Saturday, 19 April 2014

WWE Superstars TV Report – 17th April 2014

The show opened up with the most beautiful Ultimate Warrior montage. Genuinely moving. If you haven’t seen it already, the WWE’s tribute documentary to Warrior is tremendous and his sit down interview on his DVD is equally fascinating.

Big E v Titus O’Neil

Weirdly it feels like both of these superstars are going nowhere, despite Big E being WWE Intercontinental Champion. They’re both huge, strong, charismatic, good workers but there’s nothing for them right now.

They go back and forth (Big E actually leap frogs Titus in the early going – Titus is 6’ 3”) and then Big E hits a flying shoulder barge before getting caught in a scoop slam by Titus. Titus dominates with boots and then amazingly picks Big E up and flings him to one side like a rag doll. Crazy how strong these two men are.

Leg drop from Titus leads to a two count before we go to a rear chin lock. The crowd chant for Big E who powers out of the rest hold before being slaughtered by an enormous meat hook clothesline. Another two count and Titus goes back to a chin lock. Not sure Titus quite knows how to pace a match just yet but he certainly gets heat from the crowd who are behind Big E.

Titus dominates and taunts Big E before E turns things around and hits a side suplex and his big splash. The straps go down and he hits the Big Ending for the pin.

Strange little match in some ways. Big E got beaten up for four minutes until he got angry enough to turn things around.

Winner: Big E via pinfall in 4:57

Raw Rebound this week showed The Usos against Batista and Orton plus an Adam Rose video and the Bray and Cena promos from Monday.

Los Matadores (w/ El Torito) v 3MB (w/ Heath Slater)

Deep sigh. This match again on Superstars. I’ve lost count of how many times it’s been the longer match on the show. It’s normally fun, entertaining and finishes strongly but there are so many other guys on the roster doing nothing every week.

Drew and Diego start things off. Clean shaven Drew is still weird to me. He has a good look and certainly works well but he’s stuck in lower card tag team mediocrity. Tilt-a-wirl headscissors on Drew leads to a two count; side Russian leg sweep gets Drew down again but he gets over and tags in Jinder. Quick tags between the two until Drew sweeps Diego’s leg, he goes to the floor selling it and we head to a Total Divas ad.

Jinder and Drew work over Diego after the commercial (although Tom Phillips on commentary keeps calling him Fernando). Eventually, Diego fights back with a neck breaker and an elbow blocking McIntyre. Drew finds a way out again and continues to work over Diego’s left leg. Diego sells like he has torn his ACL until the ref intervenes. Drew uses every trick in the book to hurt the leg, using the ropes and quick tags with Mahal who smacks the knee outside on the apron. A pair of near falls from Mahal leads to a double team suplex off the ropes from 3MB. The crowd start to really get behind the frustrated Diego who is kicked and stomped repeatedly. It is really quite brutal, actually.

Diego eventually blocks, plants a DDT on McIntyre whilst hopping on one leg. He crawls to make the tag and Fernando gets the heat and runs wild. He does a springboard moonsault on to Jinder, covers him but Drew makes the save. The action breaks down as Drew gets thrown outside and Jinder and Fernando ‘collide’ in the ring. Possibly the worst collision I’ve ever seen.

Nice finish here. Torito and Heath are both cheerleading until El Torito crotches Heath on the top turnbuckle. Distraction allows Fernando to reverse Mahal’s attempts and he hits a legsweep DDT for the win.

Winners: Los Matadores via pinfall in 7:50

The show ends with a montage video to hype Evolution v The Shield and Kane v Daniel Bryan and the end of the 3 on 11 match from Raw.

Friday, 18 April 2014

WWE – Ultimate Warrior: The Ultimate DVD Collection

Timing is everything in wrestling. When Jim Hellwig decided to listen to those around him on the body building circuit to look into working for a wrestling promotion, leaving his plans to become a chiropractor on hold, he would become a character like no other in an era of professional wrestling that saw characters who were more comic book caricatures than they were tough guys playing a slightly augmented version of themselves.

And yet as I write this, and as I was watching this DVD collection, it seemed that once again that timing was eerie. Of course, watching any figure’s retrospective so close to their death, it is easy to read too much into things, but at times this really feels like a requiem; a peace-offering to make amends between both parties.

The accompanying musical score is beautiful, often soaring. Watching without knowing, you could easily assume that you were watching a piece about a man who was no longer alive when the company had put it together. But watching knowing that when he died things were peaceful in his life makes such a difference given how confrontational and inciting WWE’s previous DVD on Warrior had been.

WWE’s DVD releases like this tend to take one of three formats: the sit down interview, followed by matches (see Triple H’s recent release); the matches without the sit down (a la Goldberg’s) and the sit down interspersed with matches. This release follows the latter and frustratingly just gets going on a topic only to cut it short as we’re whisked off back to the 80s for a squash match. Warrior is as direct as you’d expect so, when he’s cut off, it feels like there’s more that we’re not being told. And of course there often is. It is visible at times that he is withholding things, choosing not to go into detail or being protective of himself or the company.

What Warrior has to say here is rarely new, if ever, but hearing him say it is still a pleasure. He talks with great verve about his time in wrestling and really very clearly felt strongly about what his character was and how it should have been handled and performed. If you weren’t to know much about pro wrestling, listening to him wouldn’t be too far removed from a method actor or performance artist talking about their stage craft. Evidently, he enjoyed immersing himself in the role of the Ultimate Warrior and loved the challenge of having to decipher what the character would and should do in any given situation or programme.

Matches here include Ultimate Warrior against Hogan, Slaughter, Savage, Honky Tonk Man, Harley Race, Undertaker, André the Giant, Mr Perfect, Rick Rude, Triple H and Ted DiBiase.

The story starts with the chiropractor, turned body builder, who became Mr Georgia in 1984 and was a junior national level bodybuilder. We’re told about working for Turner, training with Red Bastien – training in a ring “that had been set up in a racket ball court” – and Warrior notes that he “wasn’t smartened up.” He was given ten hours training and then he and Sting sent out fliers. They were the ‘Freedom Frighters’; they were naïve and green but they knew that they wanted to be like the Road Warriors in terms of their style, their face-painted look and the way they carried themselves.

Watching the Ultimate Warrior get over is tangible on this collection. No doubt his uncanny resemblance to Kerry Von Erich helped in the early days where a heel run was soon turned face by the fans. Examination of the early matches here reveals how good he eventually was given how weak he was from the outset - not just in terms of his wrestling but as a whole character; talker and performer. Warrior says that this happened because of “practice” and puts over working with so many great teachers in the early days with WWF – they had called him to work in Tyler, Texas in 1987 and before he knew it he was “given a stack of plane tickets” and was “on the road for 43 days straight.”

Although you never get a sense that he was one of the boys, he certainly gives some people their dues. He praises Bobby Heenan, “he was my age then – he was older, not old […] he took amazing bumps and was always keen to give them a good show,” (a disturbing quote when you read it now) but he particularly explains how much he enjoyed working with Randy Savage, who he saw as very similar to himself, “working with Randy was the best.” He notes how their characters were so out there that you could really do anything with them and it wouldn’t be considered too odd. He recalls being in an 8 by 10 room, doing promos over and over, “for 5 hours” and that Randy was just the same, “he was very disciplined […] he’d get wired on coffee […] it was inspiring how he lived the gimmick.”

The amplified character that was ‘wired’ is really how we view that character when watching him today. Kids will have seen a superhero but to adults, they were watching a man who, as he notes, “rarely got home” and “survived on 3 hours sleep per night.” He recalls liking the challenge of being pushed like that and felt that Vince knew that he could be counted on. As soon as he’d won the title, though, within a few days he remembers thinking, “now, what next?”

Despite this ill at ease feeling and, especially given his reputation, he certainly comes across as reasonable and amenable when given the time to talk about his career. He remembers André the Giant fondly, “he was always in a good mood […] he wasn’t moody like people say. He had fun with the business; he had no patience for people who didn’t want to enjoy what they were doing in life.” He claims to have liked many ideas and storylines that he was a part of: dropping the belt to Sergeant Slaughter during the Gulf War; the retirement match with Randy; being put in a coffin by the fresh-faced Undertaker about which he quips, “was the most rest I’d had in months.”

The only times where we’re given a glimpse into his notoriously difficult side are when he talks about going against Vince. For WrestleMania 6, when he got to the Sky Dome he said, “it’s a long f***ing way to the ring, man.” But he told them that he wouldn’t be using the karts that they had ready for the performers and after some rather nervy employees being sent to tell Vince, Vince let it go. He says that he enjoyed telling Vince to ‘f-off’.

On leaving the company, for the second time, in 1992 here merely says, “I left […] they brought in Perfect instead.” Then we see a very pregnant pause and a big sigh before he says “and I was gone. I was gone for a long time after that.”

Clearly, steroids are never mentioned but he does touch on a point that most of us remember upon his return after he had left in 1991. We all saw a man who looked half the previous incarnation of the character; some thought he was a different man altogether, an imposter. Warrior looked at himself and said “I needed to get my shit together with my training,” claiming that he would only have “tuna fish and water” from then on.

Towards the end of the documentary footage, he really gets into his stride. His comments on people in the industry and on Hogan and Bischoff would seem to ring true. He notes that promoters would call him about coming out of retirement and “act like they were doing me a favour.” Hogan had contacted him a few times and “he always used the same shtick and the same clichés.” In the end, he came back for a short term deal, for a lot of money but claims that “they [WCW; Hogan, Bischoff] didn’t want to put the energy in to it.”

Amusingly, he notes that “Bischoff would turn up an hour before television and throw around ‘spontaneity’, telling everyone that they needed to be spontaneous” but really nobody knew what they were doing, “they used Turner’s cheque book to get me to turn up and lose to Hulk – I took the money but really I didn’t feel good about it. It was repulsive to me when I finally realised it. If I had really have known it, I would never have gone back for all the money that they gave me.”

Ultimately, hearing Warrior talk with such passion about living and breathing the character of the Ultimate Warrior sours this DVD collection when you realise that in order to become this much-loved, idolised character, he was taking short-cuts that would eventually cut his life short.  But time really means everything to Warrior and feels very much a part of what should be noted about his career.

Overwhelmingly, he was a superstar but one who only had a limited shelf life - watching his promo from Nitro with Hogan, when he returned to the ring in 1998, shows that he didn’t belong in that era. He ends the interview by giving us a sense that he was making a fresh start with the company, turning over a new leaf, and that this was just the beginning. Tragically, his time was about to be up. The fact that he was able to do and say all of this as well as making a Hall of Fame speech, appearing at WrestleMania once more and speaking on Raw before he died seems poetic and just.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

WWE Superstars TV Report – 10th April 2014

This edition of WWE Superstars was dedicated to the memory of Warrior. The picture they used was of him at the HoF ceremony. He truly was a Superstar in the WWF and I guess that this show was originally conceived with people like him in mind.

My word, a lot happened in the space of a week.

Dolph Ziggler v Ryback (w/ Curtis Axel)

Ziggler comes out to kick off the show in front of the hot post-Mania crowd and he really eats it all up. Ryback with Curtis Axel come out – notably to his music, not the new mash up that they’re using as a tag team. Ryback appears to be wearing something out the Rob Van Dam tie-dye singlet collection.

The crowd love Ziggler here, unsurprisingly. Dolph looks tanned, bleached and trim. Ryback tries to get ‘Ryback’ chants going but in the style of the ‘Goldberg’ taunts that fans have largely given up on these days. Really glad that match never happened.

Ziggler works over the left arm goes for a suplex that gets blocked; Ryback tries to reverse it, Ziggler wriggles out and as Ryback tries for a gorilla press, he blocks and hits a sweet drop kick. Ryback launches Dolph into the top turnbuckle and the top rope. He hits a second rope slam, gets a two and we go to a break.

Axel gets involved after the break as Ryback stays in control. We get a small ‘Curtis Axel’ chant for the New Orleans crowd. I have to say, Ryback is getting better – he works over Ziggler with a range of big moves and holds and looks so much better than he first did. Best spot of the match is when Ryback charges at Ziggler in the corner, who dodges, and Ryback goes absolutely flying on to the ring side matted area. Looked so great.

Ziggler takes some control: cross body, punches to the corner, neck breaker but Ryback cuts him off with a spine buster. Two count. Awesome spot next where Ziggler met Ryback on the tope rope where he was planning for another splash; Dolph grabs him and hits a massive X-Factor. So clear that they raised their game this week because they were in front of the post-Mania crowd etc.

After a Ziggler sleeper, Ryback hits the meathook clothesline and gets caught by a drop kick and a big DDT for a near fall. The finish sees Axel distract Ziggler, who was setting up for the Famemasser, so that Ryback can hit the powerbomb followed by the Shellshock for the pin.

Good match. Ryback much better than of old here; Ziggler the perfect foil for him in this context.

Winner: Ryback (w/ Curtis Axel) via pinfall in 8:56

Best Raw Rebound of all time was next. THAT Heyman promo in full, followed by Wyatts v Cena, Sheamus & Big E. Tremendous.

Kofi Kingston v Titus O’Neil

My God. That Kofi spot in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale was just so fantastic.

Kofi out in bright luminous green. Titus has pretty bombastic music but he’s going nowhere. As always with Titus, I’m always acutely aware that if it doesn’t happen soon, it ain’t happening – he’s already in his late 30s. What happens to Darren Young? I’d be worried if I was him.

They had an OK match. Early back and forth leads to them trading big chops – presumably because they knew that it would get a huge Flair pop in front of this crowd. Titus hits two huge back breakers and rag dolls Kofi around. Kofi hits a drop kick off the top rope. For some reason Titus sells a big forearm from Kofi like it was a really big deal so that Kofi can hit the Boom Drop. Trouble in Paradise is cut off (as always) by Titus who merely just sticks his elbow into Kofi’s face.

Finish sees Kofi hit a top rope cross body where he injures his left knee. Unless he does something when he pushes off the ropes, I can’t see how this can be legit but he sells it like its real. Titus just puts him out of his misery for a Clash of the Titus for the pin.

Winner: Titus O’Neil via pinfall in 4:15

We get an Adam Rose promo video next. Kind of reminds me of a character from Spinal Tap, if they had been mildly antipodean or South African. We get an Oculus trailer which looks glossy but essentially another in a long line of mediocre horror flicks.

The show finishes with a Triple H and Daniel Bryan montage to explain the current Shield & Bryan v Evolution & Kane programme.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

WWE WrestleMania XXX Predictions

Tag team four for the WWE Tag Team Championship: The Usos (c) vs. Los Matadores vs. The Real Americans vs. Ryback and Curtis Axel

This should be a fun match but, other than The Real Americans who are splitting soon, there is no heat for any of these teams so it stands to reason that The Usos will win this. There can’t be too many title changes on this show; this would seem to be on that should just keep up the status quo. This will be all pace, should get about 8-10 minutes and should be a safe opener for the ppv.

Six Man Tag Match: The Shield vs. Kane and The New Age Outlaws

There’s no reason for Kane and The New Age Outlaws to win this. The Shield as a babyface unit need to be protected going forward and, more importantly, fans need to believe in them. Nobody believes that these three old guys can defeat these three unbelievable talents. Has there ever been a faster learner than Roman Reigns? Every match The Shield are in is always tremendous, this should be no different.

André the Giant 30-Man Memorial Battle Royal

They’ve done well to build this into something that I’m curious about and excited enough about given that it was announced about 3 weeks ago. In terms of how it turns out as a match will probably not be very good but its more about spots and the climax in these things. Rusev is the bookies pick going in but there are only really a few who could win this. Either a returning star makes it meaningless or a heel wins it and carries the trophy around all year to rub our noses in it. Big Show would seem to be obvious. In this case, I don’t know if that’s what we need. We need obvious later in the show. Sheamus, Ziggler, Miz are other contenders. My pick is Rusev.

Vickie Guerrero Divas Championship Invitational

This is going to be a train wreck but I would guess that they’re taking the belt off AJ Lee unless Punk is still with the company. I don’t have any vested interest in this but I would guess that it will either be a Bella or AJ will retain. The only vaguely interesting thing here will be what they do with Tamina who would seem to be ready to turn on AJ. I pick AJ Lee to retain.

There’s two ways to look at this: Bray wins because he’s a great act, a new heel who needs protecting in order to get over, supposed to be dangerous and has the help of two cronies by his side. They can protect Cena yet still have Bray go over. The other way to look at this is that it’s John Cena and it’s WrestleMania; you can’t have him lose, the kids will cry, surely? But, because it’s not anywhere close to the main event I think Cena’s ought to be doing the job tonight. This Mania ought to be, partly, about looking to the future – Bryan, Rusev, Wyatts, Shield, Usos are all relatively ‘new’ in their eyes. A Wyatt win makes sense and will please most in the building; I still pick Cena.

Undertaker wins here in what I think will be one of the best matches on the show. Wyatt and Cena will be good and Bryan and Triple H will give it a run for its money, but everyone seems to have written this one off. I say that you can’t. If you look at his matches since his return, Lesnar has barely had a bad one. Undertaker is such a safe pair of hands, I think this will go 20 mins given how lacklustre the build has been and how old Undertaker is. If he’s coming back, Punk could interfere here and turn heel to break the streak in what would catapult him to notoriety but I think it’s more likely that he appears at the end somehow. But he’s not coming back, surely?

Daniel Bryan v Triple H (Winner Goes Into The WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match)

Probably going to be the best match on the card. The build has been stupendous, it means something, people are going to care, both are fantastic workers. It has everything you want out of a professional wrestling match. Bryan must win otherwise the end of the show is going to be car crash television. I don’t think anyone disputes that Triple H is going to put Bryan over here, it’s what happens next that matters more. Triple H, don’t forget, has the worst wins record at WrestleMania and in 2014 we don’t need him as the WWE Champion.

WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Randy Orton (c) vs. Batista vs. TBD

What happens here is anyone’s guess. I’m happy that I don’t know how they’re going to do it, I don’t want spoilers. They might pretend that Bryan’s injured and cannot compete and start it as a one on one match. They might have Triple H come in as ref. Vince may get involved. Steph may get involved. We might see Punk, Rock, Austin, Shawn. Who knows? Daniel Bryan wins and wins to put a definite end to a title chase that has now gone on for many, many months. The reaction is going to be nuclear.