Thursday, 2 October 2014

Repackaged For A Reason By Stel (@Che_Stel)


With the entrance video containing Devitt's new name barely mastered, numerous fans were flying off the handle and frothing at the mouth in disgust at WWE creative’s “unimaginative” decision.

“How dare they fix something that isn’t broken” was the general, asinine view from internet keyboard warriors, who were (predictably) up in arms.

I agree “Finn Balor” doesn’t have the same ring as Prince Devitt, but what does it matter? It’s just a name. A moniker. A brand new identity. It’s hardly a disaster of Sampson proportions, is it?

Removing Fergal and replacing it with Finn doesn’t mean he won’t be able to pull off a double foot stomp.

Swapping Devitt for Balor probably won’t slow him down, or drain every last ounce of strength in him. It’s just a name. Deal with it.

The impertinence and lack of logical thinking of some wrestling fans truly astounds me. Yes, people are entitled to their opinions, but at least give the character a chance before reacting in such a childish manner.

A few things came to mind when I heard about the anticipated re packaging of Devitt.

Firstly, taking on the Finn Balor identity should mean he’ll no doubt get to keep the “Prince/Fergal Devitt” naming rights. If this is the case, this is a very intelligent move from a business standpoint.
Let’s say Fergal is future endeavoured somewhere down the line, then what? OK, he won’t be able to run with Finn Balor in the indies/Japan/TNA/wherever, but Prince Devitt is his. No one can take that away from him. Not HHH, not Stephanie, not even Vinny Mac.

Then there’s “the method behind the madness”, being the rational and (in my opinion) genius thought process behind Balor.

Hands up if you actually know much about Irish mythology. No?

Neither did I. That was until I heard where the name Balor originates from. Truth be told, it was quite a surprise to discover how sinister and methodical Balor - king of Fomorians - actually was.

The WWE did their research with this one and when you look at the bigger picture you might just agree that they've unearthed another gem of a character.
Here are a few things that have sprung to mind.

Fergal appeared at shows dressed as evil, calculated characters such as; The Joker, Hannibal, Freddy Krueger & Venom.

Due to copyright laws, Devitt clearly won’t be able to get all (fancy) dressed up as famous fictional characters. Nevertheless, as Balor, there is no doubt in my mind that the body paint will remain – not as movie characters, but numerous designs which depict and reflect the dark personality of this mythological creature.

Anyone who has seen Devitt on a regular basis may agree that his facial expressions and mannerisms aren’t exactly face-like.

I for one have no problem with the name change, nor am I wary of how he'll be positioned.

Wrestler characters have been repackaged/recycled for decades, as have gimmicks. Granted, some have been buried faster than you can say Phantasio, but did anyone complain when the Dingo Warrior, Ringmaster, Rocky Maivia or (more recently) Husky Harris characters were shit canned? Didn't think so.

Here's another thing. If Devitt's in ring name was, I don't know, Paddy McNamara and was changed to Finn Bolar, would people still lose sleep over it? Same goes for other repackaged guys like Kenta, PAC and El Generico.
Again, I cannot stress this enough - it's just a name.

I'd understand all the butthurt if Devitt was on top in somewhere like WCW  for 5-10 years, then being completely revamped in the WWE, because it would be almost as if they're disregarding his past achievements.

Of course the name change doesn't just benefit Fergal's future development.
Imagine the volume of WWE Mattel figure sales of a villainous character, who has numerous styles of body paint.
Think of all the Cena shirts that have been sold. I'm pretty sure there's been a "Hustle, Loyalty, Respect" release for every colour of the rainbow. You think no one in their marketing department hasn't thought of this already? Come on!

I believe that this new character is a future monster heel and could maybe, just maybe have a similar effect like the Undertaker did when he first appeared on our screens.

Remember, Taker didn't talk until his mic and promo skills were ready for TV, so don't be surprised if we hardly hear Balor speak for the first year or so.

The only worry I have for Fergal is whether or not he can get over with the American fans.

Audiences in rowdy, intimidating, cities like New York, Detroit and Chicago will appreciate Fergal because of his in ring ability, persona and aura. It also helps that a lot of these fans are smark, who are part of the IWC and know who he is.

However, its the smaller cities where he may find it difficult to get over (at first) because they're more invested in guys who are on TV more.

Ultimately, what it boils down to is merch sales and crowd reaction.

I guarantee the WWE Europe shop will sell out of Balor TShirts in no time. They may be even more popular in the Irish communities Stateside.

All in all, I wish Fergal the best of luck out there and hope he's a huge success.
Having spoken to many people who have known him for many years on a personal level, they haven't got a bad word to say about him.

Its always nice to see good people do well, especially in such a tough industry.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Cash Flow Positive By Stel (@Che_Stel)


 In November 2013, Dixie Carter stated in an interview with Sports Illustrated that TNA “has been cash flow positive for the last four or five years”.

I’m no economist, so I thought I’d try to find out what “cash flow positive” means.

Businessdictionary.com defines this as;

Normal situation where the cash inflows during a period are higher than the cash outflows during the same period. Positive cash flow does not necessarily means profit, and is usually due to a careful management of cash inflows and expenditure. Persistent and large positive cash flows may indicate the firm is not keeping enough stocks of raw materials or finished products, and might be losing sales due to shortages.”

A lot of this confuses me because, while I’m not an economist, I’m also not the CEO of a wrestling company and don’t know “how things are done”.

However, what I DO know is that Dixie didn’t use the word “profit”. As the above definition suggests, just because a company is cash flow positive, it doesn’t make it profitable. 

TNA’s yearly outgoings could be, say, $5M – but if they’re only taking $3M, then how are they making up that $2M just to break even?

Let me think…Loans? Or could it be “The Bank of Daddy”, Dixie?

Well, Dixie then went on to say;

 “After that point, Panda (Energy) stopped putting money in the company”.

Ummm, OK, so a company invests its money into a new venture for four or five years, just stops pumping money into it when it becomes profitable? Am I the only one who thinks this makes no sense?

Why on earth would you stop investing your money into a profitable organisation? Surely you’d invest more, with the aim of obtaining a bigger return on investment?!

Here’s another question. 

If TNA were so cash flow positive, then why would Universal Studios grab them by the scruff of the neck and escort them off the premises?

Wouldn’t Universal be begging TNA to stay, if they were such a successful company?

Coincidentally, TNA and Universal went their separate ways two months after Dixie’s interview with Sports Illustrated.

So, TNA decided to go on the road from January 2014. What happened next? Five months later, TMZ Sports reports that Spike would not be renewing its deal with TNA.

Again, why would a big network like Spike drop a cash flow positive organisation like TNA?

After all, a cash flow positive company suggests that its successful – and in this case, TNA would be quite prosperous.
Sponsors would be queuing up to pay for ad time during peak hours, given that TNA’s ratings are so high, as a result of such a groundbreaking and original product.

Don’t make me laugh!

I have no problem with TNA and I really hope that things change for the better.
The industry in America needs more than one successful company, so that viewers and fans have something to look forward to watching.

I also hope TNA stays in existence, as its not nice to see and hear about talented Wrestlers being out of work. Sure they can explore the indies, but lets face it – being on national and global TV is a dream for all of them.

I’m glad TNA are exploring the UK and showing a genuine interest in the talent out here. However, if the winner of TNA British Bootcamp 2 is to be a success out in the states, he/she will need a massive amount of attention, i.e. vignettes, mic time and a respectable gimmick.

Let’s hope Dixie can make fans feel more positive about the company.

People Don't Like The Obvious By Stel (@Che_Stel)


I guess it’s now safe to say that the butthurt over Brock Lesnar ending the Undertaker’s streak has passed.

Even now I cannot understand what all the fuss was about. Granted, Mark Calaway will go down as one of the greatest Sports Entertainers of all time, but the IWC’s reaction to his Wrestlemania loss is and was beyond pathetic.

For years Wrestling has taken its fair amount cheap shots and endless criticism from “non believers” (its still real to me dammit!), and the PG era hasn’t done much to ease off the “its fake” jibes.

So the moment Vince – or Mark Calaway himself, as many rumours suggest – decide to end the streak in a legitimate manner, people lose their shit!

OK, I get it, the Undertaker is “The Phenom”. He’s supposed to have superhuman powers. No one is supposed to beat him cleanly.
All of this worked in the early 90’s because it was original. The bookings were very well done and the character made kids (myself included) shit themselves.

Times have changed. Most fans are smarks and don’t appreciate being patronised by unimaginative script writers who produce predictable, mundane storylines.

Some were angry because they wanted CM Punk to end the streak. They thought he and Daniel Bryan were the future of the company. Well, we all know how that panned out, don’t we?

So, who else could have ended “The Streak”? Some time ago (around 2 years ago), on this very web page, I suggested a storyline between Taker and Dolph Ziggler (link here: http://tinyurl.com/ZigglerAndTaker).Unfortunately, Ziggler’s career has taken a nose dive and he’ll probably be future endeavoured next year.

Who does that leave then? Orton? Seamus? Batista? Big Show? God forbid Super Cena ends up being the one to take the title from Brock.
Roman Reigns is still green at the moment and is nowhere near to being a main event guy, so who else could it have been??

It had to be Brock Lesnar. There was no other option. It was a no brainer. I mean, why wouldn’t you have the toughest bloke on the roster beat the Undertaker?!

He is a former UFC Champion for starters, so I don’t think you can get more bad ass than that.

Also, many fans will remember that Lesnar was in the WWE prior to joining Dana White’s MMA platform. Therefore, it’s more than likely to rekindle interest in the company of those who lost faith a while ago.

For those of you who are saying “but, but, he’s never on TV. He only turns up every now and then” – so what?! I would rather see Brock Lesnar make an appearance on TV maybe 2 or 3 times a month, as opposed to every RAW and Smackdown.

You people forget that as RAW is 3 hours long, one F5 from Lesnar will be replayed 9-12 times per show! Then there’s Superstars and all the other recap shows.

His character becomes stale and people lose interest and on top of that, by bringing him on TV from time to time keeps him relevant.

I’m pretty sure most of the guys in the locker room could kick the shit out of Mark Calaway in a real fight. After all, here we have a 49 year old man in a 65 year old’s body – but for legitimate (there’s that word again) purposes, Brock Lesnar was the only realistic choice.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

It's Just a TV Show

I don't watch the current WWE product but I do listen to many podcasts that cover that product. The podcasts are presented by fans as well as people that have been involved in wrestling in the past, I am not going to name names, I run a podcast myself covering the UK/independent wrestling scene and I know I have my faults so I am not going to bring trouble on myself for no reason but I just needed to write something because some of these podcasts read into things just too much.

I mean they pick a part bit by bit a whole 3 hour episode of RAW and I am like, why bother, I understand you have to give some thoughts for your listeners but ranting about it for 30 mins plus just makes me wonder.

I watch a lot of UK/independent wrestling of course and yes, I may see stuff I don't enjoy but I know one thing for sure, I wouldn't read too much into it and get myself all worked up about it.

That's me done,

Stu Rodgers @WLHSTU

Thursday, 28 August 2014

When Wrestling Was Pop Culture, A Look Back At The WWF LIVE in Newcastle, April 1999 By Chris Renfrew @ChrisRenfrew1


When I agreed to write an article for the site many topics crossed my mind on what I could talk about, but for maybe the first time ever, I was lost for words, I had writers block bad. Then it hit me, why not do a review? But not a review of a recent event or of one I have watched on DVD or online, no this is a review of the second ever wrestling show I ever attended. I would have reviewed the first show attended, but that was in 1993 and I was 7, so my memories there pretty much consist of AHHHHH WRESTLING!!!!

The second show I ever attended took place April 3rd 1999 in the Newcastle Telewest Arena in front of 10,000 sold out fans. For whatever reason the WWF decided not do any shows in Scotland, so Newcastle was the next best thing.

In April 1999, the attitude era was in full swing, Wrestling WAS pop culture. Looking back, I couldn't have asked for a better time frame to experience the Attitude Era first hand. I was dressed like wrestling had thrown up on me wearing my Degenerate 69 Hockey shirt, a Kane mask and a Stone Cold Steve Austin foam finger this was going to be the best night ever, ever!!! The night starts with the ever so familiar "No Chance! That's what you've got!". My young self was fully expecting Vince McMahon to make his way to the ring, but no such luck it was the stooges Brisco and Patterson with the Brooklyn Brawler in tow. The building was deafening with boo's and ASSHOLE chants, Newcastle had no love for the stooges. Brooklyn Brawler wanted to become a part of the Corporation but he had to prove himself in a match, his opponent "WHAT DOES EVERYBODY WANT?" Al Snow made his way to the ring with Head in tow to a massive ovation, Al Snow and Head arguably at their hottest point during this time frame. The match didn't last long with Brawler quickly doing the job when Al Snow blasted him with Head....wait, that reads wrong, guess that was the whole point though, the attitude era loved puns! Brawler had failed and would not become a part of the Corporation, the night was under-way and I was pumped, this was as good as I expected it to be.

Next up was some tag team action between the team of Owen Hart and Jeff Jarrett with Debra vs Edge and Gangrel with Christian. Looking back, I am very lucky to have been able to have seen Owen Hart perform live, it would be only one month later he would tragically lose his life. I remeber this being a fast paced contest with the crowd firmly in the Broods corner. I popped big when Christian kidnapped Debra when she tried to interfere and carried her to the back, mainly because it meant I had a full view of Debras ass, hey I was 14 and hormones were running rampant, God I fancied Debra! This distraction allowed Owen Hart to roll Edge up for the three.

Through the power of the internet I was able to get the full run down of the card and in the results listed is Ivory defeating Jackie. No disrespect to either performers but I genuinely have no recollection of this match taking place. The Hardcore Title was on the line next when Hardcore Holly defended the title against Val Venis. Now this got me jacked! I loved the Hardcore Title matches, and though many look back on them with mixed emotions, I always loved the weapons filled stunt fests the hardcore division provided. One moment I vividly remember is Hardcore Holly set the table up in the corner with the intention of whipping Venis through it. As Holly whipped him, Venis reversed sending Hardcore Holly into the table, he hit it with an almighty crash...but the thing didn't break! It just cracked in the middle, it was clear Holly felt the full brunt of it. This wasn't the same tables used on TV, this was whatever table they could find to use, and this thing was solid! They did not hold back because it was a house show, both men gave it their all in a hard hitting afair with Holly getting the win.

As energectic as the crowd had been up to this point, the next contest really brought the place to life when the team of the Blue Meanie and Goldust faced the New Age Outlaws. I was a massive Outlaws fan, I still consider them the most charismatic team ever assembled, no other team personified the Attitude Era the way the New Age Outlaws did. I remember the building in unison chanting "YOU FUCK DUSTIN!" in the direction of the Blue Meanie...this really was a different time. Meanie sold it brilliantly making thrusting motions then shaking his head in disagreement. The Outlaws won one of the most fun matches I have ever witnessed live.

With the place buzzing it was time for more DX as X-Pac faced D-Lo Brown. These two always had magical chemistry and this match was brilliant. X-Pac was hugely over as face, this is before the "X-Pac sucks!" chants started and the term "X-pac heat" existed. X-pac was a DX guy, and DX was the shit! X-pac came out the winner much to the delight of everyone in attendance. Ken Shamrock is a very intimidating figure. As he made his way to the ring, I was almost scared to boo him, being aisle side, I was extremely close to the action and Shamrock is one scary mofo, but not as scary as his opponent. The lights faded to black and the crowd simmered with anticipation, the familiar Organs filled the arena then BOOM! ITS KANE!!! You cannot appreciate the size of this man untill you have seen him in person, he is beyond huge! This was Kane at his peak, the Big Red Machine at his most intimidating. I don't remember too much about the match but I do remember coming off my seat when Kane flew through the air with his flying clothesline. I also remember someone in the crowd calling Shamrock "A Fucking Faggot!" such PC times were 1999. Triple H was once my hero, the leader of DX was my second favourite only compared to Austin, but not anymore, he had just turned his back on DX and joined the Corporation...MOTHERFUCKER!

I was throwing legit anger in his direction as him and Chyna made their way to the ring, how dare they turn on DX! Then, again the house lights went black....DONG! Oh your fucked now Triple H DONG! You know what that means! DONG...IT'S THE UNDERTAKER! Just writing about this and thinking back to this moment has literally given me goosebumps. This was something special, the atmosphere was beyond someting I can describe as the seven foot Undertaker made his way to the ring accompaniied by Paul Bearer. The Outlaws got a pop, but this topped that, the whole building rose for the Phenom. Again the match is blurry bar the finish when the Undertaker hit the Tombstone for the three.

You know I said you cannot appreciate the size of some of these men until you see them in person. The Big Show is that exact case. You cannot comprehend how big he actually he is until you are standing next to him. The Big Show would face the former Corporate Champion The Rock. It didn't take long for the match to break down and The Big Show won via DQ when Ken Shamrock hit The Big Show with a chair as he was about to deliver the chokeslam. It was time for the main event "ladies and gentleman the following contest is scheduled for one fall, and it is for the World Wrestling Federation championship". Just hearing those words sent chills down my spine. First was the challenger being accompanied by the Stooges, the Big Boss Man. I tended to hate all the heels as I should back then, but I always loved the Big Boss Man no matter what, he was just such a bad ass, the ultimate heel. I was pretty much alone cheering for him as he made his entrance. Then the wait, the silence as the anticipation grew, the man that was the leader of this era....SMASH! the sound of breaking glass. I can compare this ovation only to being at a football game and your team score. This was not a wrestling pop, this was something else, this was Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin hit all the key moves, the Lou Thesz press, the elbows, stomping a mud hole. It was all their, and I loved every single minute of it. Austin got the win with the Stunner, then delivered a few more for good measure to the Stooges. He then celebrated as only Stone Cold could, with some cold Stevewesiers with his buddy Earl Hebner.

Looking back on this has gave me a lot of very fond memories and feelings I had almost forgotten about, that is why I have written this as I viewed it that day rather than reflect on phycology or match quality, frankly, that shit didn't matter to me then. All that mattered was having fun and enjoying the wrestling, enjoying the experience of seeing the top Stars of that era do their thing. I wish the younger generation would remember to view wrestling like this sometimes, to stop picking it apart and over analysing every single action, remember it's for your entertainment, so remember to enjoy it. I got to see some the greatest wrestlers of all time in just one evening when many of them were at their peak. At 14 years old during the Attitude Era, I really was part of a lucky generation who could to witness how hot the attitude era really was and what it was like when wrestling was pop culture.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Is It Still Cool To Hate John Cena? By Joey Keogh


On foot of the not-so-shocking revelation that John Cena is to Main Event at Summerslam against Brock Lesnar, Kayfabe News published a piece playing off the idea that Cena looks set to headline every major event for the foreseeable future – maybe even forever. Over the past decade, it’s become fashionable, then unfashionable, then fashionable again to really, really, really hate John Cena. However, lately even the clever “John Cena sucks” sing-along in time with his entrance theme, and the warring chants both for and against him, have become stale. Do we still hate John Cena as much as we used to? Do we even know why we hate him?

Cena may be a royal pain in the ass, but he doesn’t suck as much as we all wish he did – or at least, not in the way some of us think he does. The Miz sucks, Eva Marie sucks. The kind of heat their totally unwelcome presence generates isn’t down to great work, it’s because they’re terrible in every conceivable way and their attitudes stink. A million people have come and gone since Cena’s introduction. He couldn’t possibly be worse than all of them. The reality is we’re just sick of Cena. He’s been woefully mis-sold to us throughout his career and, as a result, everything he does tends to grate. He can’t win with us, which is kind of the root of the problem.

The main issue with the character of John Cena – as opposed to the man himself, who seems like a pretty nice dude – is that everything is predicated on him winning. Even when he was cutting promos for Battleground recently, they were all about him “overcoming the odds” yet again, but that’s what he has to do every goddamn time and what he manages to do no matter what. Permanently-excited commentator Michael Cole might be able to muster up the energy to pretend this is a new angle for him each time, but we can’t. Not now, twelve years and a hundred PPVs later.

It’s really easy to get burned out on Cena, because we know he’s not going to lose, we know it’s all just empty talk, even if it is delivered pretty effectively. Even when he was up against Bray Wyatt, who is arguably the best, and most interesting, heel on the current roster, there was that voice in the back of our collective minds that told us not to believe he could really win against Cena. Lo and behold, when his time finally came at Wrestlemania 30, after a spectacular build-up and in spite of a fantastic match, he didn’t.

The legendary, and very lovable, Chris Jericho may have been drafted in to give him a leg-up since, but their feud feels forced, as though Wyatt is just an afterthought now that Cena is occupied elsewhere. True, he succeeded against him at Extreme Rules, but Wyatt cheated and if Cena doesn’t lose clean, it doesn’t count. If Wyatt had have won against Cena properly, like he deserved, he would’ve totally blown up. All of the elements were there – he was killing it and the fans were completely on his side – but WWE are terrified that if Cena loses clean, we’ll think he’s worth nothing and as a result, Wyatt had to take the hit.

According to the Internet Wrestling Database, Cena has wrestled in almost 700 matches since his debut, including headlining over 80 PPVS. He currently has a win rate of almost 70%, including PPV and non-PPV matches. Legends such as Ultimate Warrior and Shawn Michaels have far better records, and both, in particular Michaels, had their fair share of dodgy wins back in the day too.

It’s interesting, then, that everyone hates Cena so damn much just because he wins so often and it’s, supposedly, so easy for him. Is it purely because we still have to put up with him every single week? Lesnar was an obvious choice for the upcoming PPV, because he’s always going to be a big draw, and let’s not forget that the Network contracts will be up for renewal soon, so WWE had to hook us all in somehow. However, if Lesnar is the obvious draw for fans, is Cena in the Main Event just because he’s the kids’ favourite?

His debut is still a hot video on YouTube, with over 4 million views to date and more than 3,000 comments, the majority of which are overwhelmingly negative. The top comments complain that Cena is slowly destroying the company by winning championships he never deserved, and getting pushes every few months, too. Anyone who tries to stick up for him is dismissed as a child, because what adult could possibly see the worth in someone like Cena?

Although we’re all sick to death of him headlining PPVs and winning belts, he’s been undeniably influential in putting fan favourites over. One of the highlights of last year was when he chose Daniel Bryan out of a line-up of Superstars to face him at Summerslam. With the crowd cheering as loud as they could for Bryan, Cena slowly made his way through several obvious, and often quite bizarre, choices including Rob Van Dam, Chris Jericho and, er, Heath Slater. Throughout this segment, the comparatively diminutive Bryan couldn’t even be seen behind the bigger, buffer Superstars.

He wasn’t mentioned as a choice, either, with Cena teasing the crowd as he simply asked “Is there anyone I’m forgetting?” Goofy Cena is the worst kind of Cena – aside from rapping Cena, of course – but he was at his best here, utilising his sense of humour well, and he immediately turned super serious when it was time to choose his opponent. This is a great example of Cena giving someone else a bit of his spotlight and it was a remarkable moment for both of them that paved the way for Bryan to win the title.

For those of us who’ve followed this shit since we were kids, the most infuriating element of the John Cena character is that he’s never properly turned heel. As much as the WWE fear the wrath of toddlers, let’s face it, everyone loves cheering for a heel and, as Bray Wyatt’s recent attempts at cultish sing-alongs prove, you can’t keep a good bad guy down. Do the powers that be have so little faith in Cena that they assume his stock would plummet if he took a step back, or, god forbid, turned heel? Would the kids really cry their eyes out at the sight of him in black jean shorts, waxing lyrical about how sick he is of being the top guy in the company?

A Cena heel angle is so obvious, and so widely-discussed, it’s bizarre that thus far it’s only ever been hinted at here and there. Not only would it shut all of us up, but it’d breathe new life into what has become a very stale character. It’d give Cena an angle, an edge, and he would be able to form alliances with the guys he usually spends half his time scolding. It would totally reinvent him, and maybe even give him a whole new fan base. Nowadays, the main issue with him is that he’s so predictable but, as a heel, there’s no telling what he’d do next.

Considering so much of Cena’s brand, and his worth to fans, hinges on him always, always, always winning, it’s interesting to note that the matches in which he’s lost are some of the most exciting and dynamic of his entire career. In particular, his Summerslam 2011 bout against CM Punk is a highlight, showcasing the best of both participants in a lengthy, well-paced battle of strength, ability and passion. Although Cena always gives his best in the ring, he’s become synonymous with winning in the last minute or two by using a combination of the same moves. At Summerslam 2011, he brought his ‘A’ game, with several near falls during which he seemed predestined to triumph over “adversity” yet again, so when Punk beat him, it was truly glorious.

Often a victim of bad writing that attempts to somehow position him as the underdog, Cena’s match-up against the ultimate underdog Daniel Bryan, again at Summerslam, in 2013, was also exceptional. Losing to Bryan, after he delivered a stunning running knee, Cena managed to simultaneously put his opponent way over and prove that he could not win and still come out on top. WWE backtracked a little following the match – possibly out of fear of the danger of the “Cena is a loser” angle – and indeed Bryan still had a long way to go before the championship was his, but this was a significant moment, and one which epitomised the opposing strengths of both performers.

Cena’s first PPV match was Vengeance, way back in 2002. In triumphing over hot favourite Jericho, he began a path to headline, and mostly win, almost every high-profile show since. A good match, in which he and Jericho fed off each other’s energy well, it marked out what kind of guy Cena was going to be in the ring. Although he only appeared in three out of a possible eight PPVs in 2002, from his first Main Event slot in 2005 onwards Cena was a stalwart of the company, and nowadays we can expect him to headline pretty much every show of the year – including weekly Raw episodes, which he dominates.

Looking back on his debut, Cena hasn’t really aged a day, which is kind of creepy. Maybe he’s a cyborg, programmed only to win matches and grant wishes and sell merch to children and refuse to marry Nikki Bella. His worth to the WWE is obvious, but to fans Cena seems to represent a giant roadblock in the way of our favourites achieving the plaudits they rightly deserve. Cena may still be stealing focus from others, but he’s been taking a backseat more and more often lately, and he’s been owning his brand and his goody-goody image too, facing up to The Authority and choosing Daniel Bryan when he shouldn’t, even triumphing at Battleground so Triple H’s cronies couldn’t.

We can’t hate John Cena because he’s champion yet again. We can hate the character they’ve made him, for WWE vicariously burying new talents through him, and for him headlining every PPV in sight, but when he’s not featured, something feels off, and the balance isn’t right. He’s a fixture whether we like it or not, and the WWE would be a very different place without him. All things considered, he’s a wonderful performer and, when in the right mode, he can be great on the mic, too. He’s the ultimate face, he’s just in desperate need of a heel turn.

However, in spite of the fact that he’s guaranteed to win every single time, it’s unlikely that Lesnar won’t defeat him after beating the streak at Wrestlemania 30 and, when he does, it may just spark the turn that’ll reignite the fuse inside John Cena, and indeed all of us. Cena may always be the Superstar we love to hate, but at least we only have a few more weeks of bullshit before he (hopefully) loses in spectacular fashion and things get interesting again for a bit.

For the moment, though, it makes no sense to hate the player when, really, we should be hating the game.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Why Story Telling Is Vital to Wrestling By Shaun Nichols

In the past few days I have been trying to explain to a friend why the Sting vs. Hollywood Hogan match at Starrcade 1997 is one worst examples of psychology and booking. In response I was told that it's a good match which lots of people wanted to watch. Also it's listed on the WWE's Starrcade: The Essential Collection at a very respectable fourth place, though I think it's more down to the fact that it's a match featuring two big names and the WWE marketing team felt it couldn't be placed any lower.

Wrestling is a very unique model on the PPV platform, unlike boxing and UFC who succeed mainly on unique individuals (think Floyd Mayweather and Georges St Pierre) that appear maybe 1 or 2 times in the way. These are guys who fans can connect to, it really is unimportant if you want to see win or lose you just have to care.

Wrestling doesn't work that way, wrestling stars are always on TV or on the monthly PPV shows. It is supported through episodic weekly television programming leading to grudges and matches that hopefully fans will pay for. It's not a real contest so it relies on creating an emotional connection that the fans can buy into so they'll spend money either on attending live or ordering the PPV. It works like a good TV drama or a movie blockbuster, something that makes you go out of your away to watch the hero win in the end.

I'm going to compare the Hulk Hogan vs. Sting encounter to the match that topped the WWE Starrcade list which was Ric Flair challenging Vader for the WCW title at Starrcade 1993. I'll explain why one was great example of story telling and the other was terrible.

Vader vs. Ric Flair (Starrcade 1993)

The Build: Ric Flair had returned to WCW in February 1993 to a tremendous reception but although he had his moments such as a great tag team match with Arn Anderson vs. The Hollywood Blonds and winning the NWA title against Barry Windham. In general it wasn't the great return that many of us had hoped for, he soon dropped the NWA title to Rick Rude in a very dull and boring affair at Fall Brawl 1993. The plan was to phase him out of the main event picture.

The original plan for Starrcade that year was for Sid to beat Vader and become the top star in WCW, but a night in Blackburn which included a fight in a hotel room with Arn Anderson and a pair of scissors and next thing you know Big Sid was let go. A new plan was required.

Ric Flair was really Mr Starrcade, a man right from the first event in 1983 who was dominating the event either defending or challenging for the world title. He was clearly the most obvious choice to take the vacant challenger spot, it also didn't hurt that the show was being held in Charlotte, NC which is Flair's hometown.

To add to the intrigue, the dominant champion was managed by Harley Race who just happened to have lost the NWA title to Ric Flair at the first Starrcade show back in 1983. This was perfect time for Race to get his revenge, to add the icing on the cake a stipulation was added if Ric Flair failed to win the WCW title then he would be forced to retire, the scene had been set.

The Match: This was exactly what it should have been, this wasn't a battle between two equally matched wrestlers. This was a vicious dominate monster trying to end the career of the overmatched company legend. We've all seen Hollywood films where the hero has to come back one more time and defeat all the odds to save the day. It's one of the easiest and most successful plots of all time and most importantly everyone can relate to.

Ric Flair takes a terrible beating and for the vast majority of the match he's on the defensive as Vader completely dominates proceedings. Occasionally Flair makes a comeback and teases that he's about to turn the tide before Vader again takes control. Each time the fans react louder as they implore Flair to defeat the champion. Finally the hero finally gets the win, he's gone through hell and he's got the bruises to show for it but he leaves victorious.

The fans who willed him to victory, cared about his journey and wanted him to get one final run on top and they got the victory they craved and the memorable moment they came to see.

The Aftermath: The emotional journey for the fans was all about Flair's title chase and saving his career, the continuation of the Vader feud didn't reach the same heights. This was followed by a fun feud with Ricky Steamboat which gave a nod to their great series of 1989 but it was clear that WCW was treading water until Hulk Hogan arrival in the summer of 1994. Flair soon turned heel so he could feud with Hogan and to drop the title in the Hulkster's first WCW match.

Hollywood Hogan vs. Sting (Starrcade 1997)

The Build: There is no denying that the build up for Sting's challenge for the WCW title was really a thing of beauty. Ever since Hogan had turned heel and formed the nWo with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash at Bash at the Beach 1996 PPV they had run roughshod over everyone in WCW.

Well that's not quite correct, they ran roughshod over everyone apart from one man, that man was Sting. The match was planned out for over a year, it had started at Fall Brawl 1996 when the nWo faced Team WCW in the Wargames main event. The nWo claimed that Sting would be their fourth man (well it was a Fake Sting), this caused some mistrust from the other members of the WCW team and although Sting took his part in the main event to show that he had not turned on the promotion. He soon the left the match which led to the nWo team getting the win.

Soon the fun loving Sting character that fans had known for a nearly decade had gone, replaced by a Brandon Lee inspired gimmick based on The Crow film. He started hanging around the rafters and carrying a black baseball bat. While the rest of WCW were getting beaten and embarrassed on a weekly basis, Sting stood on the sidelines biding his time. Eventually he would save WCW, beat Hogan and the nWo and take the WCW title. The build up was excellent, they built it up so slowly and carefully. This was the final battle and the good guys were finally getting their ultimate revenge, right??

The Match: Everything screamed that Sting should just go out and kick Hogan's ass, eventually through the usual nWo shenanigans you'd think Hogan would eventually get control over the match but Sting would make his comeback and pin Hogan clean. How could it be anything else?

Sting was booked like a superhero, he was someone who would not let you down and someone who would defeat the evil Hogan convincingly and take WCW forward. Instead it was Hogan who dominated the match with Sting getting a little bit of offensive in here and there. Fans expected to see Hogan to get his ass kicked but here he was dominating the saviour of WCW.

The farce of the fast count that never was, just to allow Bret Hart 'to save the day' only made Sting look more like a goof and loser than anyone thought was possible. WCW had spent nearly 18 months building up to Sting getting his biggest win, on the biggest WCW show of the year and then when it came down to it they got it horribly wrong.

While Flair in 1993 was playing the role of the underdog going through hell and eventually overcoming the biggest odds, Sting was supposed to be the hero finally saving the town from the evil group who made everyone's lives miserable. He was supposed to be the WCW version of John Wayne or Bruce Lee winning the final standoff to send everyone happy. How could they have got it so wrong?

The Aftermath: This could be seen really as the beginning of WCW's troubles, sure they had drawn the most successful PPV buy-rate in company history with Starrcade 1997. But they had forgotten the golden rule they you have to give the fans what they wanted to see.

They had made the fans wait over a year to see Hogan get what was surely due at the hands of the 'WCW Icon' Sting and failed to deliver it. Even with Bret Hart saving the day, it turned out to be a Dusty finish because the title was held up. Sting did finally win the title at Superbrawl VIII also against Hogan to win the vacant title after Hogan was hit in the head with a spray can by Randy Savage. Again showing that WCW just couldn't bring themselves to have their biggest babyface actually beating Hulk Hogan clean. From a PPV buy-rate perspective, it is interesting to note that Starrcade 1997 drew a rating of 1.9 but the re-match just two months later drew a rating of 1.1 which equates to a drop of over 40%. That's the price you pay for lousy story telling.