Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I turned on Last Week Tonight, my favorite news satire program, and the topic of his show was WWE, which I’ve been a fan of since I was a little kid. Oliver’s role as a force of chaotic good always makes for a hysterical 30 minutes, and as he says, “Wrestling is better than the things you like,” so at first you’d think this would be the best of both worlds.
But then the main story for his topic turned to a subject that is nowhere near as fun: the welfare of pro wrestlers who work for WWE. Oliver’s goal was to raise awareness for the good of the wrestlers, not for the multi-million dollar corporation for which they perform, because stop me if you’ve heard this before: the corporation takes advantage of its employees for its own financial gain.
It’s a subject that is probably news to people who don’t watch wrestling, one that I and all other diehard wrestling fans have been aware of for quite some time and something that isn’t going to get any better if it doesn’t receive mainstream attention. I thought it was a quality segment and if you’re so inclined, you can watch it here:
Whenever I start to think of all the wrestlers who end their careers broken, alone and too often dead at an early age, my mind always shifts to The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky’s brutally mesmerizing 2008 film starring Mickey Rourke.
That famous scene in Gladiator occurs when Maximus single-handedly decimates an arena of all the other top warriors. He not only murders them without even really breaking a sweat, but he dispatches them in bloody fashion. When there is no one left to challenge him, he throws his arms up and asks the crowd, “Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?” That’s all that was missing from the main event of last night’s SummerSlam.
Brock Lesnar is a terrific athlete and a tremendous waste of talent. His matches are annoyingly one-sided and all too often resemble a Maximus-esque slaughter. You can lay that at the feet of WWE Creative if you want and they certainly deserve some blame for booking Brock as an invincible monster, but the Beast Incarnate does not care if he puts on a good show. He doesn’t give a s**t about your kids and he certainly isn’t concerned with helping other wrestlers get over. When Brock left Randy Orton in a pool of his own blood last night, only to continue wailing on him after the match was over, we may as well have been ancient Romans sitting silently as Maximus asked us if we were entertained.
I can’t speak for everyone, but Eric and I were certainly not that entertained and we have a feeling that many of you weren’t as well.
We had originally intended to do a SummerSlam predictions post followed by a recap, but technology sucks and we’re too reliant on it we weren’t able to. Instead, we had to squeeze this reaction piece together as best we could. You can also see our original predictions so that you can mock our lack of foresight.
(Update: Our friend Eric Schreiber is back for more WWE Raw rumblings. He was gone for a couple weeks for reasons he will explain.)
I decided to group all three of these Raws together with the hope of it getting better, but unfortunately I find myself a little more than slightly disappointed in this “New Era” of Raw. The first Raw after the draft was full of excitement, anticipation, and Surprises (Balor becoming the #1 Contender for the Universal Title and Sasha becoming the Women’s Champ). After such an awesome show, Raw has once again become stale.
When Eric and I made our predictions, I was pretty worried that Battleground would turn out to be bland and insignificant show. It wasn’t perfect and there were certainly aspects of it that we could’ve done without, but overall I’d say it surpassed our expectations.
So what exactly were we so happy about? What aggravated Eric to the point that he sent me several angry text messages when it happened? Hit the jump and find out!
WWE is in a very odd place right now. Following the brand split, they had the opportunity to forge ahead with fresh talent in order to create some new stars, but instead they seem content to stick to the status quo and do business as usual. Give Cesaro and Sasha Banks a chance to shine on Smackdown? Nah, lets leave them on Raw with everyone else. Keep the Wyatts and the Club together for a while longer so that they can keep building momentum? Nope, we’re going to split them up, because reasons.
Obviously, it’s a little premature to judge this new era in the WWE because it hasn’t even played out yet. That doesn’t mean that I trust the company to not screw things up, but I’m at least willing to wait and see what happens. For now.
In the meantime, WWE Battleground is the last pay-per-view before the brand extension takes full effect, and my buddy Eric Schreiber is here as my tag team partner to help me sort out what will transpire tonight. Everything that we say will happen is definitely going to happen, unless Eric disagrees with me, in which case anything that I predict is the way that things will go. Maybe. Hit the jump and we’ll see.
If you live under a rock and haven’t heard, last night was kind of a big deal for Cleveland. Lebron James, through sheer will and perhaps a little bit of help from God, led the Cavaliers to a title and sent the entire city of Cleveland into a frenzy. Nothing is getting done there for at least two weeks, and the fact that the Cavs became the first team to come back from a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA Finals is just the icing on the cake. Plus, most Warriors fans are Raiders fans, so them being sad today makes this writer extraordinarily happy. It’s the simple things in life that you treasure.
So what does any of this have to do with wrestling? Well, as you may or may not know, Dean Ambrose is also from Ohio. Cincinnati, to be exact. He is probably all too aware of the decades of suffering that Cleveland has endured, so I find it quite poetic that on the same night that Lebron brought a championship to his hometown, Dean Ambrose shocked the wrestling world and became the WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
I would say that you can’t write this stuff, but you can. And they did.
Up until this morning, I was going to title this column, “The Hypocrisy of WWE’s New Era.” What followed was going to be a lengthy tirade about how the “New Era” was nothing more than a shiny paint job covering the same product that WWE has been cranking out for most of the decade: an authority figure running Raw (usually a McMahon), cliche storylines being favored over quality wrestling matches with stakes and the wrestlers that the smarks preferred constantly being cast aside and buried in favor of the “face” of the company. I had intended on being wonderfully cynical and brutally sardonic.
But then I woke up the other day and heard about the upcoming brand split. Heard how Smackdown is going to be a live show now and will feature its very own roster of superstars. Supposedly, this will help make Smackdown relevant for the first time in years, a move that many fans have clamored for since… well, for a pretty damn long time. It also suggests that maybe WWE isn’t just spewing out empty promises when it refers to the New Era and that it actually plans on capitalizing on its talented and promising roster.
Of course, there’s always the chance that WWE could blow this. They have an uncanny knack for doing just that.
As an avid wrestling fan, it is my duty to inform you that we are less than 24 hours from WrestleMania 31. As a procrastinating writer, it is my obligation to admit that I meant for this to be up much sooner. I feel like I’ve said that far too often over the past few years, but hey, at least I am getting things up. Progress, right?
Anyway, WrestleMania is well-known as the biggest wrestling event of the calendar year. It is WWE’s version of the Super Bowl, the granddaddy of them all, the showcase of the immortals. I could go on and on, but we are pressed for time. Obviously I am very familiar with the phenomenon that is WrestleMania, and I’ve always wanted to sit down and figure out what my favorite WrestleMania matches of all-time are. After doing so, I now understand why I may never do this again: it takes FOREVER.
It’s important to point out that this is not necessarily the greatest matches in Mania history, because again that is a subject matter. Some matches that you are expecting to see will be missing, others will be ranked too low and there may even be one or two that makes you think, “Seriously dude? THAT match?” Just keep in mind that there have been hundreds of bouts at WrestleMania, my friend, and getting this down to my top 20 was much harder than I anticipated it would be.
So here we go. As good ol’ J.R. would say, business is about to pick up.
Welcome back to our Walking Dead rankings! This week Kevin goes heavy on the Survivor references and Jesse counters with some pretty eye-rolling wrestling connections. Remember, we are awarded points based on who dies and how highly we have that character ranked. For instance, if Glenn dies then Kevin will have 10 points and Jesse will have six points.
The Royal Rumble has transformed from being one of the most exciting wrestling events of the year to operating as the most perversely entertaining night on the WWE calendar. Instead of serving as a launching pad to help the next big superstar get over, it plays off more like a heated argument between WWE and its passionate fan base, illustrating just how little the two parties see eye-to-eye on the way the show is booked. For the second year in a row, the outcome of one of WWE’s most storied matches was unanimously rejected by the WWE Universe and the main culprit behind that wave of nuclear heat is one Daniel Bryan. Or rather, the absence of Daniel Bryan.
Myself and basically every other wrestling fan in the world could see this coming from a mile away. The hardcore snarks in attendance at the Wells Fargo Center were passionately behind Bryan right from the get-go, serenading him with the loudest pop of the night. When Bryan was discarded from the Rumble like any other guy, the enthusiasm in that building deflated more quickly than a New England Patriots football. From that moment on, Roman Reigns had no chance. Philly was furious at this development and they were going to ensure that Vince McMahon, Triple H and everyone else in WWE knew about it. The message from WWE was clear – Daniel Bryan will never be “the guy” no matter how much you cheer for him.
And the answer from the audience was resounding: FUCK. THAT. SHIT.