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IN LAIMAN’S TERMS #346 – Thoughts on RAW – 1-29-18
1. It was the third night in a row of wrestling, and I was rather distracted. At 10:00PM I was going to be on one of my favorite podcasts with people incredibly funny and brilliant, and I just didn’t want to be an embarrassment to the show. Those things factor in, but I also acknowledge that my opinion of RAW in the last year has not been optimistic. I’ll leave that to column writers with clever ranking systems.
2. I also had no desire to write down thought-by-thought what was going on, especially when my favorite person in the world was the first person on RAW and said the exact same thing in the exact same voice that she always says and played Exposition Fairy.
3. I’m from Cleveland. I’ve been a lifelong Browns fan. I’m sort of used to knowing something is going to be bad and yet being remotely optimistic that it’s going to change, yet vaguely paying attention anyway out of loyalty. This week’s RAW in a nutshell.
4. Outside of the first match, I couldn’t focus on anything. I once again acknowledge that following possibly the best weekend of wrestling I’ve ever seen, that might’ve been a near-impossibility, but the show may have had a new look, a new announcer, and a new gender barrier to break, but it still felt like the same phoned-in infomercial.
5. In watching previous years of wrestling, not to mention seeing the NXT roster tear the house down, one of the ideas I’ve mentioned a lot is the sense of urgency and how it’s rarely seen on the televised product anymore. Remembering reading about HBK and how he always wanted to steal the show, and how everyone competing on the card wanted to do that as well… Thinking about WrestleManias and how bringing eyes to the product with a big name gave the other names a chance to steal the show… It can be done. I’ve seen it done.
6. RAW in 2018 does not have more wrestling or better matches than it did, say, 16 years ago, and that’s a time where RAW was both two hours and under a Triple H reign of terror that drove a lot of fans away from the product. What’s the difference though?
7. There’s always the argument about the sense of urgency coming from direct competition, and that of course has to be the case for the 90s boom, but maybe all direct competition doesn’t have to be wrestling-based, right? If you’ve seen your numbers continue to go down, isn’t your competition to get those viewers back, even if you’re not using another wrestling product as a basis of comparison? This weekend of wrestling showed that they know how to give the fans what they want, and I once again acknowledge that anything might have seemed exhausting because of the very real burnout effect, but that doesn’t mean that it should feel like such a chore.
8. Three hour RAWs were once a big deal. It meant they had so much jam-packed into two hours that they couldn’t possibly contain it and they had to make it three. Now, three hour RAWs are so tedious that they even give Hulu a version that’s half as long. They’re seriously able to go “factoring in commercials, RAW is about two hours twenty, so we can take fifty minutes of content and just toss that right aside. You won’t feel like you missed anything.” Can you imagine that on an episode of RAW in 1998?
9. When there is so much content to produce, not everything is going to be a golden shrine of television quality, but it should at least feel like something matters. Two hours used to hold the same, if not more matches, with fresher matchups involving a smaller roster. We also had a narrator in Jim Ross who was able to deliver enthusiasm for anyone, from Stone Cold to Funaki. Why should today be any different?
10. The modern audience has changed. New media needs to be engaged. What was considered appropriate for television in the 90s is no longer reasonable. Not making an argument for or against the other, just acknowledging the reality of the situation. But a changing audience does not mean they can’t be engaged. Once again, they’ve demonstrated they can do that with this weekend of wrestling. That was the most clear audience comprehension I’ve seen from them since calling an audible on the YES! Movement.
11. Braun did another “lift a thing and hurt somebody” moment, and it was admittedly cool, even if the placement of the falling set was set up horribly by the camera angle. But those two fought each other last night, and several other times involving falling sets and big breaky things going boom. Was anyone after last night going, “you know what I need? More Braun Strowman and Kane. It’s been like six hours, I could use another fix.”
12. Roman Reigns and Miz wrestled a great, if Russo-ish, midcard match for the Intercontinental title that of course Roman wasn’t winning back because Reigns/Lesnar has been telegraphed more than a Big Show/Kane double-elimination spot in a Royal Rumble. That hasn’t stopped these matches from being good, but when you’ve had that match multiple times recently and expect it to still be fresh? No. We’ve seen this. Repeatedly. Recently. Remember a while back when a main event involved some combination of Jericho/Owens/Reigns/Crossfit Jesus for something like eight straight months? With a roster that can easily fill three different shows and then have other internet-specific shows to fill in time before the live ones start, how is creating fresh matchups so difficult?
13. Titus Worldwide faced the Bar, because they’d beaten them twice recently and got a tag title shot. But once again… Third time in three or four weeks? Do you see what I’m getting at here? Have you looked at the roster page? How can this kind of repetition be possible in an age of unprecedented roster depth?
14. Finn Balor facing Cena was fine. Nice follow-up to their interaction in the Rumble, fine. Cena winning, fine I guess. The inconsistent booking of Balor continues, where one week he’s palling with DX and seeming like a featured star and the next he’s losing to a guy who has wrestled two matches in the last six months or so. I get it, Cena adding to a main event adds credibility and potential watchers, but did it have to be at the expense of someone trying to push past the cusp into main-event matches? Maybe. I don’t know and I don’t pretend to know.
15. What I do know is other sports have adapted to the modern era. They’ve stopped being so resistant to the internet utilization of interest. They’ve tailored programming to cater to different audiences. They’ve adapted modern technology into older games. They’ve found ways to engage with both live audiences and those tuning in. They’re not always perfect, especially when it comes to finding phantom pass interference calls that always seem to occur when Tom Brady is on the team, but I digress. The officiating in the NFL and WWE is nearly as equal in consistency, but at least WWE parodies itself with that inconsistency.
16. Finally, it comes back around to one simple question: Is RAW meant to be an interesting show in and of itself anymore, or is it meant to be a shill for the WWE Network and whichever of the 36 PPVs is next week?
17. Right now? I don’t think it’s meant to be interesting or captivating, at least in the way we grew up with and loved. PPVs were a lot less accessible back then, and WWE wanted to make people put down money to see new matchups and storyline capstones.
18. Nowadays, they have their own Network. 9.99 is a lot easier to afford than putting down 20-50 bucks for a show, and they know that as well as anyone. Not to mention, PPV paychecks are probably much different now that PPV buys aren’t split the way they used to be.
19. As a viewer and wrestling fan of over twenty years, I’m in the position of both acknowledging the change in generations, technology, and utilization of the Network, but also frustrated that Monday Night Wrestling is not what it was for so long: the flagship show where the most interesting or vital steps to a PPV would take place, trying to entice you to buy that PPV. If they presume that you’re going to see one PPV as much as you’re going to see the other, the sense of urgency in programming is no longer as desperate or as specific to one PPV as it once was. Most people who watched the Royal Rumble are probably going to watch Elimination Chamber because they bought the Network and it’s no longer an individual choice.
20. Perhaps with cable television becoming more and more blended with internet service, networks, and single channels utilizing their own pay-to-play streaming services, the end goal of this is to have all WWE programming on the Network. I support this idea, as I’d love to watch a show without being interrupted by commercials in the middle of matches at least.
21. But will that change their approach to putting on a television show? I don’t know. Can we at least get something that isn’t so paint-by-numbers when it comes to structure, the same matches, and presentation? Maybe. Or maybe that’s what non-PPV shows are now, and the idea of “Anything can happen in the WWE” is reserved for Takeovers and Royal Rumbles. Before Monday Night RAW was “shocker every week” television, the big stars were seen mostly in squash matches or promos, and you had to put down money to see them wrestle matches. This might be a return to that old school mentality in a new era, where you have to be on the Network to see the really interesting stuff.
22. It doesn’t make watching a show for three hours every week more exciting, especially after six hours-plus of wrestling the previous two nights, another live show the next night, and NXT the following one, but it does make sense on multiple levels of outside factors and the changing of a business model. I don’t know where that leaves us, other than to say that it’s not like it used to be, and we may have to adjust our expectations to seek this weekend’s level of engagement and enjoyment only when they’re willing to make that a possibility.
23. And, on a completely unrelated personal note, being five miles away from where the Super Bowl is taking place this weekend has been an absolute nightmare on multiple levels. If I could, I’d take off until the Wednesday after and go sleep in a cabin somewhere for the next week. But, the rent needs to get paid and kids insist they need to eat three times a day, so it is what it is. But, on the other hand, I don’t care who wins the Super Bowl, as long as it means that getting to work won’t take twice as long as usual anymore.
HAM OF THE NIGHT
Braun yelling at Kurt Angle was the sudden burst of yelly, over-the-top energy that HAMs are made for.
2012- Daniel Bryan
2013- Paul Heyman
2016 – Chris Jericho
2017 – The Miz
1-8-18 – Woken Matt
1-15-18 – Woken Matt
1-22-18 – AJ Styles
1-27-18 – Adam Cole/Corey Graves
1-28-18 – The Hurricane
1-29-18 – Braun Strowman
IN LAIMAN’S TERMS #345 – Thoughts on Royal Rumble 2018
1. I may have to start writing in this style. This weekend of wrestling for me was something I took in completely instead of writing through, and it also gave me time to sleep on what I thought and reflect in the process. Granted, that also means I don’t get something out immediately, but I may have to find that balance. I also like not having to narrate the show in order as it happens, but I know some people read my column as a “Catch-Up,” so it remains to be seen how I go on from here.
2. That being said, I was wondering if my overall feeling for this weekend of wrestling would change with another night’s sleep, enhanced by Nyquil and fever dreams and knowing I had to go back to work despite not being over the fatigue from having the flu. It didn’t.
3. I’ve been rather jaded and cynical in the last few months, and probably in the last year or so; at least a majority of the time. And even still, there were things about tonight that made me cringe and mutter, so I can’t deny those, and I’ll get to that. However, this was the most enjoyable weekend of wrestling I can remember in a long time, and I do not say that hyperbolically. Even Aiden told my daughter: “she’s enjoying wrestling, don’t ruin it!” That says something. Aiden is the first person to read my columns and usually commiserate.
4. NXT: Takeover Philadelphia and the 2018 Royal Rumble saw two incredibly loud crowds let the wrestlers know exactly how they felt. And for once, that was not met with sarcasm and trolling. See the 2015 Royal Rumble as the ultimate “fuck you” in regard to who fans wanted to see and what they wanted to enjoy. Anyone who got a pop or fans wanted to see that night was eliminated pretty much right away. Daniel Bryan’s was especially notorious, given that it was timed to coincide with Goldust’s Titan Tron reading “Shattered Dreams.” While I can relate to wanting to be snide and mess with people on occasion, mocking your own customers for not liking what they’re seeing was a bit much.
5. This weekend felt nothing like that. I may go out on a limb to say it, but it seemed like the show was tailored toward where they were. Normally, that is only done in the form of “go local sports team/your local sports team sucks!” There’s a reason they’re called “cheap” pops.
6. The idea of an underdog story, in a city famous for one, albeit fictitious, was played out with Johnny Gargano. And much like Rocky Balboa, Johnny didn’t win, but was met with a deserved standing ovation that had echoes of the 2003’s Royal Rumble title match. Hopefully the uncomfortable twinge of thinking about moments like that doesn’t also hold true in the future.
7. It hasn’t been since WrestleMania 30 where the presentation of the older guard hanging on to their spot against the newer generation of superstars was directly confronted. Or, unlike this past Survivor Series, confronted in a manner that didn’t see them dismissed from any consequential regard. This matters so much, because in 2014 when they seemingly passed the torch, a few months later they panicked and reverted back to Cena/Orton/Lesnar as the primary focus. Yes, we’ve seen Roman Reigns, and to a lesser extent AJ Styles, receive some focus, but the distinction should be prevalent in everyone’s minds. It would’ve surprised absolutely no one in that building to see Roman Reigns win again, despite being in the same building where even the Rock couldn’t get him a pop.
8. AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, the Usos, Shelton, and Gable all made the first hour of the show pretty enjoyable. I vaguely listened to the pre-show because I was falling asleep all day, but I wouldn’t miss what once was my favorite wrestling event of all time, even if every one of them since 2013 had left me feeling empty inside; at minimum in regard to the winner.
9. My major criticism of the main shows in the last few years has been that they didn’t utilize storytelling. In the previous column on Takeover, I remarked on how every match had a story being told and weren’t rehashes of the same matches we’ve seen time and time again. Now, was the feeling of freshness because I’ve avoided Smackdown Live since their non-subtle burial at Survivor Series? Possibly. But I still came away from each of those matches feeling like an individual story had been told on its own, rather than just minimally progressing through a never-ending series of confrontations and storylines. That matters.
10. AJ Styles feels like a big deal. He feels like a special attraction who is still in, if not his prime, then at least his better days are not all behind him. Given the miles he’s put on his in-ring odometer, that is surreal. And yet here he rises to be the golden standard of WWE performance. If someone needs to have a good match, they’re put with AJ Styles. See: Finn Balor, TLC 2017.
11. The Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn best friendship does not feel contrived. The KO/Jericho one was entertaining to watch, but there was never that true notion of “these guys are real friends.” Having Sami turn and become besties with KO was an amazing decision that only helps enhance KO’s case of “C-O-N-SPIRACY!” Where does that go, after Shane laughed off what the ref did, and Sami’s insertion into the Royal Rumble amounted to nothing? Shane and Daniel Bryan will play a large role in determining that outcome, but I love that I care about knowing what that outcome will be.
12. Tag team wrestling is getting a focus again. As I stated in #344, I watched pretty much every Rumble from 1999-2012 in the prior four days due to barely being able to move from the couch, and from wanting to avoid the more recent ones. Facebook Memories reminded me that I reviewed last year’s as a “boring dumpster fire,” and I stand by that. However, despite being ridiculously overbooked, the value of the tag division in the year 2000 cannot be understated. When even the Hollys and the Mean Street Posse had notable feuds, that spoke volumes of both the depth and quality of that tag team division.
13. Both members of American Alpha were in tag matches last night, and, possibly coincidentally, both of them lost. Breaking them up was a huge mistake. You could’ve pulled off bringing Alpha to RAW and having Angle manage them without having to acquire one and not the other. It’s been done. And if you were insisting on pushing Jason Jordan to the moon immediately, it could’ve still worked. The reuniting of the Shield did not take away from Roman’s main event presence, and neither would that have. Jordan’s gimmick of being annoying and opportunistic (no Edge) is magnificent, and shows what calling an audible can do for a star when it’s not getting the reaction they wanted (and their name isn’t Roman Reigns.)
14. Now that the clean sweep took place, with the Uso’s owning their (well-deserved) place as the pinnacle of the tag division, now I can see a Randy Orton-Legend Killer-esque movement take place where they may even call in tag teams of yesteryear to work with them, and to prime them up for a WrestleMania tag match with… I don’t know who yet, perhaps Authors of Pain or somebody like that, but there is value in showing that a team is the best, and utilizing past talent to emphasize that. Shelton Benjamin’s performance did a great job to communicate that, and he still has plenty left in the tank to make a midcard run or two. I can see Bobby Roode benefitting from working with a Shelton Benjamin in a title program.
15. When the Rumble came on third, my reaction was “already?” But I get it. The women were getting the main event, and that matters so much. It also had to be spaced from the other Rumble, and no matter what, the other two matches were going to be cooldown matches, so that was a well-designed card. If I have to see Crossfit Jesus wrestle the Bar one more time, I may scream loud enough that a crowd would notice during a Vickie Guerrero pop. Does CFJ go into a feud with Jason Jordan here, finally giving the guy a decent place to work with a main-eventer without it being a result of his storyline Dad? Maybe. As long as it’s not The Bar, I don’t care. Well, I do, but just not the Bar, please.
16. The Royal Rumble in the last few years hasn’t felt like a vehicle to put over on-the-cusp stars in need of one last push to send them to the main event, but rather like Hell in a Cell or Elimination Chamber-named PPVs. “This is the one that’s up this month, so I guess this is who wins.” Three of the previous four winners were three of the four members of Evolution. In the mid-2010s. That is not sustainable if you’re trying to build a future worthy of watching.
17. This Royal Rumble match was everything I was hoping a Royal Rumble could be again. The surprise debuts/returns were well-executed and well-handled. Several NXT stars participated and weren’t treated as minor leaguers or jokes. Cien and Adam Cole both were presences. We saw the comedic return of the Hurricane, and my first words were “oh please try to chokeslam Cena.” Wish granted. Rey Mysterio looked like he borrowed Skynet technology and came back looking like a member of the Smackdown Six and not the guy who got booed for the crime of being “Not Daniel Bryan” in 2014.
18. I have to take one thought to just state this: HOLY SHIT IS RUSEV OVER!
19. Rusev and Balor both got somewhat of Chris Jericho-2003 treatment (I told you, I’ve been watching Rumbles.) They started off, and both lasted a good chunk of time. But once again, at no point in this Rumble did the crowd seem toyed with, or their wants and expectations treated as trivial, save for possibly Corey Graves making remarks about how the “internet reacted.” It’s 2018, the internet fanbase is no longer a small, vocal percentage. It is (and should be legally) considered a utility with its literacy being practical in the modern age. WWE can live in Nostalgia-Land all they want, but this is the reality of this era; both in wrestling and in humanity in general. Comparing what it was like to even ten years ago is irrelevant; this is reality.
20. The Old Guard vs. The New Generation (I know they’re not “young”, not the point) highlighted the final six of the Royal Rumble, seeing a 2005-like “line in the sand” moment where Orton, Cena, and Mysterio stood off with Balor, Nakamura, and Reigns. However, the second one that was utilized, Balor/Nakamura and Cena/Reigns was even more brilliant, because it showed Cena and Reigns being willing to work on the fly and play the heel roles. I’ve been saying this for years: work with the reactions you’re getting instead of muting the mics and pretending it’s otherwise. That’s what used to make wrestling fun, and used to make your reaction felt like it meant something. Maybe it won’t matter in the long run, but for a weekend, it felt like it did.
21. Even some of the earlier spots were brilliant. Perfect use of your Heath Slater. Baron Corbin throwing a tantrum made way for the first people in the Rumble to suffer at the hands of someone who could really use DDP in their lives. The Hurricane’s spot was great. The pancake spots were great. Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt looking like a team briefly was great.
22. Shinsuke Nakamura winning was awesome, and the last moments of the match were reminiscent of Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker or Chris Jericho and Sheamus making a match out of the final two people in the Rumble. That was a clinic, tensions were maximized, and the crowd got to see who they wanted to win actually win. It might’ve meant even more if we hadn’t had that awful Jinder Mahal feud, but that’s irrelevant here. The guy the “Smark City” cheered for won. Why catering to a big city’s crowd was for so long seen as bad business, I don’t know, but when you have to call back 2354 old stars to pop the viewership to five million, it’s time to not taunt the paying members of a live audience. I hesitate to say it was the best Rumble match I’ve ever seen, as hyperbole can strike even those aware of it, but it was certainly the most entertaining in a long JBLdamn time. And that’s what we want out of our wrestling, isn’t it? Even if you’re not a Nakamura fan, isn’t it nice to not see a John Cena, Roman Reigns, Randy Orton, Triple H, Batista as the one going to WrestleMania? It’s someone who hasn’t won the world title yet, and for whom the Royal Rumble could be a final springboard. Then we get the announcement that it’ll be Shinsuke and AJ Styles for the title? Hot damn.
23. Everyone knew Lesnar was retaining and Kane was taking the fall. Even as Kane being my all-time favorite wrestler, I really don’t want to see this anymore. I’ll stick with my 1997-2002 nostalgia YouTube watches. Or even 2011 Team Hell No run, but this was just an ugly trainwreck. Kudos to Strowman for taking what looked like a fully stiff punch after the knee, and Lawler treating the replay system like it’s 2000 again and it’s Taka’s faceplant elimination at least distracted from the slow, relatively uninteresting, fully predictable world title match.
24. The tag match? Whatever. Hopefully it finally ends the CFJ/Bar matches, that’s all I care. Well placed on the card, that’s about the best I can give it.
25. I’ll also say this immediately to get it off my chest: I can go without ever hearing Steph on commentary again. I can listen to my daughter make 300 “Oh!” reactions, I don’t need it there too. Plus, after hearing her Vince impression during every single preview of the Royal Rumble in full, as I was expecting from the moment it happened, it was overkill.
26. Speaking of commentary though, what was up with Corey Graves going after Sasha Banks? Like, that wasn’t even subtle, it was straight-up verbal bomb and verbal bomb. Did I miss something?
27. The Rumble match as a whole was everything I hoped it would be. Balancing the mix of the current roster, a few up-and-comers, and nostalgic returns made it well-paced, well-placed, and everyone (with two exceptions) got just the right amount of highlighting.
28. Seeing Trish, Lita, Molly, Jacqueline, and a few other Attitude Era stars hit their spots and show they could still go was magical. Lita especially as my all-time favorite scared me with that moonsault, but she did not look out of place. The ones from the Divas era, though? Let’s just say K2 looked out of her element among wrestlers.
29. My biggest complaint of the match was not only having both Bellas (along with the worst entrance music in history accompanying the second), but having them be two of the final three. Of all the alliances you could’ve put against Asuka to overcome… Those two? Two who haven’t been around in a year? Two who have nothing to gain? Why? Because it’ll make a good Total Divas episode? It was out of place seeing someone as invincible as Asuka have to pretend that taking shots from Brie and Nikki was in any way credible. It’s not even like she was dealing with fatigue, having been entry 25.
30. The Chris Jericho-2005 effect was well used for both Becky Lynch and Sasha. Even bringing things to a halt to have Vickie scream at everyone had its place. I realize she wasn’t GM of RAW so that segment on RAW 25 didn’t mention her, but she deserved to have her moment. Talk about someone who made something out of nothing.
31. Asuka winning was not a surprise, but it was also not unwelcome. Asuka and Shinsuke winning on the same night was a surprise, given how Tito has detailed WWE’s use of Japanese wrestlers over the years. Perhaps that NJPW connection with Chris Jericho going over there was not just a one-off, especially with the mentions of stories overseas and outside the WWE sphere for anyone from Finn Balor to AJ Styles to Brock Lesnar. It’s not the world where nobody knows wrestling outside of WWE exists anymore; embrace the internet generation, WWE. You’ll be better for it.
32. I know next to nothing about MMA/UFC, but I do realize how big of a deal it is to get someone like Ronda Rousey. Granted, doing the exact same point to the Mania sign was a bit much, but kudos to also getting the use of that song for her. This is a good use of media visibility, as opposed to bragging about how many times you’re mentioned in the media without checking to see if it’s good first. (H/T to WhatCulture for picking up on that bad CBSSports review of RAW being shown). We all know they love to fellate themselves over what trends, how many fans they have on their Facebook page, and when they’re mentioned outside of their own media, but I do not see any harm in bringing in someone who was very recently well recognized and respected for her work in MMA. While I don’t like Brock Lesnar and think that having a mostly invisible champion for RAW has done them no favors, I get the credibility aspect, even if you’re trying to garner it for a staged confrontation. The appearance of credibility matters too when trying to put on a show, as seen when seeing Kelly Kelly badly attempt to fulfill a headscissors. The suspension of disbelief can be suspended for reasons other than match quality, and it can be enhanced for outside credibility and circumstances.
33. Overall, I had fun watching wrestling. I was excited when Shinsuke won and not just because Roman lost. Outside of the cooldown between Rumbles, I was engaged, entertaining, and fully invested in the stories and their outcomes. I haven’t enjoyed wrestling like this in at least a few years. Possibly WrestleMania 30 was the last time I enjoyed a show this much, but I feel it’s important to emphasize that wrestling burnout was a real possibility for me. I watched wrestling for four days because I had nothing else to do, and two lengthy, well-executed shows restored my faith a bit in the modern era to not be an endless series of the same matches with commercial interruptions and cheap shills. I had fun, and a good amount of it.
HAM OF THE NIGHT
I’ll say the Hurricane for trying to chokeslam John Cena. It made me laugh. That, and who knows when I’ll get the chance to acknowledge one of the all-time HAMs again?
2012- Daniel Bryan
2013- Paul Heyman
2016 – Chris Jericho
2017 – The Miz
1-8-18 – Woken Matt
1-15-18 – Woken Matt
1-22-18 – AJ Styles
1-27-18 – Adam Cole/Corey Graves
1-28-18 – The Hurricane
IN LAIMAN’S TERMS #344 – Thoughts on NXT: Takeover
1. Full disclosure: I’ve been down with the flu since Wednesday. I thought I was just nervous about consultation for major surgery at the Mayo Clinic on Wednesday, but turns out it was Influenza A. If you follow my work or anything, you know that I put a ridiculous amount of time and work into things I do, and it’s very difficult for me to take time off. Because of this, I’ve spent a lot of the last few days watching most of the Royal Rumbles from the last 20 years, in between fever dreams anyway, and last night I caught Takeover. I wasn’t going to write a column about it, but having sat with the reaction overnight, I feel the need to.
2. I keep wondering if wrestling has passed me by. If everything that got me into wrestling is gone because I’ve been watching for over 20 years, or if it’s not marketed toward me anymore… Whatever the reason may be. I don’t want to keep being jaded and cynical because I’m not a cynical person, but the main televised product makes that incredibly difficult at times.
3. I’ve learned a few things, having watched most of the Rumbles since 1999 with all this unexpected free time. For instance, the 1999 Royal Rumble was booked horrendously for timing, having several different points with a wrestler standing around doing nothing. The 2000 Royal Rumble match was as overbooked as the WrestleMania card turned out to be, with two different teams of wrestlers interfering more than once! The people in the crowd during both? Spending more time trying to get on television, constantly doing the DX chops in the aisles and writing stupid shit on their signs. But the reactions? Night and day compared to what I see on a regular basis currently.
4. The difference seems to be that the stories back then, from top to bottom, were more engaging, relatable, and accessible. The key to Stone Cold’s success was that nearly everyone could relate to wanting to flip off your boss. The difference between that boss and one of our current ones is the former was willing to be vulnerable, lose sometimes, and show the slightest bit of vulnerability. Meanwhile, the current one will take credit for a revolution that wrestlers did, demonstrated as so by interrupting a brawl to make an announcement and have everyone suddenly get along like your strict aunt just showed up and you’ve got pot in the house.
5. So what does this have to do with Takeover? Everything.
6. NXT’s roster has been raided repeatedly, albeit somewhat pointlessly, given the lack of consistency between the brands. “Oh, this is what was working down there? Yeah, let’s do none of that, throw you on the main roster, and see what happens. Hey Bobby Roode, know how you’re doing well as an arrogant heel? Here, be a good guy but keep the word. The entrance, that’s what people like, right?”
7. Last night, I watched the matches at NXT: Takeover. Most of them involved wrestlers I either didn’t know or didn’t know well, and not a second of that mattered. I don’t just think it’s the characters and stories that used to be told that grabbed the attention of audiences; it was the stories that the matches told as well.
8. Other than their constant need to promote when they’re mentioned on a media outlet, what has felt so different about the televised product lately is that it feels over-rehearsed. The show starts with the same line of dialogue. The matches go into commercial with the same cliches. The same wrestlers face each other every week. There’s no sense of urgency, no story to be told, because even if you’re telling a great story, telling it for the twelfth straight week is going to make people care a lot less about it. Unless you put it in space and change the character names; then it’s totally okay.
9. Every match last night told a story. Every match last night had a clear direction. The role of each wrestler was concise and executed well. Ember Moon fought against a dangerous submission artist. The Authors of Pain had to deal with their tactics not working anymore. Johnny Gargano was the classic underdog. None of it needed to be said. And the announcers narrated the match instead of constantly talking about Twitter or
10. And all of this was taking place in front of Philly fans; a group not exactly well known for their favorable responses to what they’re being shown. Will the Rumble have the same reaction tonight? I have my doubts.
11. If we break down the night as a whole into two matches: Black/Cole, and Gargano/Cien, we’re able to clearly see the differences between the televised product and what we saw last night, and at least for me, it was a stark contrast that demonstrated why I don’t connect with what is put out on RAW every week nearly as much anymore.
12. Black/Cole built a story out of two different psychologies coming to clash. Things that used to work for them didn’t, and given that I haven’t seen many of either’s matches, that’s a lot to communicate without any words, and they did so successfully. They built it brick by brick. In writing classes, they sometimes tell you that a story is like carrying bricks in a backpack up a hill. Every detail you add to the story is a brick you have to carry. When you get to the top of that hill, are you going to be glad you carried all those bricks up with you? In this case, that story used the perfect amount of bricks, and laid the trail as they went. Shit, Philly fans cheered for a wrestler being so badass that he threw a weapon away!
13. It’s also quite possible that having hung out with Johnny Gargano once upon a time and following him since the very beginning of his career made me get caught up in the moment, but there are other wrestlers I’ve known and loved for a long time who do not have this effect. The underdog story was there, but then he and Cien went through every single different kind of way to have a wrestling match that I could possibly imagine, and then some.
14. I was blown away by the match, both in its wrestling storytelling, and by how no wrestler ever got too far ahead or was left too far behind. Everything balanced out quickly, and brought our focus back to wondering who was going to pull out the victory. Sometimes a match likes to proclaim itself as being a collision between the Unstoppable Force and the Immovable Object. Last night, it was a collision between two equally talented and motivated wrestlers just trying to be the one who was just a bit better; with one fighting against everything he’d been through to get there. I found myself quoting JR during the Taker/Hardy match of 2002: “come on kid, make yourself famous!” I’ve been sucked into the story of a match maybe a handful of times like I had this one, and I admit that may have been my bias of having been a longtime Gargano fan, but that wouldn’t have been sustainable if this match hadn’t been that good.
15. That match showed me that loving wrestling is still possible. That match showed me that given the right story being told and presenting it in the right way, I am not too jaded or cynical to still love wrestling for the very reasons that I have over twenty-plus years. It didn’t need gimmicks, it didn’t need social media, it didn’t need the narrators reminding me to use a certain hashtag; it just executed a professional wrestling match to perfection. It told a clear story from beginning to end, just like the show did, and even though the guy I was cheering for didn’t win, I rode every wave of emotion the entire way through, and it left me feeling satisfied, entertained, and I wanted to see more.
16. Also, as I tweeted last night…
— Marissa Alexa McCool (@RisMcCool) January 28, 2018
17. Maybe neither guy will ever main event WWE. Maybe I got caught up in the story for reasons other than the match. But I was entertained by a wrestling show, and I’d been watching wrestling for the better part of the previous three days. JBLdammit, I WANT TO LIKE WRESTLING! I don’t like being the person that complains. I don’t want to have negative reactions to shows. I. want. to. like. this. stuff!
18. It was also a really bizarre full-circle moment of seeing Ray Rowe in the crowd. Ray Rowe is one of the few wrestlers I ever saw who on the very first match I watched of theirs had me completely captivated, and not just because he had a Cleveland gimmick. Interestingly enough, the first time I saw Johnny Gargano wrestle, he got an upset win in a tag team match over… you guessed it, Ray Rowe. Fandom is weird sometimes. I’m really looking forward to seeing Rowe wrestle on the big stage. I saw him wrestle Samoa Joe in a cage a decade ago. Finally, he’s here.
19. Takeover held my attention the entire show. The wrestling was great. The presentation was great. The stories were great. And JBLdammit, it was FUN!
20. Maybe the presentation of NXT and RAW/SD will never be on the same page. Maybe those two things can never possibly be congruent. But perhaps it’s worth it to at least get on the same page and try what’s been working for NXT: Takeovers, despite constant talent raids from the other two rosters. If nothing else, it’d be a chance to see something different for a change.
I’ll be back with the Rumble tonight.
HAM OF THE NIGHT
Corey Graves’ jacket and matching bow tie had it, but then Adam Cole made this face.
2012- Daniel Bryan
2013- Paul Heyman
2016 – Chris Jericho
2017 – The Miz
1-8-18 – Woken Matt
1-15-18 – Woken Matt
1-22-18 – AJ Styles
1-27-18 – Adam Cole/Corey Graves