Angry Wrestling Guy

This is It.

Professional Wrestling Rule #24: The extent to which the kayfabe wrestling establishment is against a wrestler is inversely proportional to the extent to which the real life wrestling establishment is behind that same wrestler.

I watched Summerslam with a small group of recently converted (thanks to me) WWE fans: three straight women, my wife and two of her family members.  Like many women who watch wrestling, I suspect, their affinity towards a particular male superstar often depends, at least partly, on how sexy they find them. I know for a fact that’s why one of these ladies has become a CM Punk mark who also can’t help but sympathize with John Cena. Another is a big Randy Orton fan who has also taken a shine to Cody Rhodes. So we have the “pretty boys” accounted for.  All three, however, have recently jumped on the Bryan bandwagon, not because he’s “hot”, but because “he’s so ridiculous, how can you not love him?” Fair enough.

They are all new to the wrestling game  having watched WWE programming regularly for little more than a year. Consequently, they haven’t yet ascended (or descended some might say) to the level of meta-fan in which many people who read this blog (myself included) reside. They don’t understand the cyclical nature of wrestling; the signs that one era of wrestling has ended and another has begun; that sense of history that informs our expectations, often tempering our excitement, but sometimes, just sometimes, allows us to savor a wrestling event in a way that the casual fan just can’t fully understand or appreciate.

After Bryan beat Cena clean in the middle of the ring, these three ladies erupted in applause. All they wanted was a feel-good moment and they got it. Bryan had won his victory. He had his moment. For them, his only job (and ours as fans) was to bask in the afterglow of thunderous “YES” chants, confetti, and the knowledge that, at least for a short time, he would carry the biggest championship in pro-wrestling.

My wife looked over at me, expecting to see jubilation. I hadn’t moved, I hadn’t cheered. I sat at the edge of my seat staring intensely and unblinkingly at the TV screen. “C’mon, Hunter..” I said “…do it.”

It was only after Randy Orton sauntered down to the ring that I rose to my feet. I began jumping and screaming like a ten year old in my living room “Do it, Hunter! Do it!”. And then it happened: the sweetest Pedigree I can ever remember, followed by a three count and the shortest WWE title reign since John Cena lost the strap to Batista at the 2010 Elimination Chamber. A collective groan came from the girls and I…

…completely lost my shit.

When I calmed down enough to enjoy my euphoria in a more calm and collected manner, my confused wife turned and asked me “But I thought you loved Daniel Bryan? Why are you so happy?”

“Because…” I said “..this only happens once every seven to ten years”

What they failed to see is that WWE Champion Daniel Bryan, at this stage of his career, has no place to go. His momentum has been built through the idea that he is fighting something rotten ingrained in the wrestling establishment.  John Cena could be the complete embodiment of that idea, or their could be something much larger and sinister at play.

The bottom line is that a complete victory, in storyline terms, does nothing to advance Bryan’s popularity. In order to win the WWE Championship everyone must scale a mountain. The WWE Championship is at the top of that mountain, but your legacy is defined by how big of a mountain you scaled to get there. For mega fans of Daniel Bryan, like me, even a large-sized mountain won’t satisfy us. We want it to be Mount Everest.

After watching this past Monday’s episode of RAW, there is little doubt in my mind that this is the sea-change we’ve been waiting for. WWE has now revealed the mountain Bryan must climb to reclaim what is his and it’s as looming and ominous as any could be. It is the same mountain Steve Austin scaled when he lost to Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 13 and spent the next year battling the McMahon family before finally capturing the WWE Title at Wrestlemania 14. Bryan’s ascent has the potential to be as thrilling as any wrestling angle in history. With both the fans and the WWE machine behind him, there is not limit to what Bryan can achieve. His time has truly come.

Two weeks ago I wrote “The World Is Ready For Daniel Bryan”. We are ready and now, apparently, so is the real life McMahon family. Enjoy the ride, my friends. This is what we’ve been waiting for. This is it.

The World Is Ready for Daniel Bryan

I have a theory that the top, iconic, wrestling characters reflect the society that births them. In the world of professional wrestling, how could this not be true?

Vince McMahon’s traveling circus version of the wrestling model provides a perpetual, massive, national (and sometimes international) focus group. People make a lot of noise about ratings, but nothing is more instructive than the genuine reactions of thousands of people in real time because those ratings are just numbers — they don’t capture the FEELING of the audience. The WWE owes its longevity to listening to those feelings, understanding them, and out-putting a product that reflects those feelings. You give the people what they want.

My theory is that individual audience members, from all generations, all share a common bond through the cultural architecture of their times. Consequently, iconic characters are successful because they somehow tap into that collective consciousness in a way that, not only thrills us, but holds a mirror for us to see who we are and what we desire.

You can learn a lot about history just by watching old professional wrestling shows…

In the 1980s we had Hulk Hogan, the quintessential Cold War superhero. He was a manifestation of the desire for strength through patriotism, belief in self, and loyalty to your own. Like Rocky Balboa fighting Drago, he was a reaction to the subtle current of uncertainty and fear running through American society. In the face of that fear, he represented the rationalization that we, as a people, were powerful, righteous and that nothing could overcome our dominance. He was “The Real American”.

In the late 1990s we had Stone Cold Steve Austin, an emotionally unstable, unpredictable, violent anti-hero who very much represented the same sense of discontent and anger felt by young adolescent males at the time. The late 90s, though it ushered in an era of economic prosperity, stability, and relative peace, left many white youth with an aimless yearning for something more than a steady nine to five job. These sentiments were captured perfectly by Tyler Durden in Fight Club: “We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives”. From the deluge of cultural malaise came “The Rattlesnake”. He wasn’t here to beat the communists. He wasn’t here to teach your kids to take their vitamins. He was here to bring down the establishment. It didn’t matter why. It didn’t matter how. Stone Cold Steve Austin was here to unleash a can of whoop ass just because he could, just because he was angry. Every Monday Night RAW was catharsis.  When Austin went crazy so did we and there was no greater release than watching someone tear down everything just to watch the world burn.

Finally, John Cena has embodied the attitudes of Post 9/11 America to a T. Like during the Cold War era, the threat of a foreign enemy (terrorism) rekindled the desire for indomitable strength, but not at the expense of our prosperity and leisure. John Cena doesn’t really fight for anything in particular. “Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect” are just buzzwords. Why are we hustling? To whom are we loyal? To what do we owe our respect? They are words that make us feel good, wholesome, but we’re not meant to put too much thought into the matter.

His strength is no longer aimed at defeating an enemy, but is supposed to be a comforting distraction from the unknown perils that lie outside the purview of our awareness. We don’t want to look into that abyss we merely glimpsed at on 9/11. We need someone to make us feel like it’s going to be all right. We may not fight our Post 9/11 wars personally, but we’ll go over-the-top with our show of respect to the less-than-one-percent who wear military uniforms in Iraq and Afghanistan. We offer our show of gratitude to the military establishment as prayers to the universe hoping that our reward will be never having to endure the horrors of war personally. John Cena is the yellow ribbon bumper sticker, the jets flying over The Superdome before the Superbowl. He is the business-as-usual champion; a nice guy; easily digestible like organic vegetable juice; the consummate company man; the dutiful consumer’s hero.

Now we arrive at Daniel Bryan. Could he be the next iconic wrestling mega-star? If one merely glances at his short stature, shaggy beard, and often goofy demeanor, it’s easy to dismiss the possibility. And yet, there’s something to the notion that Daniel Bryan is a mirror reflecting the current stream of collective consciousness.

It seems like we are entering into a post-hipster world, one in which people are more aware of the shortcomings of society and themselves, but also able to avoid the cognitive dissonance that comes with those revelations. People are becoming cynical to the jingoism of the early 2000s. People no longer trust the government to look out for their best interest. Simultaneously there is a conflicting sense that something must be done, but that “something” is nebulous.

We know we are trapped within a technological vacuum; we spend our lives finger poking  smart phones, making connections with people hundreds of miles from our physical location, while we sit across an actual person at a restaurant. We are a society of deep contradictions, simultaneously more and less connected than ever before. How many people, surrounded by technology, crave a lifestyle of simpler times, or seek connection through yoga, social causes, Crossfit, or even Reddit.

Perhaps the most signature aspect of this new paradigm is that we, collectively, have not only become aware of the absurdity in our lives, but have met it with good humor. Our reaction is sometimes to lament our state of affairs, but more often than not, it’s to simply laugh and resign ourselves to our fate — like an episode of the Daily Show that points out government corruption without even a hint sanctimonious outrage, but by turning it into one big joke. In the face of our powerlessness, we sometimes just have to laugh. We try to enjoy the ride, even if it is a downward spiral.

When I re-watch Daniel Bryan interacting with Kane in Anger Management, I realize that Daniel Bryan is actually a terrible actor. At no point during his tantrums did I believe he was actually angry. He always seemed like he was just on the edge of laughter. It’s as if the Daniel Bryan character always has some meta-awareness that he’s just a Daniel Bryan character. And I don’t mean that the actor who plays Daniel Bryan has that awareness, I mean it’s like the character itself has that awareness. In other words, if WWE were a comic book universe, Bryan would be Deadpool, the comic book character who knows he’s in a comic book. Somehow, I think this is relevant to who we are as a people.  Like the financial analyst who secretly sympathizes with Occupy Wall St., the lawyer working at a big law firm who secretly wants to be an activist, or the urban teen who plays sports to fit in, but is really interested in gay rights, we routinely adopt roles due to societal demands, knowing deep down, we’re just playing a character.

Even this past Monday, during his confrontation with Cena, as he pleaded that he was out to prove himself, you could detect an undercurrent of subtle joy as if he was already secretly enjoying his sudden popularity.

And somehow, all of that is all right. My enjoyment of Bryan never comes at the expense of my immersion.  In fact, there’s something intangible about his persona that makes what should be shortcomings into endearing qualities that I would miss if he got rid of them.

Bryan embodies contradiction in other ways too: he carries the beard of a huntsman raised by wolves, yet he’s a vegan; he has one of the most complex in-ring styles in the history of professional wrestling, yet has the simplest catchphrase; in terms of in-ring storytelling, he is the best wrestling artist to come along since Shawn Michaels, yet his character stretches the limits of the “goofy nerd” label.

When people speculate that Bryan could replace Cena as the top dog in the company, it’s easy to reflexively say “No”. I mean, after all, just look at him. Look at that beard. Listen to his theme music. Look at that goofy side-step entrance on his way down the ramp…

And yet, in the age in which contradiction defines who we are, it is for those very reasons that I say “YES!”

Wrestlemania 29: Reflections

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(My view in MetLife Stadium)

This won’t be a proper review per se. I don’t normally do that sort of thing. But since I attended the event and received the proper Wrestlemania experience for the first time, I think a column about the experience is warranted. Often the live experience doesn’t translate well to television (and vise versa) so, as I cover some of the matches and moments, I’ll try to highlight what I perceived to be the mood of the crowd and other aspects that might not have been obvious for people who watched at home.

First of all, I want to send out a heartfelt “fuck you” to the asshole wrestling fans that rode New Jersey Transit. It all started in New York City, Penn Station, as a mob of overly excited 35 year old virgins congregated in the train waiting area. I can only imagine the horror normal commuters experienced as the swarm of neckbeards descended upon them, piling into train cars, howling their dueling “Let’s go Cena!…Cena Sucks!” chants. I even witnessed one of these pieces of human excrement threaten to fight a bystander who politely asked him to stop yelling “Ziggler!” in his ear quite so loud. You people are the reason nobody has any respect for wrestling fans in the real world; the reason why millions of closet wrestling fans (people with real jobs) treat their fandom like a dirty little secret lest their professional colleagues lose all respect for them. We don’t want to be associated with you. Again, fuck you.

Ok… I feel better…

Now onto the event itself. From where I was sitting, it seemed like the crowd was hot for most of the event. I’ve read that some people are complaining that the crowd was dead, but I’m convinced that’s a product of the open stadium. I was at TLC in Brooklyn and I can say confidently that, at least in my section, fans were every bit as passionate.

I’m not going to waste too many words on the undercard. I’m glad The Shield won, don’t care the Big Show went heel again. I thought the Jericho/Fandango match was decent  and properly booked.

Ryback/Henry ended up being a huge disappointment. People were actually relatively hot for this match and there was a surprising number of vocal Henry fans. Not sure if you guys heard the “Sexual Chocolate” chants, but they were highly amusing. Besides the finish (I’ll get to that in a second), the biggest problem in this match was the pacing. Nothing really happened. I suppose this was to be expected, but I think everyone in the stadium was expecting a bigger spot-fest with these two. The worst part of this match, though, was the horrendous finish, which left people in my section completely confused. I heard more than a few people mutter around me “wait, what just happened”, after the awkward, failed Shell Shock that resulted in a three count for Henry. If the crowd can’t even decipher what the finish was supposed to be, you probably booked a shit finish. Also, I don’t get the logic of booking a Mark Henry victory, but maybe they’re setting up a change of character for Ryback, who can’t seem to get a PPV win to save his life.

The Tag Team Championship match was fun, but too short. The crowd was simmering hot for Daniel Bryan. I’m still wondering when WWE will realize that, when it comes to big PPV events, the people filling the arenas want to see more of this guy. But, then again, I’m beginning to think the WWE doesn’t give two shits about what sends the fans in attendance home happy (more on that later).

The ADR-Swagger match was better than expected. I enjoyed the finish. ADR was well received. But, of course, no Ziggler cash-in, despite the loud “We want Ziggler” chants that broke out in my section and many others.

Punk/Undertaker. Epic. What more needs to be said? Hands down the best match of the night. It was the only match for which my entire section stood from beginning to end. People were fired up, and the crowd seemed 50/50 split between Undertaker and Punk. Both men, however, worked the crowd like nothing I had experienced at a live wrestling event. The pacing of the match was pitch perfect. You never felt like Punk and Taker were just killing time to get to the next spot. Punk threw himself with abandon into the tactic of using Taker’s persona against him. The two “old school” rope walk moments with Punk were genius. Most importantly, though, it had the “holy shit, maybe he’s going to beat the streak” moment: despite the fact I wrote an entire column explaining why Punk would definitely not beat The Streak in 2013, when he bashed Taker over the head with the urn, my disbelief disappeared for about 15 seconds as Punk crawled to make the cover. The kick out was heartbreaking, even though I knew in my heart of hearts it was coming. But that’s ok. That’s why we pay money to feel. The entire crowd gave those two men a well deserved standing ovation afterwards. You could just feel the respect everyone had for what they had just seen.

Punk/Undertaker was so emotionally draining, it definitely affected Brock/HHH, which followed directly after. I think most people in attendance wanted to see this match, but were just completely spent by the time it started. You hardly even heard an ovation for Triple H’s entrance. People didn’t even stand. It was nothing against him either. I was burnt out. Everyone was burnt out. It was nothing against the performers, the booking, or the match, but it is a testament to just how good Punk vs. Undertaker was.

I noticed that about halfway through Brock and Trip’s match, people started getting their second wind. I thought the kimura lock sequence was well executed and made sense with the story-arc. As for the finish — Brock did the honors by putting over a young performer with a bright future. I’m really looking forward to seeing what this Triple H guy can do now that he has the spotlight and all this momentum (</sarcasm>).

The main event. Ohhhh, the main event. Before I get into it, I have to pause here and note that every single time Cena’s image was shown on the big screen, throughout the entire night, MetLife Staidum reigned down a chorus of boos upon it. Cena was definitely not in friendly territory. At best the split was 75% against and 25% for John Cena.

Remember when I told you The Rock is a shell of his former self? Any detractors still out there now? Again, the dude was gassed in one of the worst paced ‘Mania closers I’ve ever seen. No less than three “this is boring” chants broke out in my section during the first ten minutes. I could actually see people getting visibly angry. They had one great sequence with Cena feigning to go for The People’s Elbow and then slyly grabbing the ropes (harkening back to last year’s match and the storyline surrounding that moment). The crowd popped big for that and I actually thought the match might transform into something special. But then it didn’t. It became, what seemed like an eternity, of finisher attempts by both men and actually finished with one of the most predictable, unsatisfying endings of all time. People booed the finish and they booed the handshake. Loudly. Not sure if it translated on television, but the majority of the people in attendance were not pleased.

That leads me to my biggest gripe about ‘Mania this year. Though I had a great time at the event at certain moments, I really don’t understand why WWE didn’t do something to make the event feel special for the fans in attendance. WWE knows their audiences, especially its New York fans. Everyone was waiting for some kind of Wrestlemania shocker and it never came. I’m not even just talking about a Cena heel turn (though that would have certainly made the cut). I just mean that there was nothing that happened that would make one think that WWE had any intention of putting together a show that was a “crowd pleaser”. It’s no secret that NYC has a smarky fan base. Why not do SOMETHING to please us? How about giving Daniel Bryan more time? How about having Ziggler cash in MITB? How about they don’t go with the cheese handshake and just have Rock lay Cena out after the match? This was WWE paint by the numbers and the event suffered for it.

I remember walking out of the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn after TLC and seeing the big smiles one everybody’s faces. As I walked out of MetLife, what I saw were mostly tired, confused faces. Again, looking back, I had a good time. I don’t feel like I wasted my money or anything. That said, ‘Mania could have been better. It SHOULD have been better.

The Economics of The Streak and Why You Don’t Get to Be Happy

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I hate to break it to all the rabid Punk fans out there (including myself), but the chances that Punk breaks the Undertaker’s undefeated streak are slim to none.

And no, it’s not because The Streak is a sacred badge that defines Taker’s legacy. To say such a thing is actually to insult the incredible career of The Undertaker, the legacy of which is far greater than a win-loss summary — even a pristine, legendary one. I think it’s actually 50/50 that The Streak will one day end. It just won’t end this year.

And no, it’s not because CM Punk isn’t a worthy streak-breaker. He is. In fact, it could be argued that breaking the streak could provide Punk the final rub he would need to catapult him on a 2013 run that could rival the one he had in 2012.

The reason Punk is not breaking The Streak this year has nothing to do with any of the arguments whose force lies in kayfabe explanations. It has everything to do with real life economics.

Economics 101: Lesson 1 – Opportunity Cost

The term “opportunity cost” should be familiar to any person who has ever taken a college level introductory course in economics. Wikipedia provides a good, simple definition: “Opportunity cost is the cost of any activity measured in terms of the value of the next best alternative forgone (that is not chosen).”

To illustrate this principle; imagine you go to one of those Mexican restaurants fake Zeb Coulter doesn’t want you to eat at. You buy a burrito and, because you’re a real american, it tastes like shit to you. Let’s say you paid 5 bucks for it. In normal conversation, it’s fair to say you just blew 5 dollars (the cost of the meal was 5 dollars). But in strict economic terms, your meal cost more than that: It cost 5 dollars + opportunity cost. In this example, opportunity cost is defined as whatever pleasure you would have received if you had eaten a good ole American cheeseburger. Let’s say the pleasure you would have received is worth 2 dollars. Then your total economic costs were 7 dollars ($5 bucks for your meal + $2 bucks for the pleasure of the burger you never got to eat).

The principle applies to mortgages as well. The monthly economic cost of a mortgage is not just what you pay to the bank, but is also any profit you could have made had you rented the property INSTEAD of living in it yourself.

In truth you can apply the concept of opportunity cost to any real life example in which you give up one thing to get another.

But how does it apply to wrestling? What is the opportunity cost for breaking The Streak?

The answer:  it’s every match that could have benefited from The Streak being on the line, that can’t happen once The Streak is broken. If that future match is more valuable than the rub given to the streak breaker, it’s economically foolish to break the streak. And remember, unlike our example of the cheeseburger, all of these matches — those that have already happened and those that have yet to happen —  have a dollar value that WWE financial people are almost certainly calculating.

The question then becomes, is there such a potential future match, with a low risk premium (the chance that it won’t happen or that it won’t generate the revenue expected of it), that would make breaking The Streak now a foolish move economically? And now, if you are brutally honest with yourself, you know that there is and it’s glaringly obvious.

John Cena vs. The Undertaker. This match has never happened at Wrestlemania with The Streak on the line; therefore it MUST happen. To not capitalize on this gazillion dollar match would be the equivalent of flushing money down the toilet.

Now I know what some of you are thinking: The Undertaker is old, maybe he just wants to quit. But let’s be real. The dude wrestles once a freaking year. I’m pretty sure he can lace up his boots one more time next year for one last epic payday. Why wouldn’t he? He literally just has to show up.

You see, at the end of the day, these wrestlers aren’t wrestling primarily for legacies or the perfect poetic ending to a career. They wrestle for dem dollas. Dolla, dolla bills ya’ll.

The Streak may end someday…or maybe it won’t. But it’s not going to end until every red cent is bled out of it. You know it. I know it.

Sorry for ruining Wrestlemania.

Wrestlmania 30: John Cena vs. The Undertaker. Is anyone really going to argue that this wouldn’t be one of the biggest drawing main events ever, especially if Punk is added to the list of legends The Undertaker beats. It will be Superman vs. The Devil. And you know paranoid smarks everywhere are going to have the sweats because they know that WWE might just give the ultimate rub to John Cena. It would drive people crazy. How are they NOT going to capitalize on the buzz created by Cena vs. Taker. The answer is, they DO capitalize.  Book it. I’ve never been more certain of a wrestling prediction. Why? Because everybody’s gotta price, everybody’s gonna pay, cause the million dollar man (Vince) always gets his way.

Top That, Wrestlemania

Much will be written about last night’s RAW main event: John Cena vs. CM Punk for the right to face The Rock for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania. AWG.com is not about play-by-play coverage or RAW recaps. There are plenty of other writers out there who have that covered. We stared slack-jawed at the pile driver, the amazing reversals, the perfect pacing. We felt the tension and that moment the hairs on our neck stood up when we realized we were witnessing a classic. This column will not help you relive those moments, but maybe cause you to reflect on their significance.

Every now and then a match so incredible occurs that it would just be wrong not to express my amazement in writing. Last night, the wrestling world witnessed a rare display of greatness. The word “awesome” would do it justice if the feeling evoked by it wasn’t blunted by its overuse in every day life, so I’ll go with “awe-inspiring”. It literally inspired awe.

I’ll try not to let this piece get too bogged down by my own disgruntled emotions towards Wrestlemania, but given the website’s namesake, I do think some griping is in order. For those of you who mocked the notion that The Rock shouldn’t be headlining PPVs anymore; that his presence has diminished the potential for greatness in the ring rather than increased it; that, from an artistic standpoint (not the standpoint of ~THIS BUSINESS!~) the main event of Wrestlemania ought to belong to a pair who can truly deliver from bell-to-bell, I present to you last night.

That should have been the Wrestelmania 29 main event.

In 2011, the feud between John Cena and CM Punk began in earnest when Punk delivered his, now legendary, pipe bomb promo. The first act of the feud culminated at Money in the Bank 2011 in one of the greatest matches of all time. They have competed against each other numerous times since then, delivering a strong performance every single time.

The John Cena vs. CM Punk storyline has mostly written itself over the past year and a half. Cena is the golden child of the WWE, handpicked by Vince McMahon as this generation’s Hulk Hogan. He’s the ultimate corporate spokesperson. He’s affable, digestible. He has the look.  He’s marketable. On the other side, you have CM Punk, a guy who, if he had a penny for every time he was told he couldn’t make it in the business, would have enough money to bail out Wall Street. He doesn’t have the typical wrestler look — more like a dock worker. He doesn’t tow the company line, but rather lives to recraft the wrestling business into his own image. He is the ultimate  antagonist.

Now I want you all to imagine that The Rock never came back to WWE television this year. He stayed in Hollywood. There was no expectation for him to challenge the WWE Champion at the Royal Rumble. Also imagine that most of the events of 2012 remained the same: Punk turned heel, carried the WWE Title for the entire year, Cena lost to The Rock at Wrestlemania 28, and he became the first to fail to Cash in Money in the Bank (against Punk). Fast forward to 2013.  Imagine that Punk defended his title successfully at the Royal Rumble, but John Cena still won the Rumble itself. Punk goes on to defend the title again at Elimination Chamber, ensuring that, going into Wrestlemania, his historic title streak would exceed 500 days.

Imagine the incredible narrative that would have been set up for Wrestlemania 29: two iconic archetypes of wrestling squaring off on the grandest stage in the business. For those of you who weren’t paying attention, let me spell it out: Cena-Punk is this generation’s version of Rock-Austin. It would be the climax to one of the greatest feuds the business has ever seen.

In other words, if what we saw on free TV last night happened at Wrestlemania it would have gone down as one of the greatest Wrestlemania main events in history.   Cena would have come out as the hero who finally overcame his arch-nemesis and Punk would take his place alongside the immortals, etching in stone his face on the artists of wrestling’s Mt. Rushmore, which for me also includes Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Kurt Angle.

Punk’s place among the greats is solidified for me, but I can’t help but feel there’s an injustice in him not having a chance to prove it to the whole world on the biggest stage. You’ll hear many fans talk about the business side of wrestling; who draws the most money, who brings in the sponsors, who sells the most t-shirts etc. From that perspective — the business perspective — of course you go with your top draws. Always. I understand the logic behind The Rock vs. Cena for the second time. I understand business

But then there’s the pure fan in me that recognizes that true greatness is always fleeting; that there is more to what makes wrestling great than barrels of cash flowing into Vince McMahon’s coffers; that what made legendary matches legendary, like Taker vs. Michaels at WM 25 or Austin vs. Hart at WM 13, wasn’t the box office bottom line. It was the magic created between the ringing of two bells. It was a sense that, somehow, within this fake world of sports entertainment, some truth about the very essence of the two performers in the ring was on full display to the world.

At its best, professional wrestling transcends itself. Every now and then a match comes along in which two performers, each embodying an embellished, false version of themselves, each performing fake fighting techniques on each other, somehow come full circle before our eyes and turn the wrestling formula on its head in real time. They become realer than the characters they embody, maybe even realer than how they are seen in real life, and we see the two men for who they really are. The necessary lies that pro wrestling tells us somehow work to cut deeper to a truth about the men in the ring and their relation to us as fans. These rare moments are what keeps me coming back to pro-wrestling, despite all the terrible gimmicks, despite midget’s playing leprechauns, despite glaring plot holes, and despite all the logical inconsistencies that would cause most people to turn the television off in frustration if they were watching any other medium of entertainment.

Thank you John Cena and CM Punk for delivering one of those rare moments last night on free TV. It was a performance I won’t soon forget — one worthy of Wrestlemania’s top billing.

*** UPDATE ***

Full video of the match now available to watch:

Is There Still Time to Save Wrestlemania?

It was 2001, Monday Night Raw, a day after the No Way Out PPV. The Rock had just won the WWF Championship from Kurt Angle. He confidently marched to the ring and grabbed a microphone. Normally, the crowd would have been happy to simply submit to the catch-phrase-heavy, electric greeting from The Rock. But not that night. Fresh in the minds of the fans in attendance and the millions (and millions) watching around the world was Steve Austin’s Royal Rumble win. They only wanted to hear one sound:

Broken glass.

Finally, the glass shattered, the crowd erupted, and Austin confidently confronted The Rock in the ring. The storyline for the most anticipated match in company history — a match we all knew was coming; a match we all wanted –began in earnest. And we were all better off for it. We spent the next month and half on the edge our seats, dreaming about the coming main event, arguing with our friends over who would win, debating who was better. The angle was ultimately accompanied by one of the greatest hype packages ever produced — one worthy of the story being told.

I bring up one of the greatest Wrestlemania build ups to remind people what “The Road to Wrestlemania” is supposed to feel like.  It’s supposed to feel like you’re about to see the match you always wanted to see, even if, up to that point, you never knew you wanted to see it. It’s  a feeling that was captured again last year when The Rock came back to challenge John Cena. No matter people’s feelings on part-time performers headlining Wrestlemania, whether you were a Cena-hater or an ardent Cena-defender, The Rock Vs John Cena was compelling television. We all wanted to see that match.

Then we saw it. And more importantly, we saw the build up to it; one that included seemingly brutal personal attacks exchanged — attacks aimed, not merely at WWE characters, but the men behind them. We had Cena, the company man; villified by smarks everywhere; adored by children; but someone who was there, day in and day out, vs. The Rock; beloved by disheartened haters of the PG-Era and fans nostalgic for the Attitude Era;  but a part timer who “sold out” to Hollywood, becoming bigger than the industry that made him. It was the present vs. the past, blue collar vs.white collar, young vs. old, etc. It was billing worthy of the ‘Mania main event and the tagline “Once in a lifetime”.

For months, the writing has been on the wall. We suspected all along that a rematch was coming, but we were certain when John Cena won the Royal Rumble. For many, such as myself, an uneasy feeling began to creep in; something wasn’t right. But we witheld judgment. The Rock vs. Cena program couldn’t begin in earnest until after Elimination Chamber and we were willing to wait.

And then it happened. Elmination Chamber ended. Rocky prevailed.  The match was set..and then..and then…

…we sighed.

…RAW happened the following night and, instead of an epic beginning to a program like Austin vs. Rock in 2001 or last year’s Rock vs. Cena, we were greeted with indecision. We have to wait until this coming Monday before we get our Wrestlemania mainevent. The kayfabe world wants us to believe it’s either The Rock vs. John Cena or The Rock vs. CM Punk, but we all know the real possibilities are The Rock vs. John Cena or a Triple threat between all three competitors.

It was then that I realized, it doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether it’s a rematch from last year or a triple threat, there will be no magic. It’s a match that, on paper, from a WWE business perspective, just seems like a slam dunk. And in the short term, it might be, but for those of us who long to be swept away by a wrestling angle, the main event programming right now can offer nothing but disappointment. The nostalgia element from last year has run its course. The Rock has nothing left to prove. and the Cena redemption narrative seems forced and disingenuous. Nothing feels real.  Maybe if the actual match performance last year blew everyone away I’d feel differently, but it didn’t. Rock vs. Cena is a match that requires the hype, and I just don’t see it being there this year.

I turned off RAW on Monday and a strange feeling lingered. There was something hiding between the lines of the programming — derived not from something that was said or shown, but from everything that wasn’t. It was as if the Creative team opened the safe holding the Wrestlemania hype-magic the morning after Elimination Chamber only to find that the safe was empty. Without their hype-magic the creative team was forced to present mostly filler programming along with promises of great things while, behind the scenes, they frantically overturned couch cushions trying to find the magic. Was I sensing the vague tinge of desperation in the writing and presentation? Did WWE Creative really just say “fuck it, we don’t know how to hype this, we need another week to figure it out”? Is this how the Road to Wrestlemania really begins?

Needless to say, I was feeling extremely pessimistic.

But as the week progressed, something else started to happen. I began to read stories from mainstream outlets about The Shield’s rise to stardom and the controversial repackaging of Jack Swager as a xenophobic racist. Along with the coverage,  there emerged a growing sense of excitement among fans, including a swelling sentiment– “this is more interesting than anything else they have planned”. By Friday, I realized that something special was happening; special because it didn’t seem like something the WWE Corporate office timed or planned. Interest for a match planned for over a year was waning, but people were starting to get that “anything can happen” feeling that really defined the Attitude Era.

I don’t know if Wrestlemania can be saved, but if it can be, it will be because the script will be re-written. It will only be re-written because Vince McMahon begins to sense what some of the fans are sensing: the story for this year’s Wrestlemania is really a meta-story. It’s that the Rock vs. Cena program is a lackluster main event destined to be overshadowed by a new breed of Superstars. Luckily for WWE, they occupy space in a unique medium that allows them to make adjustments and turn their weaknesses into strengths almost in real time. To be clear, I am talking about actual kayfabe acknowledgment that The Rock vs. Cena is a stale attraction and not really the main event of Wrestlemania — that fans are tired of it and want to see something new. If this is to be the case, the fans will be the ones who lead the charge. A lot is said on the internet that doesn’t manifest itself in live audiences, so we may be conflating a narrative that only appeals to a small subset of fans. But, for me, I look forward to finding out which direction the momentum is heading. To me, that’s the real compelling angle for this year’s “Road to Wrestlemania”.

Will casual fans be eager to consume the “Twice in a lifetime” match and the rumored Brock vs. Triple H rematch. Is that really enough for them? Or is frustration more widespread than anyone has yet acknowledged? Will they gravitate to the edgy programming surrounding The Shield and Swagger? Is “what’s cool” beginning to shift again?

Time will tell, but this is shaping up to be one of the most interesting journeys toward Wrestlemania I can remember and not for any reason the WWE scripted into their programming last March. No, it’s because of everything they didn’t script. I can easily see WM29 being one of the worst, most predictable Wrestlemanias in company history, but I can also see it being one of  the most shocking, memorable events in company history.

Whatever the case, this year I’m not waiting to hear the sound of broken glass. I’m waiting to hear a sound I’ve never heard before — in some ways, that’s more exciting, even if I’m more likely to be disappointed.

Math Doesn’t Lie: The Rock Is a Shell of His Former Self and Can’t Work a Match

Last night I got into numerous heated arguments with people who swore up and down that last night’s Elimination Chamber match was “a really good match” and that “The Rock can still go” and that he “wasn’t gassed at all, he just likes to breathe hard”. Needless to say, I saw things much differently. To me, The Rock did look gassed, he didn’t seem like he could effectively work the match like he could ten years ago — not even close.

But hey, I’ll be the first to admit, greatness — or even just good-ness — is often in the eye of the beholder. Maybe I was just being too hard on The Rock because I’m a bitter internet CM Punk fanboy. Sometimes you have to take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself the tough questions: who am I? why am I here? does The Rock suck or do I just suck?

Let’s bring a little objectivity into the equation, shall we?

Inspired by the self examined life, recognition of my own biases, and my love of data, I decided to run a little experiment. I wanted to know just how many minutes The Rock “worked” his match with CM Punk at Elimination Chamber. So, the match still fresh in my DVR, I re-watched it and, with my trusty stop watch timed whenever The Rock “worked”.

Now let’s define “worked”. For my experiment I used the loosest definition of working imaginable in order to be charitable to the Rock. Working was defined as:

  • Any time a wrestler delivers an offensive move, including strikes
  • Any time a wrestler moves their feet while standing (walking, running, climbing)
  • Any time a wrestler lifts their own bodyweight while in a submission (for example, when Stone Cold Steve Austin does a pushup while in the Sharpshooter)
  • Any time a wrestler carries any portion of an opponent’s body weight.
  • Kicking out of a pin (though this only takes a fraction of a second, so it’s negligible when actually timing a match)

What doesn’t count as “working”:

  • Lying prone on the mat or outside the ring
  • Not standing under your own power
  • Resting in somebody else’s hold such as a headlock or armbar
  • Standing, but not otherwise moving
  • Talking trash

You might notice that my criteria for “working” basically includes anything an elderly person might call “exercise”.

Now, there’s a lot of downtime in wrestling matches — this I know. So this experiment, of course, needs a proper control. So, I reached back into the annals of time and pulled out, what I consider to be, a match that controls for some of the variables: Royal Rumble 2002 The Rock vs. Chris Jericho for the Undisputed Title. This match ran almost as long, was for a championship, had a similar storyline, and was against a similar “work horse” type of opponent. It also had bunch of screwy stuff happen, similar to Elimination Chamber. One important difference, though, is that The Rock was trying to win the title, not defend. I leave it up to my readers to determine whether that’s a huge issue. I encourage everyone to go back and watch it. It’s a decent match. By comparing these two matches, we should be able to see whether or not The Rock has lost a step (or two or six, or a hundred) and either provide evidence backing up my claim that The Rock is a shell of his former self, or give reason to suspect I am being too hard on Rocky.

The Results

2002 Royal Rumble: The Rock vs. Chris Jericho
Approx Bell-to-bell Match Time: 18 minutes
Rocky’s total “worked” minutes: 7 minutes 41 seconds
Percent of match “worked”: 42.5%

2013 Elimination Chamber: The Rock vs. CM Punk
Approx Bell-to-bell Match Time: 20 minutes
Rocky’s total “worked” minutes: 4 minutes 30 seconds
Percent of match “worked”: 22.5%

The most striking thing about the data is that The Rock worked more than 3 minutes longer in a match that was 2 minutes shorter in 2002. But the most compelling statistical evidence that The Rock’s production in the ring has totally fallen off the map is the 42.5% 2002 workrate vs. 2013′s 22.5% workrate. That’s a 47% decline — if these numbers actually capture anything close to the normal workrate in each respective time period, the Rock is nearly half the performer he once was in the ring.

And let’s be clear, The Rock was NEVER a workhorse. Jericho carried him through most of that match in 2002, so it’s not like he went from absolutely stunning to just sort of good. He went from average-to-above-average, to half of that — otherwise known as god-fucking-awful. It’s almost as if — wait for it — he’s eleven years older than he was in 2002!

For those of you I’m pissing off right now, go ahead and do your own experiment, or tell me why my data and/or methodology is flawed. I welcome that sort of debate. But don’t come at me with blind claims of The Rock’s greatness or tell me he didn’t look tired or that “he’s in the best shape of his life” without evidence.

I also want to emphasize that I know that “work rate”, however it’s defined, is not the only thing that goes into making a wrestling match. I am the first to acknowledge the importance of a proper storyline, a great build, and the little things wrestlers do in the ring to get the crowd into the match. But work rate is at least somewhat important, right? At the end of the day, we pay to watch or see live what occurs in the ring. We’re there for “the dance” if you will. After the hype, the dance will either stand on its own merits or it won’t. The Rock can promote the dance; he can put butts in seats, no doubt. But, ironically, The Rock isn’t bringing it to the dance anymore. For some, that won’t be an issue, but for those who are interested in the art of pro-wrestling, Rocky matches are becoming quite the waste of time.

Now I know I’m going to get a lot of flack for writing this column, but believe it or not, I’m not a Rocky hater. I gave him the benefit of the doubt for last year’s lackluster ‘Mania performance, but after seeing him not deliver in three very high-profile matches, I just can’t suffer the nonsense coming from Rocky apologists any longer. The dude was gassed at Elimination Chamber, he can’t work. Stop living in denial! It’s pathetic!  Then again, maybe you should live in denial; keep on those rose-colored Attitude Era tinted glasses, because  if you’re expecting Cena to carry him at Wrestlemania 29 better than Punk did, you need to — as the Rock circa 2002 might say — stop smoking those funny cigarettes  The only thing you’re getting out of Cena-Rock is mediocrity. Just like last year. Twice in a lifetime.

You’re welcome.

3 Questions That Save Elimination Chamber From Being a Suspense-less PPV

Looking for intriguing PPV matches with outcomes that are not foregone conclusions is a challenge heading into ‘Mania season. At the Royal Rumble, everyone and their uncle knew that Cena was walking out as Rumble winner and there was no way — and Angry Wrestling Guy means “No Way!” — that meta-fan favorite CM Punk was leaving US Airways Center as champion.

Similarly, the victor for the Elimination Chamber main event seems all but pre-determined. Cena vs. Rock II looms large over the horizon and not even the straight shooter, CM Punk, is in a position to disrupt the highly anticipated rematch. No, CM Punk is losing. You know it. I know it.

But, despite the foregone conclusion of the main event, the Elimination Chamber PPV is not devoid of suspense. Here are the top three questions that might keep you on the edge of your seat:

1. How will CM Punk lose?

The stipulation for the title match reads: “If The Rock gets himself disqualified or counted out, CM Punk wins the title.” It’s important to note that Vince McMahon himself approved this seemingly one-sided stipulation favoring CM Punk even though it was suggested by his new nemesis Paul Heyman. This might lead one to believe that Vince might have a few tricks up his sleeve for this match. If so, the stipulation itself must be a trap for CM Punk; it must backfire.  But how?

One possibility the stipulation creates is self-sabotage. As every 7th grader realized the moment the stipulation was announced, CM Punk could jip The Rock out of the title simply by having a lacky interfere and faux attack him. I almost find this tactic being an option on the table unfortunate because CM Punk would be a complete idiot not to try it; therefore he MUST try it. But pulling off these shenanigans such that they  not only backfire, but allow any kind of suspension of disbelief present a real challenge. Admittedly, however, the ironic visual of The Shield trying to attack Punk with The Rock defending him is surreal and I wouldn’t mind seeing it.

The worst thing the WWE can do, though, is pretend like this option doesn’t exist.

Coming at the match from another direction, Punk’s bout with The Rock seems like a prime opportunity to reintroduce The Undertaker. If the online reports are correct, Punk will be ‘Taker’s opponent at ‘Mania if ‘Taker is to compete at all. Will McMahon dispatch The Undertaker to prevent Punk from defeating The Rock? I can imagine a scenario in which the ref takes a bump, The Shield swarms over The Rock, but then suddenly — *GONG* — lights go out…

2. Who will deliver and who will receive the final pinfall of The Shield vs. Team Cena?

Spoiler: Cena won’t be taking the pinfall. From now until Wrestlemania Cena will be booked like a juggernaut.

But The Shield, Ryback, and Sheamus have also all benefited from protectionist booking, so expect them to look strong in this match as well. What we have here is an interesting predicament for WWE Creative. It’s as if all of their largest, new investments of the last 12 months are colliding and something has to give. Someone must be knocked down a peg…unless, the non-finish; DQ, a count out, a double DQ, it’s all on the table for this one. Interpret the non-finish ending as a non-commital move on WWE’s part; a disclosure that they are uncertain of the value of their assets.

But if someone does take a pinfall, remember who it is. WWE either believes that person has built up enough credit with The Universe to take a loss or the WWE places lower value on the long term profitability of their stock. This match, more than any other on the card, might tell us more about where WWE shot-callers see their talent in the future pecking order.

3. Who will win the WHC #1 Contender Elimination Chamber Match?

Personally, I love this match because I can see it going so many ways. With the way they’ve been booking Mark Henry and Jack Swagger either are legitimate threats; Randy Orton just seems due for a win; Jericho has been on fire since his return and seems to have the momentum going in ‘Mania; and, though they already hold the Tag Team Championship, at least one member of Team Hell No, Daniel Bryan, would set up a compelling narrative going into ‘Mania if he were to win.

Needless to say, this one is hard to call. Depending on where it sits on the card, the outcome of the WHC match might be the tell. If Ziggler cashes in tonight, my money is on Jericho. That way you have  the possibility of a five star match for ‘Mania in Jericho vs. Ziggler for the title and you transition Del Rio into a feud with Swagger and his new racist gimmick — a perfect fit for both men. If ADR wins (I don’t see Big Show winning under any scenario), however, and Ziggy doesn’t cash in The Briefcase, I think Orton is the safe bet. If we are to believe the rumors, Orton has been itching to go heel for months and a program with an over babyface like Del Rio might be just what the doctor ordered to rejuvenate his ailing character.

Still, I can see this match going any number of ways. A match where the victor isn’t a foregone conclusion due to overtly obvious long term booking goals? How novel! Where do I sign up?

Feed. Me. Bore.

I don’t know at what point it’s okay to call Ryback’s gimmick a failure objectively. The right answer probably has something to do with t-shirt sales. All I know is that, personally, I’ve had enough.

Before I get into why his gimmick has started pissing me off, I want to explain something first: I understand how hard it is to build new faces in the modern wrestling environment. Not only are heels usually more complex and, therefore, inherently more interesting than one-dimensional superheroes, but ever since The Attitude Era, even heroes are expected to have that bad-guy edge in order to get over. Because it’s easier for heels to establish credibility and a sizeable chunk of the audience is more drawn to them anyway, more often than not, successful faces grow out of successful heels.

Alberto Del Rio is a perfect example. He started with the classic arrogant, rich dude gimmick and proved he had talent in the ring. After a few years, fans got used to him, and because he was a well established douchebag  accepted him when he reformed his ways. Though it helped immensely that Del Rio had — at least by wrestling standards — a reasonable explanation for his change of heart (the love for his best friend), normally that’s not even a prerequisite for fans to accept a once nasty villain as a hero. We’d just as readily accept a random run-in saving an already established face or, even better, a valiant return from injury. Who cares if it doesn’t make sense for them to switch from bad guy to good? It hardly ever does.  The redemption story is just too irresistible   In a way, we want our villains to become heroes because then we get what we really want: a hero with a juicy back story that gives them depth.

Now, because I know how hard it is to establish new talent as faces, I’ve given Ryback the benefit of the doubt. Sure his first few months involved little more than squash matches and catch phrases, but fine, I get it. He’s a bad ass monster and a man of few words.

And the “feed me more” catch phrase? Why not? Dude likes to totally demolish people in the ring so much that it’s like a basic need he has. I’m feeling you, Ryback. You could have ended up in jail if you had decided to become, I dunno, an elementary school teacher or something and started lifting six of seven small children on your shoulders before shell shocking them at recess, but you decided to channel your energy into the right profession. Good on you, bro!

At some point, however, a catch phrase, a memorable ring entrance, and a unique physique are not enough to sustain my interest for the long-haul. Just ask Brodus Clay, who stopped being relevant months ago and is now forced to tag with Tensai in an obvious move of desperation on WWE’s part to get both guys over (last, ditch effort is always the comedy angle). And at least Brodus has the common decency to still show up with two hot chicks before he stinks up the joint.

After this past Monday on RAW, Ryback has officially moved into stale territory for me. Those annoying quirks that I used to ignore because I was hoping they’d be combined with more substantive qualities are now all I can focus on because, tragically, they are apparently all Ryback’s character has to offer. I want to address just a few of these annoying traits:

1. “WAKE UP!” and “FINISH! IT!” I get it, the dude is supposed to be fucking intense and fucking intense people shout random shit. Why, though, is he seemingly shouting commands at himself? Actually, I would like to pause here to ask you to reflect on the fact that a guy who literally has to maniacally yell commands to himself before taking action is a hilarious idea if done consistently.

John Cena: “Ryback, I think you have something you’d like to say to The Shield before our match this Sunday”

Ryback: “TAKE! MICROPHONE!” *heavy breathing* “RESIST URGE! TO EAT! IT!”

As awesome as that would be, that’s clearly not the direction they’re going with Ryback. Instead, it’s obvious that the only reason he says those random utterances is because they’re short enough to appear on t-shirts.

2. He has taken the hunger metaphor too far. It’s okay to be a man of few words, but at least make those words count. Every time Ryback attempts to say something relevant to an opponent, it just has to tie in to his “feed me more” catchphrase. This past Monday we heard him say “This Sunday, I feast on The Shield!” We get it, you’re the hungry dude. You say things that relate to eating. That doesn’t mean everything you say has to relate to eating. Trust us, we’re not going to forget. I can’t wait for the writers to really start reaching in order to make this work — “Seth Rollins, when I get my hands on you, I’m going to slather you in gravy before devouring you like a turkey on Thanksgiving!” At a certain point, the metaphor just becomes, at best, boring and overplayed or, at worst, kind of disgusting and gratuitous (tell me again, Ryback, how you’d like to place your opponents in your mouth).

3. The shoulder motion to “feed me more” chants before delivering the meat-hook clothesline. To me, it just reeks of desperation, like he’s trying way, way too hard to get the crowd to interact with him. It doesn’t feel organic, it doesn’t pump me up. I just find myself sitting there thinking “oh..right..this again…”

None of the above complaints would normally be enough to make me hate a wrestling character. It’s only a problem because that’s all there is to him. There’s no mysterious element to the character nor anything awe inspiring like the Undertaker.And there isn’t anything about the character that makes me think “okay this dude is genuinely deranged” like The Ultimate Warrior.

In fact, I think the one thing that Warrior had that Ryback lacks is genuineness. Even when he was rambling incoherently, you just felt that, whatever it was the dude was trying to say, he believed it. In wrestling, being a crazy, deranged freak is not an impediment to winning the fans’ adulation. You don’t have to make any sense at all!  But if you are going to cross over into crazy territory it has to feel authentic, not corporate. Unfortunately, the Ryback character just feels like a company production, it has no soul.

I have no problem with Ryan Reeves the performer. I actually think he did the best he could, even with the Skip Sheffield character, and demonstrated that he’s actually a decent talker. Maybe it’s just that the material he’s given totally blows. I also don’t think it’s too late to develop the Ryback character into something more memorable and worthy of the obvious main event aspirations Vince McMahon has for him. But they gotta start giving us more than the same old schtick. I have a suggestion: turn Ryback heel. Sure, it’s the easy way out, but WWE just doesn’t know how to build mainevent faces from scratch. Nobody can tell me that heel Ryback could be more boring than face Ryback. It’s just not possible.

Stealing TNA’s Lemonade and the Supremacy of Good Content

I read the following news story on Rajah.com and it made me chuckle:

WWE might say publicly that they do not view TNA as competition, but TNA’s recent announcement that they are taking Impact Wrestling on the road has already resulted in action from WWE. WWE has reportedly began contacting a number of mid-sized arenas to put holds on them for future dates, in order to keep TNA from running those venues.

In the event that TNA starts running shows every Thursday, WWE, there is even talk of WWE changing their touring schedule and running shows on Thursday nights as well in similar markets that TNA runs.

I have no idea if this is true, but it just sounds like something Vince would do, doesn’t it?

To me, this is sort of like if four year old Little Jimmy, filled with exuberant optimism and naivety, started selling store bought lemonade from a stand next to a corner store, but the 60 year old,crotchety owner of the store called the Tropicana Company and reminded them that he is the only licensed distributor of their product in the area, forcing them to prohibit Little Jimmy from selling their lemonade, crushing Little Jimmy’s dreams, and forcing him to break down his cheap cardboard stand, tears streaming down his face. It’s that sad. Especially since Little Jimmy is invisible.

I’m not pointing the finger at Vince McMahon, though. He didn’t make his fortune by being a nice guy. He’s a ruthless businessman who has made a living crushing his competition into dust. In the words of Paul Heyman:

“WWE has 90-95% market share. They’re not going to give up even 1%…you are going to have to fight for every inch of turf you get.”

Why should Vince change what’s worked for him for over three decades?

I almost feel bad for TNA, until I remember that they are their own worst enemy. I don’t even need to get into the specifics of why TNA is awful –I assume that most wrestling fans are in agreement with this reality (their ratings certainly are). I admit that the Impact Zone is a stale venue that isn’t doing their product any favors, but TNA hitching any hopes on the spark provided by road audiences is typically misguided. Chances are road audiences will be just as capable of sniffing out a shit product as fans in Orlando. TNA’s primary issue is not the location of their show. It’s the show’s content. Shoot TNA Impact in Orlando and it sucks. Shoot it in Austin, TX and it’ll still suck. You can shoot it in a box, you can shoot it with a fox, you can shoot it here or there, TNA will suck anywhere.

Call me a romantic, but I believe that if you put on a great show and are true to your vision, the location shouldn’t matter as much. ECW wasn’t made by the Asylum Arena. No, ECW made the Asylum Arena, turning it into ECW Arena.

One great illustration of this principle is the show South Park. Recently, in an excellent New York Times piece, Matt Stone was quoted as saying:

The success of “South Park” is a stark lesson in the fundamentals of entertainment: if you tell stories that people want to hear, the audience will find you.

I agree that pro-wrestling works best as a travelling circus, but only once you establish a product people want to pay for. TNA isn’t there yet.

Coincidentally, this new little web space, angrywrestlingguy.com, was inspired by the success of media giants like South Park Creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who have managed to maintain ownership rights of all their media products without selling out to networks and giant media conglomerates (a rare feat in this day and age). I believe that, in the long run, strong content wins the day over gimmicks and marketing tricks. This place will sink or swim by the merits of what it produces, not where it is produced. TNA adopting a similar attitude might do them some good. Lord knows, whatever creative philosophy drives them now isn’t working.

******

As an aside, if you like the content of this blog, make sure to join the Angry Wrestling Guy FB Community and/or follow @AngryRasslinGuy on Twitter. I always love getting feedback from and communicating with my readers.

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