Final Business: End Credits, or the 12 Defining Matches of My LOP Journey

Final Business: End Credits, or the 12 Defining Matches of My LOP Journey

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Credit to @StevenFnBell

Final Business: End Credits, or the 12 Defining Matches of My LOP Journey

In January of 2008 I wrote my first ever column for Lords of Pain. Today, twelve years later almost to the day, I write my last.

There was a part of me that wanted to write about everything that has driven me away from professional wrestling, but that would be such an overwhelmingly negative experience that it would prove far too dour a note for me to end things on. I don’t want to write it, and I dare say you don’t want to read it.

Instead, as a new chapter in my life now begins in exciting fashion, I thought it far better to write something of a positive disposition.

The last twelve years for me have been a journey of self-discovery as I moved into adulthood and navigated its first full decade, and like any journey it has provided both bitter regrets and, more vitally, extremely fond memories. All along the way, a part of that journey has been reserved for my life as a professional wrestling fan and, during it all, this site – and more specifically its magnificent community that has for so long called our Forums at LOP their home – has been a huge part of it.

I loved wrestling for as long as I can remember, but took a respite from it in 2005 when feeling uninspired by the generation that were then breaking through. I returned to it in 2007, thanks to overhearing someone who has since become my closest friend (because of wrestling, it should be said) claiming The Undertaker had won the Royal Rumble. A year later, I signed up to the LOP Forums and decided I wanted to write columns.

Back then I didn’t have the life experience or the wisdom to know what I didn’t know, but that would prove to be a boon for me. It meant I had exploring to do, and explore I did. With the money of youth in my pocket to burn and a desire to prove myself worthy of writing for this site that had been my go-to for wrestling news, I started buying anything I could to learn and discover new back catalogue on DVD. I would buy collections of any given pro wrestler from Bret Hart to Ric Flair, or past events I had never seen, like Royal Rumbles I’d prejudged or WrestleManias I’d never been exposed to. Of course, twelve years ago was a different age digitally, and so too would I be able to discover material from other promotions past and present online as well. If it was new to me, I snapped it up, and I loved doing so.

This process never stopped. Even as recently as six months ago, when the gap between me and professional wrestling became too wide to continue bridging, I would enjoy discovering new back catalogue or contemporary product. That’s the only way to grow as a wrestling fan after all, to discover what your tastes are, what your opinions are, what your outlook is about everything wrestling can and cannot be. It’s the only way to discover who you are as a pro wrestling fan.

That journey for me has been such a wonderful one, it’s the part of this last twelve years I don’t regret a single second of. If you’d told me when I signed up in January 2008 that I was about to usher in an age of my days that would see me make friends for life through an online forum, that would see me build a base of respect I couldn’t have anticipated, that would see me publish one book and surrender another to limbo, then I’d have thought it all too good to be true. And yet.

It seemed only fitting, then, in light of my appreciation for everyone who has helped me discover who I am as a wrestling fan this last decade and change, and for those at LOP who I have become genuinely true friends with, that rather than focus on the negatives of my departure I reflect on the positives of the journey it’s concluding. In that vein, consider this my final word at Lords of Pain.

My name is Samuel ‘Plan, and these are the twelve matches that have defined my twelve years at LOP; or, my end credits.

2008
Royal Rumble Match, Royal Rumble

The Royal Rumble has been a recurring theme during my life as a wrestling fan, on more than one occasion having marked both my entry into and exit from the wrestling world. It’s partly why I chose now to be the moment of my retirement. Less conscious of a choice was the decision to mark 2008’s Royal Rumble event with my debut column.

I remember it clearly. I wrote about the lack of a clear run-away favourite heading into that year’s Rumble bout, the match itself loaded with talent. I also recall the raving reception the event got the day after it had happened, and know keenly the favourable status it still holds in the opinions of many fans. I’ve never shared that positive outlook. Outside of its one big moment with the climactic entrance of John Cena, the match itself is a relatively formless, shapeless and deeply ordinary composition.

In spite of my difference with the popular opinion, however, there is no denying that the 2008 Rumble Match started me down the path on which I am today making my final steps. I could no more have predicted where I would go thereafter than I could have predicted the year’s typically divisive Rumble victor. Looking back, though, I see now that I was about to blow the roof off of my wrestling fandom just as Cena blew the roof of Madison Square Garden that night.

2009
Royal Rumble Match, Royal Rumble

It was perhaps the first truly great thing, and most certainly the absolute best, to have come out of my journey as a wrestling fan and wrestling column writer, my relationship with my closest friend. That friendship has been built primarily on the sturdy foundation of the shared emotional experiences of watching events in the wrestling world unfold in real time, and though it has since expanded far beyond that, I nevertheless owe my most cherished friend to the world of wrestling.

The 2009 Royal Rumble Match – another instance of that wonderful event providing a waypoint in my life – was the first event we watched together, albeit in separate parts of the country on an old instant messaging platform that has long since gone the way of the dinosaur. If anything, though, that cumbersome means of communication now simply adds to the charm of the memory.

It also happened to be the first Royal Rumble event I stayed up to watch live as it happened. From the thrill of the opening video package (an especially effective one that year, I recall), to the curious undercard, right through to what I maintain to be the greatest Rumble match ever, in all its frenetic and character-driven glory, not only did the 2009 Rumble set a new standard by which I would judge every other version of my favourite match of the year every time there was one, it was also the first brick laid in that aforementioned friendship with a man I now call brother, rather than friend. That renders its value inestimable to me.

2010
The Nexus vs. Team WWE in a 7 on 7 Elimination Tag Team Match, Summerslam

This may come as a curious choice, and certainly it surprised me when I realised it demanded to be my pick for the year 2010. The reason is quite simple, though. This controversial main event between the invading Nexus stable and WWE’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ has found itself defined historically by its disastrously misguided conclusion and the so-called damage it dealt what, until then, had been the most promising storyline and stable to come down WWE’s pipe in quite some time. There was, however, for me a different story playing out that night.

As a Bret Hart fan I had long since come to terms with the notion we would never again see the Hitman in a wrestling ring, and I am not now above admitting I too harboured bitterness towards those infamous events in Montreal back in 1997. But then the impossible happened, and he came back; and, the night he came back, I watched live, right alongside that aforementioned friend of mine whose favourite ever wrestler happened to be Shawn Michaels. It was an incredible moment.

Of course, the way things panned out at WrestleMania that year left much to be desired, a disappointing note to end on for this otherwise elating turn of events. So when, quite unexpectedly, the Hitman became involved in the Nexus feud and entered its climactic bout I expected little. I got a great deal more. With a rapid-fire release of his most recognisable in-ring hallmarks, Mr Summerslam struck one last time and, though his stint in the match is brief, more of a cameo than a contribution, for a few wonderful seconds this man – who had suffered strokes and concussions lest we forget – proved himself again the Excellence of Execution, and gave me, as a Hitman fan, all the closure I needed: a flashing memory of his brilliance.

2011
John Cena vs. CM Punk for the WWE Championship, Money in the Bank

Ask almost any fan who was watching at the time and they are likely to agree there was something volcanic about the WWE Summer of Punk that exploded into life with his infamous Pipebomb. For me, there was something especially eruptive though. While Punk’s Pipebomb vocalised the long-held frustrations of so many wrestling fans, many of them, at the time, more seasoned and knowledgeable than I might have been, I had not realised until after it had been said just how much damage I had been dealt by the depth of WWE’s sleep-walking mediocrity of the preceding years.

There was a thrill behind every week of television and every glimmer of news coming out during that year’s build to Money in the Bank. I remember so vividly the discussions over what was real and what wasn’t, about whether or not John Cena would step up and prove ‘he could wrestle’ and about whether Punk was really leaving, or staying to invoke true change. And I remember the night, too – the electric atmosphere in Chicago, the inescapable shadow of that invisible ticking clock, the sense of singularity provided by bespoke t-shirts printed at the event with the date on their back. It felt like a masterclass of production, from the moment the story started to the moment it ended with Punk’s iconic kiss goodbye.

That whirlwind of events would prove to be something of an exercise in relativity for me. For the first time since I had ‘come of age’ as a wrestling fan, since I had been exploring my thoughts, feelings and opinions on wrestling in deeper fashion, I had been given a true taste of the magic I had had come to believe laid behind me in my distancing childhood. I feel now that straying into such unexpectedly virginal territory resulted in two changes. First, it made clear just how beige everything had been until then; but, secondly and more importantly, my entire sensibility as a fan who complained about everything and loved very little was entirely recast. I learned how to love again, in what was a seismic adjustment in my mentality, and one I am deeply grateful for.

2012
CM Punk vs. Ryback vs. John Cena in a Triple Threat Match for the WWE Championship, Survivor Series

We all knew this moment was coming eventually. It is, after all, a Samuel ‘Plan column. It’s time to talk about The Shield; specifically, when you think about all the important debuts that have happened at Survivor Series across WWE history, I will argue ardently that The Shield belong in that cadre of talent. I didn’t at the time. I feared that WWE would do to them what they had seemingly done to the Nexus before them. What was more, I saw in Dean Ambrose a comic over-actor and, in Seth Rollins, a generic Indy import.

It feels funny writing that now, at a time when Seth Rollins is a man I declare unabashedly to be my all-time favourite, and Dean Ambrose the man closest to that spot not named Bret Hart. Not to forget Roman Reigns of course, who I would go on to defend against his harshest criticisms, and who I would also describe myself as a fan of. Indeed, my love for The Shield is nothing new to those of you who have followed my work. Since coming to terms with my distance from wrestling and announcing my retirement, they are, after all, what I have referred to as The Last Great Thing in Wrestling; last as in final, not most recent. And this match was where that Last Great Thing was born.

There is a particularly delicious irony about the fact they would debut on the back of a match featuring the man many saw as WWE’s biggest problem, the man many saw as representing WWE’s biggest chance for change and the man history should now see as a fortunately avoided red herring to create just that change. The Shield would prove the most successful agents of that same change, starting with their interference at the end of an otherwise deeply generic main event that feels, for every minute of its duration, obliged to its genre.

2013
John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship, Summerslam

2011 saw CM Punk drop his Pipebomb. 2012 saw The Shield mark their territory. Clearly the engines of change were in motion, and most of 2013 was defined by an aching among the fan base and within wrestling itself for that change to be solidified. It became something of a running theme for my first podcast that started that year on LOP Radio, The Right Side of the Pond, and it was in our preview of that year’s summer classic that, for the first time, we round-tabled our discussion with every host on the show present.

We predicted Bryan to defeat Cena cleanly, and then tap out Randy Orton. It may seem almost preposterous to suggest that now, knowing where the journey of those years, and all the years since, have taken us, but it was such a powerfully compelling feeling at the time. Cena felt like he was beyond old hat, especially following his validation at the hands of The Rock across the course of three preceding WrestleManias. Orton, too, had never felt more irrelevant. Daniel Bryan, though, had become the hottest act in wrestling since the turn of the century, and we were all here for it.

It was this clinically exact match that birthed The Authority angle that defined the product for the following three years and fuelled so many of our discussions on The Right Side of the Pond, and it was Bryan’s victory here, coupled with Punk’s outstanding showing earlier that night, right alongside the pending rejuvenation of an arguably fledgling Shield, that converted me into an unapologetic, even militant supporter of the need to commit to the company’s next generation. We needn’t discuss the fallout of the fact we’re all still waiting to see exactly that seven years later. It’s evident.

2014
The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family, Elimination Chamber

We come to perhaps the most important match on this list now. Everyone who knows me or has followed me here at LOP knows about my fandom for the Allslayer, Seth Rollins – about my love of his work in the ring, about my admiration for his ethic as a performer and about the inspiration I have drawn from both his fictional and real world stories to fight, each day, to be the best version of me I can be. But this fandom wasn’t forged overnight. I didn’t have a sudden epiphany. It was gradual, eventual, and it had started many months before in 2013.

Increasingly, Rollins had proven himself to be my favourite member of The Shield, and when they each began to strike out more individually I found him to be ingenious to watch. After over half a decade of discovering my tastes in wrestling and exploring back catalogue, it was clear to me that Rollins was a prodigy. A particularly main event level performance opposite John Cena one Smackdown late in 2013 cemented that opinion, and by the time he went coast-to-coast in the 2014 Royal Rumble I was wearing my fandom proudly on my sleeve.

Then came this visceral, primal war between the two most promising factions in the company, that had been teased at the UK Raw I had attended in the preceding November o a rapturous and electrified live reception. And in this match, Seth Rollins stole the show. While Reigns provided the climax of the piece, and Ambrose and Wyatt the psychological intrigue, I was inexorably drawn to an effortless, polished, commanding and characterful showing from the group’s Architect, about which there was something that underscored that growing fandom and made me realise I was having more fun watching him now than I had ever had watching my other favourite: Bret Hart. The rest, as they say, is history.

2015
Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (vs. Seth Rollins) for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, WrestleMania 31

Commitment to the next generation of talent. An effective conclusion to the (then) successful Brock Lesnar arc. To witness my favourite wrestler win his first World Championship live, as it happened. Seth Rollins at the top of the company. These four ideas I longed for, quite apart from one another. The night of WrestleMania 31, I got them all at once, in the form of that evening’s gladiatorial main event.

Poisonous experiences featuring the same rivalry later down the line should not distract from the quality of this blood-drenched and jarringly physical encounter between a man many were rejecting and another that many were happy to welcome back for another three years. It looks real, it feels painful and the drama is pitched exactly right. The backdrop is visually stunning, their contest occurring at the exact moment the sun goes down on Santa Clara, the preceding card had knocked it out of the park and the looming conclusion of the night would prove, quite honestly, iconic.

In perhaps what remains still one of only three truly natural WrestleMania Moments of the contemporary generation, the Heist of the Century was beautifully played out. With a story constructed to slot Rollins’ interference in seamlessly, it balanced the right degree of inevitability and frantic pace to create a truly breathless moment. Supported by the established continuity of The Shield’s past, contextualised by the omnipresence of The Authority’s power games and brought to life by an honestly emotional showing from the offending Rollins, I got everything I had wanted – but most of all, I finally got to see my favourite wrestler win his first World Championship live, as it happened, making several kinds of history while he did it. And so it was that I ticked another item off my wrestling bucket list.

2016
Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Bayley in a Triple Threat Match for the Women’s Championship, Wrestlemania 32

It is with great shame that I must admit to having once possessed the kind of misogynistic view that women’s wrestling in WWE offered nothing of value. Having spent years watching the women perform short, scrappy bouts seemingly placed carefully to afford fans the opportunity to relieve their bladders, I saw little of worth in anything the female contingent of WWE did. So much so, to my now much deserved embarrassment, I once, infamously among my fellow TRSOTP hosts, exclaimed “It’s not a division!” when we were previewing a pending women’s PPV bout. I can’t remember which. For these opinions, I am sorry.

I do remember, though, the feeling of having been proven deeply and undeniably wrong by the generation of female performers who have since made it a habit to often outshine their male counterparts. With the hype around the Four Horsewomen in NXT, my curiosity was grabbed. With the roaring success of Sasha Banks vs. Bayley at the summer Takeover in 2015, my attention was obtained. And then, by the time of the Triple Threat at WrestleMania, I had become a more enlightened fan.

My past outlook I can only explain with contrition, but my current I can champion unashamedly, and it was really writ in stone when Flair, Banks and Lynch put together a fantastic take on the typical Triple Threat to crown a newly minted Women’s Championship and prove that the Women’s Revolution was a success. I have long held fans continue to vastly underestimate the importance of this match, the most important in the modern history of women’s wrestling in WWE. Had it failed, so too might the Revolution have been doomed to endure conversations about failure among more judgemental fans. But it didn’t. Everything about it sounded like, felt like and watched like a main event success, from the entrances to its performances. So much so, it came to be my main event of that night – my re-watches of ‘Mania 32 always ended directly after Charlotte’s victory celebration.

2017
Seth Rollins vs. Triple H in an Unsanctioned Match, WrestleMania 33

I had been a massive fan of Rollins for a number of years by the time his redemption arc began, following Triple H’s betrayal in the late summer of 2016, but things took on a whole new level of meaning for me when that arc began to play out in earnest. I know many were left underwhelmed by its first chapter once it had concluded, but for me it was a compelling piece of fiction that came to provide key inspiration for me in real life, the details of which I shan’t go into here.

The Triple H feud was only the first chapter too, kicking off what was really a three year arc that culminated at long last only this preceding year at Summerslam. What a first chapter, though. Once Rollins was invading Takeover and aggravating his knee injury, every promo, every interaction between him and Triple H, every week of television that drew us closer to the ultimate showdown, it felt like Rollins’ character, his journey, was being fleshed out to breathtaking degree through innumerable small details. A verbal inflection here, a flash of body language there, a sentence revealing hidden depths of meaning; it was all so alive, and so powerful.

The match would fail to disappoint me. It was a seething, pained, anguished affair that sealed sore wounds and rightfully should have been Triple H’s in-ring swansong. A true towering performance art classic, it changed my relationship with the Rollins character and his story in the most important and fundamental way, and my life by extension. That Seth Rollins himself read my column previewing the match, recommended it for reading and re-tweeted me on social media mere days before the event provided perhaps the sweetest moment of my entire time at Lords of Pain.

Incidentally, you can read that column here: Redesigning, Rebuilding, Reclaiming a Soul: A Performance Art Retrospective of the Triple H vs. Seth Rollins Story So Far.

2018
Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship, Summerslam

If only my experience with Rollins’ work in particular in 2017 had been more universal, I might not be writing this column now. Instead, it was one of only two exceptions (the other being Ambrose), of a flare of warmth to huddle near while the rest of the product was left to freeze in the cold of its creative malaise, wrought by a blizzard of catastrophic decision making.

Any hopes of change 2018 brought with it – mostly the end of the now destructive Lesnar obsession – were dashed in short order thanks to an apocalyptically poor ‘Mania main event that seemed only to exacerbate many of the same issues. Most crushingly, this time it felt hopeless, and hopelessness is the most insurmountable, crushing feeling. It was difficult to see a CM Punk waiting to drop a Pipebomb this time, or a Daniel Bryan waiting to mobilise a universal popularity. No talent now was safe from the disenfranchised audience’s whims of division, it seemed.

Summerslam, however, provided another in a long line of supposed ‘last chance saloons’ and, with its short run-time and its rapier-like directness, it looked like WWE had finally learned its lesson. Reigns’ win that night felt different, as did his showing on Raw the following evening against Finn Bálor, the re-ascension of Braun Strowman and the reunification of The Shield. Feelings of 2013’s light-headed giddiness galloped back towards me, and right as I teetered over the edge of finality it felt like my reliable favourites had pulled me back yet again…only, it was another red herring. Within a month Lesnar was back again, and champion once more within three – a title he won the same night DX headlined opposite the Brothers of Destruction.

Once again I couldn’t have known then, but the false hope Summerslam 2018’s main event instilled in me, and the dashing of those hopes in brutally efficient fashion thereafter, was probably when the guillotine began its grinding descent on my time as a wrestling fan.

2019
Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins for the Universal Championship, Summerslam

Fast forward another year, and the guillotine has done its bloody work. 2019 has been as defining a year as any other during my time at Lords of Pain. It started with me ticking off one of the final items on my wrestling bucket list – my favourite ever wrestler won my favourite ever match type, when Rollins emerged the victor of the Men’s Rumble. It continued further with what I felt was the rectification of history, with Rollins, not Reigns, being the man to slay the Beast on the Grandest Stage of Them All, to kick off a surprisingly pleasant WrestleMania incidentally.

Unlike the rip-roaring success of his Intercontinental Championship run the year before, though, WWE hit tepid waters quite quickly with Rollins holding the red strap. It was easy to see why. Instead of letting him tear it up in the ring as an agent of competition opposite a raft of different talents and styles as they had done 12 months prior, they dovetailed him into a never-ending feud with the quickest way to castrate interest that is Baron Corbin before, once again having Brock Lesnar reassert himself.

Then came Summerslam. Already WWE had again demonstrated their effectiveness at reducing the once hottest act in the company into a babyface jeered by the audience of a major show, but by the time Rollins became the first man of his generation to defeat Lesnar clean, without controversy or interference or shortcuts, right in the middle of the ring, he had reliably won that audience over to his cause. The match itself? Masterful, enough for me to dissect it in a dedicated Performance Art Review available to read in my archive. It pulled together all the key moments, all of the central emotions and more than one direct nod of the head to the minutiae of Rollins’ journey. And with his win, he brought to a final close the arc he began all the way back in 2014 when he betrayed his brothers. His win that night was a soul redesigned, rebuilt and, finally, reclaimed.

And it was the bell tolling on my time at LOP, the last match I loved as a fan of professional wrestling.

I had intentions of going longer. Ahead of Rollins’ first win over Lesnar at ‘Mania, in fact, I wrote that we were witnessing the end of his beginning, and that it coincided with the beginning of my end. But I underestimated WWE for the last time in a life of underestimating them, and once Rollins concluded his story of redemption last August it became increasingly obvious to me with increasing speed that I now no longer had any reason to stay – that, as I have written before, though I am not done with professional wrestling, professional wrestling is quite clearly done with me.

Twelve years is a long time. I can’t begin to fathom how unrecognisable each version of myself on either end of that period would find the other. For that reason alone, it has been an indispensable part of my time on this earth. I wouldn’t change a second of it, and I regret nothing.

Wrestling has been the passion of my life. More than that, wrestling has proven to me to be life as passion; pure and unbridled, it is unfiltered feeling, sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful and always fractious, forever on the stir and relentless in the swell. But sadly, now, for me, this transient epoch of my life that wrestling has defined, once possessed of orchestral might in all its glorious sound and fury, ends with that orchestra fallen silent, and the chamber it once played to empty, and still.

There is no encore for me. This is the end, my final business, and it has been my business, these last twelve years, to have the time of my life.

It is to those who helped make it so that I now say thank you. To Shinobi, to Maverick and to Mazza, my co-hosts on The Right Side of the Pond, and my true friends; to Prime Time, the man I competed with every week for two years in the LOP Forums; to the long-departed Forum regular Mavsman, for reasons he knows; to Steve, for letting me join him to co-host Aftershock for an entire year; to anonymous, to Skitz and to Uncle Joe, and to all my fellow members of the Forum Class of ’08 (ish); to sheepster, my good friend and co-author of Opposites Detract who I hope finds his way back here; to Chad ‘The Doc’ Matthews, the man who pushed me to go further than I had ever dared; to SirSam and The Implications, to whom I am sure the future of Lords of Pain belongs; to those I must apologise for forgetting to mention explicitly, to my contemporaries, and to all of those writers at LOP who came before me and all of those who will come after; and, of course, to you.

My name is Samuel ‘Plan, and this has been my journey.

Thank you for reading.

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