleasant and seasoned guy to not be doing this on television. So Scotty Goldman didn’t work. Punk + Cabana ALWAYS works, and with Punk a now five-time world champion and a fixture in WWE pop culture it makes zero-to-even-less sense for Colt to not be his onscreen second. You don’t even have to invest a lot in him. Don’t make Colt the WWE Champion or anything, but tag him with Punk, let him be a Jobber To The Stars, let him get beaten up with a Punk feud needs some gravity. Give him Eve’s money and put Eve out to trophy wife pasture.
Best: 95% Of Punk Vs. Del Rio
You know what? I’ve hated almost every second of this feud. I think what they’ve done to Alberto Del Rio is unfortunate, and I think the praise heaped on Punk for his character and performances since August (or, debatably, July) have been undeserved. However, here are two truths I’m willing to admit:
1. Taking the belt off of Del Rio here and giving it to Punk was the right call. It was. If they weren’t serious about making Del Rio a legitimate WWE Champion of worth, why waste time on it? I think he deserves it, but obviously the fans aren’t buying it, at least not the way you’re selling it, and they want Punk on top. Punk gets a “fresh start” without Kevin Nash and Triple H hanging over his head, and we get to see if he’s telling the truth about the whole “making the WWE fun again” thing.
2. This match was as good as the feud’s build has been bad. It went a long way to reminding me why I like Punk so much in the first place. I like his personality, but yeah, I also like what he does in the ring. I like how natural it feels, how imperfect it can be. I like seeing a guy who isn’t an unnatural super hero monster performing at a high level in a big match situation. It allows me to identify with him and care about what happens to him more. He sweats, he looks like he’s hurt. That’s important. Sometimes when you’re a giant muscular dude it’s hard for me to believe that gentle kick to the stomach hurt you, but sh*t, Punk’s abdomen looks like mine. That kick might hurt.
The match took a little while to get going, but in a good way. Not counting some inconsistencies with the finish and some terrible post match stuff I’ll mention in a minute, it was right alongside those July and August main events we ate up so thoroughly. Punk’s true “pipe bomb” is his ability to back up speeches with great wrestling matches. I’m going to forgive him his trespasses and accept his “shut up and eat your mush” Twitter demands, at least for now. Here’s your chance to start over, everybody. Let’s try to keep it going this time.
Oh, and a personal memo to Punk: win more matches with the Anaconda Vice. Use Go To Sleep on guys who can take it without making you look like you’re straining on a Nautilus machine.
Best: The Lambeau Leap
It wasn’t Chicago, but it didn’t have to be. Punk running and jumping into the crowd to celebrate was a nice moment. And hey, if Michelle Beadle was in the front row I’d probably run at and jump on her, too.
Worst: CM Punk’s Magically Healing Arm
Aaaaaaaand I can’t get out of this page without bringing up how much I hate this. I’m sorry in advance for this nerdy paragraph.
CM Punk spend the entire match getting his left arm destroyed by Alberto Del Rio. Del Rio even targeted it when he tripped up Punk on the top rope. It was great limb work from both sides and Punk sold it like a champ for the entirety of the match … and then Punk won the match using a submission requiring arm strength. Del Rio tried to claw at his eyes instead of just hitting him in the bad arm. Punk won, raised the belt over his head with his bad arm, then ran around jumping in the crowd and celebrating. You can call it adrenaline for the Anaconda Vice, but at some point on the ramp it wouldn’t have killed him to lower his arm and at least pretend like any of what’d just happened hurt. Any of it.
If we condescend on folks like John Cena for doing this, we’ve got to at least acknowledge it when people we like do the same.
Worst: Three Moves In 10 Seconds Does Not Constitute ‘Still Having It’
I’m wondering what people were expecting. The Rock started off the match with what, three armdrags? He tossed R-Truth out of the ring and tried to pin The Miz with La Magistral. It looked great. The crowd erupted in chants of YOU STILL GOT IT while Miz and Truth kicked dirt on the outside. Does… does that constitute “still having it”? Did we really expect Rock to start off the match and f**k up the tie-up, and just kinda stand there for a second with a nervous “oh, sorry, let’s try that again” look on his face? Was he going to try an arm drag and just fall down helplessly? The guy was a wrestler for ten years and basically works out for a living. He did three arm drags. I spent a few months in wrestling school four years ago and I guarantee you that if you put me in a ring right now I could throw three convincing arm drags without f**king up or dying.
He tagged out shortly thereafter with nothing but a bad headlock to show for it, then went Full Hogan for the remainder of the match. He took a hot tag, and the hot tag went as hot tags do. He fell down a grand total of one time in the entire match. It was like watching the Honky Tonk Man wrestle at my local armory. Honky’s still got good timing, and he never falls down. Does he still have it?
The dragon screw leg whip hasn’t gotten better in the last seven years, and his Sharpshooter still looks so bad you have to justify it. I was talking to my good friend (and Dugout fill-in writer) Bill Hanstock during the show, and he described it as impressionism. A next-level postmodernist take on the Sharpshooter. He’s not applying an actual Sharpshooter; he’s applying the concept of the Sharpshooter. Similarly, his people’s elbow is not an actual elbow drop. it is the interpretation of what an elbow drop means to wrestling fans. Even when you aren’t justifying it, he still throws those shoulder-level punches that start ten feet behind him and end at his pec. It’s the John Morrison clothesline of punching. Does that mean he’s still got it?
But Still, I’ll Give You A Best: The Rock
He’s a presence. When he stands next to other wrestlers he makes them look like children, both in physical and social stature. He’s just naturally better at this than most people, which is one of the reasons people cling to him so hard and mark out for even the terrible things he does when he comes back. It’s why he can show up via satellite and people call it “amazing”. It isn’t, but he sorta is, like him or not.
So I’ve got to give him a Best, in addition to that big long wordy bitchy Worst. He looked good in the ring, doing what little he did. You don’t want to blow him out before Wrestlemania. You’ve got to keep him healthy. He’s going to go back to Hollywood again in April, and probably from like, today until the end of March, so you don’t want him leaving with a broken leg or whatever. Take it easy, let him be the Rock, make people happy. That was accomplished. He’s The Rock. Nobody else can be that. Stone Cold Steve Austin is better than that. A guy like CM Punk means more to the show right now than that. But nobody is THAT.
Worst: Yep, They Were Afterthoughts
Remember the last month or two when we were like “Miz and Truth are going to get steamrolled and nobody thinks they’ve got a chance to win”, and that led to speculation that it was SO unlikely that they’d win that maybe they would, and maybe Cena would turn on Rock or Rock would turn on Cena or some miscommunication to set up Wrestlemania would happen. Remember that? Yeah, they didn’t have a chance. Cena and Rock could’ve been taking on The Chickbusters here and it would’ve been the same match, the only difference being how funny it’d be to see Cena get all glassy-eyed selling A.J.’s offense.
Worst: That’s It? or “Jesus Christ, Cena, Get Mad And F**k Him Up”
The very worst part of this was the ending, where Rock makes Cena eat boos for five minutes and Cena basically writes “when I turn around I want you to Rock Bottom me” on a Post-It and sticks it to Rock’s forehead. I wanted so badly, for just a moment, for Cena to get as mad as me about this. For one goddamn second I wanted him to stop being polite and smack this dude in the face. Stand up for that whole “you left, I’m always here, I stand by the people who support me” thing. Smack him in his face. Punch him, whatever. You tossed Being A Star out the window years ago, just STF him until he passes out from blood loss and leave the ring. Flip out, tear up some stuff. Kick the ring steps, toss somebody into a barricade. Scream. Make that little ejaculate of spit pop out of your mouth again. Just be pissed the f**k off about what’s happening because Fast And God Damned Furious Guy is physically illustrating your waning popularity and making you look at it.
And no, Cena doesn’t need to turn heel. He’s already the biggest and best heel you’ve got. It would not, however, kill him to take this seriously for a minute and use some of that punching and shoulderblocking he loves so much for a good damn reason. F**king f**k him up, John. DO IT.
Best And Worst: The Role Of Nostalgia, And A Place For It
And that’s it, really.
People want to see the Rock in a match in 2011 not because they want to see a good wrestling match, but because they remember good wrestling matches from the past. Nostalgia. I’ve seen more than one tweet or status update or whatever talking about how they’d ordered the show (their first since Money in the Bank, or even farther back) and they “felt 19 again” or called Rocky a God for singing Sinatra and doing the elbow. That’s good. That should happen. Nostalgia has a very real, very powerful place in the hearts of wrestling fans, and it’s the reason I thought about getting my picture taken with the Nasty Boys when they were at Wizard World, or when they were getting hammered and trying to motorboat girls at the Mohawk in downtown Austin. I don’t even like the Nasty Boys, but I REMEMBER them.
There’s a time and place for that. In Japan, when a former star gets to a certain age, he’s usually ushered into the undercard, put into six-man tag team matches where he can come in, do his stuff and leave. Sometimes he does some comedy, because f**k, we like him and we want him to stick around for as long as he can.
The time and place for nostalgia — for the fleeting thing we’re going to lose again and never get back — is not in the main event of your pay-per-view, at the expense of your last marketable star, to set up another pay-per-view. It’s not. Jake Roberts has that great story about when Muhammad Ali was in Mid-South, and wrestlers would pile into the ring to get knocked out by him. Ali punched Roberts and he no sold it. It pissed Bill Watts off. When confronted about it, Jake said that Ali wouldn’t be here next week, but he would.
The Rock’s not going to be here next week, but John Cena, R-Truth and The Miz are. We’ll fondly remember how cool the Rock looked at Survivor Series, but we won’t have a reason to tune in to see Cena, Truth or Miz. Do you see where that’s going? Do you see the hole that digs? And if you see it, is it tinted rose?