Tag Archives: pro wrestling

RIP American Dream: pro wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes dead at 69

As a performer and storyteller, Virgil Runnels became a working class hero because he was a man of the people.

The American Dream, Dusty RhodesMy best friend Jesse and his family were huge pro wrestling fans. I was pretty young at the time – no more than 10, probably – and I remember the Saturday, sitting in the living room at Jesse’s watching Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, when they announced that The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes, was coming. I had no idea who he was, but Jesse’s mama nearly had a conniption. I deduced, from all the whooping and hollering, that this was a big deal. And it was not good news for The Nature Boy, Ric Flair.

We were working people, all of us, up and down Reid Rd., out Eastview Dr. and down to the end of the dirt lane where I lived with my grandparents. We were not especially enlightened on most matters, and it wasn’t hard to get a good argument boiling over a topic like whether or not wrestling was fake. Later on I’d work all this out, but getting a glimpse behind the curtain never dulled my love for what is now known as “sports entertainment.”  Read more

Bray Wyatt: birth of a legend?

The WWE has something special on its hands. Will Creative allow a once-in-a-generation talent to flourish?

I don’t know how many of you follow pro wrestling, but if you do, you’re fortunate. Because right now we’re witnessing the emergence of probably the most interesting new talent since Steve Austin discovered the Stone Cold gimmick. I’m talking, of course, about the mesmerizing Bray Wyatt.

Not only is Wyatt (real name Windham Rotunda) maybe one of the four or five best guys on the mic I’ve ever heard (Ric Flair, Austin, The Rock), he’s doing it with what is ultimately a political message. Read more

Tuesday Morning RAW: which five WWE superstars would you select to build a new promotion around?

CATEGORY: TuesdayMorningRAWWWE currently has around 75-80 “superstars” on the roster, and the list ranges from top-tier main eventers to new names most fans haven’t heard of yet and performers they probably thought were gone. Some of these people are tremendously talented, while some have the in-ring ability and charisma of a cinder block. Every industry watcher with a Web site seems to have an opinion about which workers are best, who needs to be cut, who deserves a bigger push, and about the only thing everyone seems to agree on is that WWE Creative has no idea what it’s doing. Frankly, I can’t really with argue with that last bit.

The problem with this particular who’s best and who sucks argument is the same as with all who’s best and who sucks arguments: what are the criteria? What does “good” mean? How you answer that question pretty much dictates the rest of your argument.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the WWE roster from a particular angle, and today Tuesday Morning RAW poses the question this way: if you were starting a new promotion and could pick five current WWE talents for your roster, who would you select (and why)?

Here’s my theory, and we’ll start with those criteria I mention above.

1: Now. This is a new promotion and if I’m going to succeed I need to be able to hit the ground running. If it takes me two years to develop some headliners I’ll be out of business. So I need a core of stars who can help get me over starting on Night 1.

2: The future. That said, since we’re talking about a start-up venture and I only have five picks, I can’t afford to waste them on guys who are playing the back nine of their careers. You may be at the top of the industry right now, but if you’re skills are on the decline I can’t afford to build around you. The key word is “build.” I need a foundation that will be strong in five years, maybe even ten. So many of the WWE’s top stars are out.

3: Development. You need a lot more than five guys to make a promotion successful. You need a mid-card. You need the ability to grow young talent. And if you’re serious about making a go of it, you can’t afford dead space in your shows. All this means that whoever you pick, they have to be workers who can make others better. If I have a raw new talent with potential, I have to be able to plug him into a program with an established star who can a) teach him, and b) make him look credible in the ring while doing it.

4: Versatility. Very few pro wrestlers are capable of generating over-the-top pop as both heel and babyface. Even the greatest are usually better on one side of the fence or the other. But the ability to drive a storyline wearing either the white hat or the black makes life a lot simpler for creative.

5: Low risk. I can’t afford to waste a pick on a guy who’s going to wind up dead of an overdose or sitting in jail for DUI or beating his wife. So no problem children.

So, there are the rules that will govern my draft. With these in mind, who are my five picks?

1: CM Punk (Phil Harris). Punk’s catchphrase is “best in the world.” And he very well may be. He’s one of the most technically gifted performers in the industry today and he’s fantastic at making others look better. He even makes John Cena, a guy with five moves and the lamest finisher in wrestling, look good. That isn’t easy.

Punk has proven his ability to get over with fans as a face, even though he’s probably a better heel, and his “pipebomb” routine has added a whole new dimension to how promos work. The truth is, even the smarks aren’t always sure if he’s working or shooting, and that brings a rare edge to an industry attended by fans who, thanks to the Internet, are well aware of what’s going on behind the scenes.

So with my first pick, I select Phil Harris. No brainer.

2: Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson). If Punk isn’t the best in the world, Bryan is. His workrate is ridiculous. He’s innovative, he’s fast and agile (compensating for his smallish stature), and like Punk, he will not only make you look good if you’re working with him, he’ll make you look better than you have any real hope of being on your own. He’s been successful as a heel, although he’s one of these guys that crowds want to love (in a way he’s sort of the opposite of Punk here). So he’ll spend more time as a face. Even better, he can work serious, he can do slightly crazy, and he can do funny.

From the standpoint of acting and personality, he’s the creative department’s wet dream.

3: Dolph Ziggler (Nick Nemeth). Nobody in the WWE today sells like Ziggler. He can take a clothesline from the rawest rookie in the locker room and go down so violently you’d think he’d been hit by sniper fire. He has spent the last year or two unselfishly putting over everybody on the roster and to all appearances being a true team player. He’s maybe the best pure athlete in WWE next to Kofi Kingston, and his charisma fills the building and spills over into the parking lot.

Recently the creative team has aligned The Miz with the legacy of Ric Flair, and Miz has even adopted Flair’s figure four finisher. But creative missed the boat here. The truth is that Ziggler’s “Showoff” character is the modern, updated, slightly more frenetic heir apparent to the Nature Boy persona created by Buddy Rogers in the 1950s and perfected by Flair in the 1970s.

If you fancy yourself a wrestling creative and you can’t work with this guy, you need to go back to stocking shelves at Walmart.

4: Dean Ambrose (Jonathan Good). Ambrose is a recent call-up and the alpha dog in the Shield faction. While he’s still new and needs to develop some polish, he has an unconventional, interesting-to-watch style can clearly work in the ring. We haven’t seen him as a face yet, but he has an “it” factor that you can see from space with the unaided eye. Right now his character is a slightly unhinged heel who reminds you of a latter day Peter Lorre, and my guess is that he’ll turn face in the coming months and blow the lid off the place.

If you’ve seen him, you know what I mean about his presence. He’s an absolute, can’t miss superstar.

5: Ryback (Ryan Reeves). I labored over this one. A lot. Ryback was pushed way too high and way too soon, and now WWE has backed itself into a creative corner where they risk destroying his credibility. He still has a lot to learn in the ring and I doubt he’s ever going to be a technical workrate hero. However, he’s over. Moreso as a face, but I suspect he’d be even more compelling as a heel if the creative team had the ability to think more than a week into the future. He also has some size, and none of my other picks is especially big. A promotion needs a monster or two, and if Mark Henry or Big Show were 25 instead of 41 I’d take them in a heartbeat. But they aren’t.

With Ryback I’m violating criterion #3 a bit, but I’m banking that the other four picks can develop him as a worker and also that I can assemble a creative team that can outperform what he’s dealing with right now.

Honorable Mentions

  • Damien Sandow: big, great heel heat, funny, good worker – I almost took him over Ryback.
  • Cody Rhodes: all he really needs is a good creative team behind him.
  • AJ Lee: when I start thinking about women, be they in-ring or support performers, AJ is top of the list. She’s a very good athlete and she’s compelling as hell. You just can’t look away from her, no matter what she’s doing.
  • Kaitlyn: a lot of critics seem not to think much of the current women’s champ. But what I see is a) a very good in-ring worker, who’s b) actually credible as an actress in backstage vignettes, and c) has a certain girl-next-door sweetness about her. My creative team can work with that.
  • Big E Langston: new and raw, but holy hell, what a monster. If I had to take him instead of Ryback, I’d be okay with that.
  • Antonio Cesaro: I have no idea what the fuck is wrong with Vince McMahon and the creative team. This guy is a serious old-school talent, a physical powerhouse who could be a main eventer in the right hands.
  • Wade Barrett: Another almost in the monster category. Big, chiseled, good-looking, and he sneers as well as anybody since Billy Idol.
  • Alberto Del Rio: nephew of the legendary Mil Mascaras and a tremendous in-ring talent. He’s limited by his ability to connect with the fans in English – he speaks it, but not fluidly – and probably is a lot more effective as a heel.

Tuesday Morning RAW: last night’s Izod Center crowd could spell trouble for WWE’s creative team

CATEGORY: TuesdayMorningRAWFirst off, if you were among the crazies at the Izod Center for Monday Night Raw last evening, we salute you. Sweet baby Jesus on a pogo stick, what were you people on?

For those who missed the goings on in East Rutherford, this was the Raw on the night after WrestleMania, and what showed up may or may not have been the best crowd in WWE history, but it was damned sure the most creative. They booed the good guys and cheered the bad guys. The showed off their deep historical knowledge of the industry. They refused to tolerate the boring and lost their minds at the mayhem.

And they chanted. Oh, they chanted. They sang soccer songs (“Olé Olé Olé”). They chanted for the superstars (Mark Henry). They chanted for the announcers (JBL and Jerry Lawler – and my gods, even Michael Cole). They chanted ironically (“U-S-A U-S-A”). They chanted for wrestling organizations that are out of business (ECW). They encouraged Big Show to throw one more chair. They serenaded Miz and Wade Barrett with a round of “you fucked up” after a blown spot. They chanted for cotton candy. They chanted about how awesome they were. They chanted for guys who aren’t on the WWE roster anymore (RVD). They chanted for a dead guy (Randy Savage).

Big Show – a heel – got a monster pop when he laid out Randy Orton and Seamus, two huge crowd favorites. They went berserk when Ryback shellshocked ostensible babyface John Cena, to the point where we’re not actually sure if we were seeing a heel turn or not. When arrogant heel Dolph Ziggler cashed in his Money in the Bank suitcase and beat crippled babyface World Champion Albertoooooooooooooo del Rio for the belt, the crowd nearly blew the lid off the place. Let me repeat that – bad guy shortcuts his way to title win over injured popular good guy – and the crowd goes nuts. Granted, Ziggler has been one of the company’s best and most charismatic workers for some time, but del Rio is everything you could ask for in a pro, too.

And the absolute moment of the night, bar none…well, note the 6:54 mark of this video, when the crowd starts humming Fandango’s entrance music. Absolutely. Fucking. Twilight Zone.

They were doing it again after the show went off the air, too. I guess it’s a mercy that CM Punk wasn’t there. If he had been, they might have torn the building down.

In other words, a crowd unlike any other in pro wrestling history showed up unannounced and hijacked the biggest show on cable. It was like the fraternity party on the Saturday night before classes start. It was like somebody got the Timbers Army huffed up on ecstasy and nitrous and turned them loose in the Seattle Opera while it was performing Bugs Bunny’s version of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Or something. “Live” doesn’t come anywhere close to describing the scene. Even “electric” falls way short of the mark. Maybe “insane”?

Goddamn, it was more fun than a paddy wagon full of Juggalos trying to figure out how magnets work. The wrestlers clearly had no fucking idea what was going on, but they rolled with it. The announcers were having the time of their lives. And I’m still laughing.

But maybe not the WWE creative team. If I’m VP of Creative Stephanie McMahon, I didn’t get a wink of sleep last night.

Here’s the problem. WWE fans are notorious bandwagoners and imitators. What if the crowd next week in Greenville, SC feels like it needs to match the intensity and weirdness of last night’s New Jersey crowd? And all of a sudden it has become a thing, like yelling “what?” every time a heel cutting a promo pauses to take a breath.

You’re the creative team and now, all of a sudden, you have to develop storylines in an upside down world. You have to get over characters when the fans are aggressively booing the faces, cheering the heels and mocking every single cliché and halfwitted idea you come up with. (Except Fandango, apparently – creative has saddled new call-up Johnny Curtis with the cheesiest gimmick since Repo Man, a Prancing With the Stars ballroom dancing wank that would have been embarrassing back during the promotion’s 1980s cartoon heyday, but the fans responded by … well, watch the video.)

How the hell do you book in an environment where the audience is actively clowning you at every turn?

I’m probably overplaying the perversity angle a slight bit here. In truth, the crowd rewarded the likes of Chris Jericho, who in addition to being a big, way over star, is also … and this is key … a very good worker. He’s been a talented in-ring guy for years and is one of the best at making his opponents look good, which is why, one suspects, he was paired with Fandango for the rookie’s first feud. If anybody can teach Curtis, make him look credible in the ring and help get him over with the crowd, it’s Jericho.

Big Show has been a remarkably effective worker through the years, too, especially given his size. Most behemoths are poison in the ring because they lack the physical dynamism to do much beside lumber around (see Khali, Great). Show, who played hoops at Wichita State once upon a time, is a good athlete and has proven his ability to get other performers over.

All of which makes the WWE creative nightmare that much scarier. What if, in addition to being perverse about who they cheer for, crowds start popping for workrate guys? Oh, that isn’t good. The folks in Stamford have undervalued actual wrestling skills for decades, opting instead for high charisma star power. Hulk Hogan might have been a legend, but there are mannequins who are more credible in the ring. Hypersupermegastar The Rock? Meh. Better than Hogan, but generally pedestrian. Current face of the company John Cena? The only person who seems to be able to get a good match out of him is the aforementioned CM Punk, who calls himself the best in the world and he’s probably right.

If the fans start cheering the guys who can work and mocking the stiffs, it’s going to pose a massive challenge for Stephanie McMahon and her team.

Last night may have been a one-off. We have never seen its like before nor shall we again. But the WWE exists in an exceptionally viral universe, and with that in mind, if I’m running WWE creative we’ve been locked up in a brainstorming session all day. The question before us: what the hell do we do if the world just completely changed forever?

Tuesday Morning RAW: What is WWE up to with this Zeb Colter/Tea Party angle?

This is hardly the first time pro wrestling has come at the audience with a blatantly racist angle, and WWE has, through the years, perfected the arts of cheap stereotyping and jingoism. So their latest gimmick – the anti-immigration “real American” Jack Swagger and his mentor, thinly veiled Tea Partier Zeb Colter – are hardly news. Except for one thing – this time, the WWE is portraying the All-American white folks as the heels.

Here’s a sample.

At WrestleMania in April, Swagger will challenge for the World Heavyweight Title, currently held by … wait for it … Mexican superstar Alberto Del Rio (Jose Alberto Rodríguez, nephew of wrestling legend Mil Mascaras). The promos cut by Swagger (former U of Oklahoma wrestler and football player Jake Hager) and Colter (portrayed by Dirty Dutch Mantell – real name, Wayne Keown) have relied on a lot of code and dog-whistling (in other words, about what you get at your average Tea Partier campaign appearance). The language isn’t explicitly racist – the official stance is that all foreigners need to go home, including Brit Wade Barrett, who holds the Intercontinental Championship) although a couple of times in recent weeks it felt like they’d gone about as far as you could go without whipping out a “spic” or “wetback.” This comes hot on the heels of a recent “you people”-style promo cut by the Big Show (Paul Wight) against Latino fans supporting Del Rio.

The whole affair has been uncomfortable, even if you know it’s scripted. Since the pro wrestling conceit is that it’s a real, live sporting event, when its characters slip over into this kind of behavior we perhaps feel a little more violated than we might when presented with a racist character in a TV show or film. Credit where due: the WWE creative team, headed by Stephanie McMahon, and all the performers involved, have done a great job of selling the controversial angle.

It gets weird, though. Now the WWE and its bad guy/racist characters find themselves in a shoot (real-life) face-off with Glenn Beck. No, seriously.

On a recent radio show, Glenn Beck blasted the WWE for mocking him and claiming the WWE is entertainment for “stupid people.” Beck continued his rant, accusing the WWE of degrading tea party advocates as racist, unrealistic caricatures.

Keown and Hager broke character and fired back.

“Everything we do with our characters is designed to tell stories,” Keown said. “Right now the story we are telling is that Zeb Colter and Jack Swagger are using the current, relevant, and topical story of immigration to target the WWE World Champion Alberto Del Rio, also a character played by my friend Jose Rodriguez. In our story, we are the antagonist and Alberto is the protagonist…

“Glen Beck, you recently referred to WWE as stupid wrestling people. Really, Glenn? Seriously, really? By implication, you are referring to the 14 million stupid wrestling fans who are watching our shows every week in America and our global audience in over 145 countries. 20 percent of our audience is Hispanic. 22 percent is African American. 35 percent is female. And we equally reach all major age groups including 25 percent over 50.

“We have about 60 characters on our show, a lot more than say NCIS or Glee, but we’re not that much different. Some of our characters are really likable and some are detestable, good guys and bad guys. We don’t use guns and we don’t depict murder or rape, typically seen on prime time dramas. Our program is PG. We look forward to continuing to tell provocative, funny, dramatic, and sometimes controversial stories with characters of all backgrounds and beliefs.

Many of your followers are WWE fans and they understand the difference between reality and entertainment. Are you out of touch with your audience, Glenn? Or are you just a stupid political commentator. Mr. Beck, we cordially invite you to Monday Night Raw in Dallas at the American Airlines Center where you can deliver a five-minute, unedited rebuttal to our global TV audience and a sold out crowd of over 12,000 stupid wrestling fans. So now let’s get back in character…”

You need to watch this. It’s wonderful.

But, but … that isn’t even the weird part. If WWE were run by, say, Rachel Maddow and her family, there wouldn’t be anything remotely odd about a Tea Party bad guy character. But it isn’t. It’s run by the McMahon family. As in Vince and Linda and their daughter, the aforementioned Stephanie. (Shane, their son, left the company in 2010.)

And the McMahons aren’t known for their liberal leanings. Mom Linda has run for office as a Republican and is decidedly conservative (although a member of the country club wing, not the social conservative wing). Viewed from this perspective, then, the Colter/Swagger “We the People” angle is throwing important electoral allies under the bus, and it isn’t hard to see why the likes of Glenn Beck might get his shorts in a twist.

So I find myself wondering, well, what the fuck? Where is this GOP-on-GOP intramural action coming from? A few possibilities:

  • The McMahons are providing moral support to Karl Rove in his recently declared war on the Teabaggers.
  • Linda is thinking about running again and has decided that a hard tack to the social left will do her campaign good.
  • Stephanie is actually a progressive and we’re seeing evidence of internal disagreement in the family.
  • Stephanie doesn’t do all the writing. Maybe there are progressive writers on the staff and they’re being given some freedom.
  • While it hasn’t been evident before, the McMahons believe that immigration reform is essential to the health of American business.
  • There’s nothing to it at all – creative just saw an opportunity for a ratings-grabbing storyline.

Which of these explanations is accurate? No idea. If WWE officials have addressed this in print I can’t find it. The third one – Stephanie is a liberal – seems the least plausible to me, but she has stated that she has no interest in pursuing politics like her mother. No telling what that means.

In any case, it’s a fascinating angle, and I now find myself wondering if the whole Glenn Beck thing is actually a work. A public controversy pitting him against the WWE might be good for everybody’s ratings, and the pro wrestling industry has a history of loving a good put-up job. Remember the whole Andy Kaufman/Jerry Lawler feud?

I don’t know how long this storyline will run. My gut tells me that the Swagger/Del Rio narrative will work better with Swagger as the evil champion and Del Rio as the white hat in hot pursuit, and if I’m right we can expect Del Rio to drop the strap at Wrestlemania. There are enough foreign stars in the organization at present that the creative team can probably get  a lot of mileage out of Swagger and Colter, True American Patriots.

That’s it. No more betting on the NFL ever again, no matter what.

Fuck those fucking fucks.

Last week I got booted from my suicide pool when New England lost. To Arizona. AT HOME. On a missed layup at the final gun. Today I got booted from my new reboot suicide pool – in its first week – when the NFC’s newest ass-whipping runaway juggernaut, the San Francisco 49ers, got waxed by – get this – the Vikings.

Many years ago I read a very funny article about what the writer termed “Zurich games.” Read more

Lakers/Nuggets Game 7 preview: call your bookie because the #fix is in

Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers will square off with the visiting Denver Nuggets in a first-round playoff Game 7 that promises to be crackling with intensity. I’m a big fan of my hometown Nugs and I expect them to bring their A games.

I also expect them to lose, no matter what, because however well prepared they are, however brilliant George Karl’s game planning, however incredibly they may shoot and rebound and defend, they’re playing 5-on-8.

Put simply, it is not in the league’s financial interest to have LA lose to Denver. Read more

Saturday Video Roundup Smackdown: if you smellllllll … what BaRock … is cooking

Don’t tell me you haven’t fantasized about it. HilRod. BaRock. John Dubya McCain (one-half of the Double Talk Express). Three-way dance inside a STEEL CAGE for the USA Heavyweight Title. Yeah, I’m feeling ya. We’re getting there, too. This past Monday night on WWE Raw, all three candidates ran some lame smack for the national cable audience. In case you missed it:

Read more

Taking Out the Trash, 7.7.07: Of gladiators and porn stars…

Welcome to the first installment of Taking Out the Trash, a new feature where I pander to the lowest common denominator and wallow shamelessly in the seething much that is our popular culture. If we offend, give us your hands. If we fail, let me know and I’ll try harder next time. And now, on to the show.

Item: Michael Vick is either a pit bull fighter or the dumbest man who ever lived. Possibly both. Vick’s property, which was apparently being occupied by relatives,

was used as the “main staging area for housing and training the pit bulls involved” in a dogfighting operation, according to the court papers.The documents contend prize money from the dogfighting climbed into the thousands of dollars, people came from as far away as Texas and sheepish pit bulls were killed. Read more