Why Kofi Kingston is the Face of the WWE Problem

kofi kingstonIn late 2009, Kofi Kingston was finally ready for his breakout moment.

His career arc up to that point included all the typical WWE milestones: after signing with the WWE in 2006 he did a stint in developmental before eventually working his way onto the main roster. By late 2008, he had collected a few mid-card titles (including the tag-team championship with CM Punk), and had shown that his athleticism and work-ethic were some of the best in the company. Hardcore and casual fans loved him. Plus, he had paid his dues.

When October of 2009 rolled around, Kingston had been in and out of the main event picture for most of the year. His brief run-ins with Edge and Chris Jericho made him seem like a star, and a lengthy United States title run further decorated his resume. He was only looking for that one rivalry to put him over the top.

Enter Randy Orton.

Orton was fresh off a WWE Championship reign. His heel-tactics had earned him the ire of the entire WWE Universe, and so a victory for the babyface Kingston would establish Kingston’s status as a main event superstar. Their rivalry was fresh and exciting. Unfortunately, that’s as far as it went. Kofi Kingston got his victory over Randy Orton, but it was a flukey win stuck in the middle of three Orton-dominated matches. Then Kingston went on to spend 2010 in mid-card hell. Despite a few highlight-worthy moments since, and a handful of great matches, his career has never truly recovered.

So what’s the real issue here?  It seems WWE struggles with handling a sustainable build, and often fails to follow-through. Kingston undoubtedly has all the tools of a superstar, but he’s never been spotlighted long enough to create the buzz that follows other main event players. His rivalry with Orton should have been the launching pad to bigger and greater things. Instead, it was the high point of a single storyline. They had nothing serious planned for him once he lost to Orton.

Kingston’s not alone here. CM Punk captured the World Heavyweight Championship TWICE, and still had a hard time getting traction. In fact, he didn’t cement his place atop the roster until after his infamous ‘Pipe Bomb Promo’ and the ensuing rivalry with John Cena. That was when WWE Creative finally gave CM Punk both an angle he could sink his teeth into, and a storyline that kept him in the spotlight.

Fans often complain that if a young gun could just get that one victory, or grab a World Championship that one time, they’d be set. I argue that it’s less about the championship itself, or even the victory, and more about what takes place after.

Remember Zack Ryder? He got his shining moment, winning the United States Championship and celebrating with Punk and Bryan the next night on ‘Raw.’ Now he’s the jobber to the stars. What about Jack Swagger? He climbed the proverbial ladder and is billed as a “former World-Heavyweight Champion.” Today, his career can’t seem to find anything that clicks. Cody Rhodes defeated Rey Mysterio at Wrestlemania over two years ago, and he’s rarely even featured on PPV pre-shows anymore. The examples go on and on.

I’m not arguing all of these guys could, or even should, be headlining pay-per-views. But I think they’re all shining examples of WWE’s short-sightedness. Creative puts a wrestler out there, gives him some momentum, then tucks tail and runs because they can’t immediately sell merchandise like John Cena or Randy Orton. News flash, WWE: Those guys took years of build to become as popular as they are today. And unfortunately, giving a superstar a small push then immediately pulling them from TV for weeks does more to harm a superstar than help them.

As a fan, I want time to invest in a superstar, so I can genuinely care. Give me feuds that build to bigger and better things, and let me see an actual progression of character. I want surprise wins and heartbreaking losses. Take The Miz, for example. He was never supposed to be a WWE main-eventer, or even a real threat for TV time. However, when he split from John Morrison, the WWE writing team laid the groundwork for his rise to success. They spotlighted him on WWE television, gave him mid-card wins, and let his stock rise for a year. Then, in late 2010, he cashed in the Money in the Bank contract for his first WWE Championship reign.

Miz Money in the BankBut notice how things didn’t just stop there. In the subsequent months, they continued to put him in meaningful rivalries, eventually culminating in a Wrestlemania match against John Cena. After he reached the top, they let him stay. It was over a year later before they finally changed The Miz into a face, and it was at a time his popularity was starting to wane. It actually felt like a great refresh.

I think the WWE had the right concept with Ryback. They wanted him to be a beast, and so they let him decimate anybody on the roster. While his feud with CM Punk last year felt premature, it also felt plausible, if only because he looked like the kind of guy that could beat anybody in the company. Fans even started chanting along with him. But then, less than four months later, WWE changed its mind and decided to make Ryback a heel. A guy that was finally starting to get over in popularity was changed to an entirely different character. And, subsequently, his current feud with John Cena feels bland.

WWE is losing viewers on a weekly basis, and people are less interested in the product than ever. When former stars like The Rock or Brock Lesnar have to show up and sell your pay-per-views, something isn’t right with the way you’re handling talent.

Kofi Kingston might never become a world champion, and Zack Ryder might never main-event again. Those are things I’ve learned to accept. But something I can’t accept is a mediocre, warmed-over product, when the WWE has all the right pieces to be so much more.

Between The Ropes Wrestling Podcast Talking WWE Raw, Daniel Bryan – June 5, 2013

btrlogoBrian and Steve talks about the Rampage Jackson conference call and thoughts of him getting in the ring for TNA Wrestling, Raw from Monday night including the awesomeness of Daniel Bryan and his future there, Triple H vs. the McMahons, John Cena against Curtis Axel, the Payback PPV coming up in less than two weeks, show ratings and much more.

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Rampage Jackson Conference Call – June 5, 2013

rampage-jacksonQuinton “Rampage” Jackson talks to the media about his partnership with Spike TV, Bellator and TNA Wrestling, why he is so excited about this new deal, leaving the UFC and why this will be different and better for him, when he will be able to fight next, if he likes the tournament style in Bellator, being a wrestling fan growing up, actually getting in the ring and wrestling for TNA, his goals in fighting now, how much longer he would like to fight for, upcoming movie roles and more.  Also on the conference call are Bjorn Rebney of Bellator and TNA Wrestling President Dixie Carter.

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Video: Preview of World Series of Fighting 3′s Main Event of Jon Fitch vs Josh Burkman

The World Series of Fighting returns next Friday with their third event.

The main event of the evening is a rematch with former UFC welterweight title challenger Jon Fitch (24-5-1) facing off with Josh Burkman (25-9), who is 7-1 since being released from the UFC.

Burkman and Fitch faced each other at UFC Fight Night 4 in 2006 with Fitch winning by submission.

The World Series of Fighting has released a video with a preview of the fight coming up next Friday at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The event can be seen on the NBC Sports Network starting at 11 p.m.ET/8PT.

Check out the video above.

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You can follow me on Twitter @S_Muehlhausen7.

Chael Sonnen vs Shogun Rua Set to Headline UFC on Fox Sports 1 1

August is going to one of the busiest months in the history of the UFC.

The UFC will have two pay-per-view events, UFC 163 and UFC 164 at the beginning and end of the month. Then you have the debut of Fox Sports 1 channel debuting on August 17 with the UFC having two shows that month on the channel.

UFC President Dana White promised one heck of a card for UFC on Fox Sports 1. Now we have a headlining fight.

sonnen

That event will take place on Saturday, August 17 from TD Garden in Boston.

The fight came about when Rua ((21-7 MMA, 5-5 UFC) was supposed to square off with Antonio Rogerio Nogueiranext week at UFC 161, but Nogueira had to bow out due to injury. Sonnen (27-13-1 MMA, 6-6 UFC) then stated on Twitter that he would step in and face Rua.

Sonnen though was not able to get the necessary paperwork to be able to compete in Canada for next weekend. The native of Oregon is coming off a loss to UFC lightweight champion Jon Jones in April at UFC 159. Rua is coming off a loss to Alexander Gustafsson in December at UFC on Fox 5.

Benson Henderson vs T.J. Grant To Headline UFC 164

Ever since the end of UFC on Fox 7, we were wondering when Benson Henderson would step into the octagon.

Photo from UFC.com

Photo from UFC.com

We have a date and a dance partner for the champion.

It was announced on UFC Tonight on Tuesday that UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson will be squaring off against number one contender T.J.Grant in the main event of UFC 164.

That event will be taking place on Saturday, August 31 from Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

Grant (21-5 MMA, 8-3 UFC) became the number one contender when he defeated Grey Maynard by TKO last month at UFC 160.

Henderson (19-2 MMA, 7-0 UFC) made the third defense of his lightweight title when he defeated former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez in April at UFC on Fox 7.

Between The Ropes MMA Podcast – June 4, 2013

rampagebellatorBrian and Steve discuss ‘Rampage’ Jackson signing with Bellator and TNA Wrestling, what kind of an impact he could have for both companies, whether or not he will be wrestling and what his role could be for TNA, what he has left as a fighter, Bellator switching to Wednesday nights on Spike TV, MMA contracts and more.

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Report: Dolph Ziggler Cleared to Wrestle

dolph-zigglerDolph Ziggler has been cleared to get back in the ring and wrestling according to Dave Meltzer of F4WOnline.com.

Ziggler has been sidelined since May 7 when he suffered a concussion after getting kicked in the face by Jack Swagger in a match that was taped for Smackdown.

The World Heavyweight Champion has finally passed an impact test and can once again wrestle.  He will likely square off against Alberto Del Rio on the WWE Payback pay-per-view on June 16.

WWE Raw Rundown – June 3rd, 2013

rawWWE had its hands full with NBA competition last night.  Unfortunately, it failed to rise to the occasion. Read on for my thoughts on last night’s Raw.

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Report: Todd Keneley Dropped from TNA Broadcast Team

toddkeneleyTNA is making a change to its broadcast team with Todd Keneley being removed from the three man booth according to Mike Johnson of PWInsider.com.

According to the report, Keneley was told of the news at this past Sunday’s TNA Slammiversary pay-per-view which was his last assignment with the company.

Keneley joined the company in October of 2012 with the decision to make expand the announcer booth and have him join Mike Tenay and Taz.

Impact Wrestling will now revert back to the two-man booth of Tenay and Taz.  Keneley could be invited back to the company for future projects.

‘Rampage’ Jackson Signs Deal with Bellator, TNA

rampage-jacksonBellator MMA along with TNA Wrestling announced today that Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson has signed a “multi-year, monumental partnership” that includes both MMA and pro wrestling.

As part of the deal, Jackson will also star in a reality TV show on Spike TV leading up to his MMA debut for Bellator.

“Rampage is a true superstar both inside and outside the MMA cage” Bellator CEO & Chairman Bjorn Rebney said. “The partnership that we’ve created with Quinton is unlike anything that’s ever been done in the sports & entertainment arena and Rampage is the perfect athlete/entertainer to carry it off.”

This deal is similar to one that Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal signed with the companies involved last year.  More details on this deal will be announced during a press conference on Wednesday in Los Angeles followed by a conference call with media.

“Rampage is one of the best known MMA fighters competing today,” said TNA President Dixie Carter. “He is a true cross-over star and his talent, big personality and popularity among a wide range of fans make him an extraordinary fit for our company.”

Jackson (32-11), a former UFC light heavyweight champion and Pride champion, left the UFC earlier this year following loses to Jon Jones, Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira.  At that point, his relationship with the UFC and President Dana White had gone south to the point where both parties decided a split was necessary.

Spike TV is hoping that Jackson and his personality will help provide a ratings boost to both Bellator and TNA Wrestling.  It is not known yet what role Jackson will have with the wrestling company.

“We are thrilled to create this opportunity for one of the greatest athletes and personalities in MMA,” said Kevin Kay, Spike TV President. “Rampage is a proven ratings driver who brings incredible star power to both Bellator and TNA.”

Kurt Angle is Great But Could Have Been Greater

On Sunday night at the TNA Slammiversary pay-per-view, Kurt Angle was introduced as the second inductee to the TNA Hall of Fame.  There’s no doubt that Angle deserves the honor and is,  quite honestly, one of the all-time greatest in-ring performers in the history of professional wrestling.

But I couldn’t help thinking about something when it comes to his career: how much greater would it be if he never left the WWE?

While Angle signed with the WWE in October 1998, he didn’t make his official debut until November 14, 1999 when he defeated Shawn Stasiak at the Survivor Series PPV.  He left the company on August 25, 2006 after working out his release.  So, his time there was roughly 6 years and 9 months, filled with great memories of him having matches against the likes of Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Steve Austin and even Shane McMahon among many others.

Several weeks after his time with WWE, he signed on with TNA and made his debut on October 9, 2006 when he confronted Samoa Joe in the middle of the ring on Impact.  So, Angle has now been with the company for 6 years and 8 months.

That’s right – Kurt Angle has almost been with TNA for as long as his entire career with WWE.

I still remember being in the Impact Zone at the No Surrender PPV back in 2006 when everyone was waiting for the big announcement TNA was going to make.  This one was sealed up tight with only a handful of people in on what it would be.  (I even knew someone who was in the know and tried every trick I knew all night long to get out of him but he wouldn’t budge.)

Right before the show went off the air, the video played showing that the former WWE World Champion had jumped ship, making him the biggest signing in TNA history at the time.

The building exploded.  The online wrestling community went berserk.

TNA got a bonafide blue chipper even though he was already beaten and battered, going through the grind of the WWE for the past six years and was physically and emotionally beaten down.

Who cares because he was Kurt Angle, one of the biggest stars in all of wrestling at the time as he was leaving the big pond to make a splash in TNA.

How big has that splash been though?  Sure, he’s been a big deal in TNA.  He’s had plenty of very good matches in the company especially with AJ Styles.

But how many great matches can you point out at a moments notice?  How many memorable moments had he truly has with TNA?

Of course, his debut was fantastic, confronting Samoa Joe and giving him a head butt right between the eyes.

And their match at the 2006 Lockdown PPV was incredible with them meshing an amazing mixture of wrestling and MMA moves in a match that some thought may bring about a stylistic  change to wrestling.

In TNA, Angle has been very good but not overly memorable.  And it’s not because he isn’t good because he has been.  Part of that is because the company hasn’t blown up since his arrival or anyone else’s for that matter.

It seems like every week the company does the same rating as it always does or in the same ballpark.  Some shows are fine, some are not but nothing that really sticks out in the long run.

And Angle has been caught up in this.  He’s in TNA and they’re the #2 wrestling company.  There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just a fact.

But with WWE – the #1 wrestling company in the world – Angle was a big deal.

A really big deal.

He has classic matches like at WrestleMania 21 – a beautiful symphony of wrestling – of WrestleMania 19 where he and Brock Lesnar almost killed themselves in an incredible athletic display.  And there’s others.

Most wrestling fans ever remember the funny Kurt Angle on television and his back and forth with Edge and Christian, Commissioner Mick Foley and even wearing a cowboy hat in conversations with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.  And there are plenty more moments.

Moments that easily come to mind, all from his WWE days.  Mind you, that was at the beginning and peak of his career (which came about very quickly) and was on wrestling biggest stage in the WWE.  So, yes, there is an advantage there.

But with TNA, you don’t have that many specific moments that stand out involving Angle.  Some of that is because it is TNA, a smaller stage than WWE.  Some of that is because Angle – while still very good – has been past his prime and really beaten up.  That’s fair.  You can also make the argument that TNA hasn’t done a good enough job of creating those type of moments for Angle.

Which leads me back to the original question: what if Kurt Angle had never left the WWE?  What if he was just given a break and allowed to freshen the batteries and continue to be a part of the machine?

Like I said, no one disputes how good, even great, Angle has been during his career.  But he would be even greater if he had never left WWE.  There would be more discussion of him being one of the greatest of all-time, a sure-fire WWE Hall of Famer.

He would be on a different level, one of the elite in the pantheon of wrestling greats.

It just wasn’t meant to be.

TNA Slammiversary Predictions and Previews

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TNA Wrestling returns to Pay-Per-View tomorrow night with their third of four events this year Slammiversary emanating from the Agganis Arena on the campus of Boston University. The main event features TNA World Heavyweight Champion and Aces & Eights president Bully Ray defending the title against the Hall of Famer Sting in a match where Sting will never be allowed to wrestle for the title ever again if he loses. Featured on the undercard are TNA Television Champion and Aces and Eights Sgt.-at-Arms Devon defending his title against Joesph Park, a four-way elimination tag team match for the TNA Tag Team Championships as well as the return of the Ultimate X match to determine the TNA X Division Champion. Full match predictions below.

No Holds Barred Match for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship
Bully Ray (c) vs. Sting
Prediction: Bully Ray retains, his reign is still fairly new and at this venture it would speak more to Bully’s legitimacy as champion to take the Hall of Famer out.

TNA Television Championship
Devon (c) vs. Joesph Park
Prediction: Joesph Park in an upset followed by an Abyss cameo. I will firmly admit that this is a total shot in the dark and I wouldn’t be surprised if Devon retained but it would be an interesting turn of events if Abyss’s alter ego won.

Triple Threat Ultimate X Match for the TNA X Division Championship
Kenny King (c) vs. Suicide vs. Chris Sabin
Prediction: King retains. The one thing that is certain is that this will probably end up being one of the highlights of the night with the current X Division champion facing a challenge from two former champions.

Four Way Elimination Tag Team Match for the TNA World Tag Team Championship
Chavo Guerrero & Hernandez (c) vs. Bad Influence (Christopher Daniels & Kazarian) vs. Bobby Roode & Austin Aries vs. Gunner & James Storm.
Prediction: Guerrero & Hernandez retain with the possibility of the new pairing of Gunner and James Storm pulling off an upset but if I have to make a hard prediction I’d go with the champs.

TNA Gut Check Tournament Final
Sam Shaw vs. Jay Bradley
Prediction: Sam Shaw

Last Knockout Standing Match
Gail Kim vs. Taryn Terrell
Prediction: Gail Kim

Six-Man Tag Team Match
Samoa Joe, Magnus, and Jeff Hardy vs. Aces & Eights (D.O.C., Wes Brisco, and Garrett Bischoff)
Prediction: Aces & Eights

A.J. Styles vs. Kurt Angle
Prediction: Styles

Check back on Monday to see how these predictions stack up to the actual results and be sure to catch TNA Slammiversary live on Pay-Per-View tomorrow night at 8 et/5 pt.

WWE Smackdown Rundown – May 31st, 2013

wwe smackdown logoVery entertaining edition of WWE Smackdown last night.  Check out the breakdown below.

The Good:

Opening Match – Kane def. Seth Rollins: Great way to kick off the show. Rollins and Kane worked a slow, methodical match pace, and WWE gave them some real time to do what they wanted. Rollins looked smart here for trying to take Kane out at the knees, and Kane really put the younger star over here by selling as well as he did (this is a true veteran).

I liked the ending of the match, where Bryan interfered and allowed Kane to get the chokeslam and pin. This match made Team Hell No look unified (after a few weeks of dissension), and it was fun to see them steal a page from The Shield. Since Rollins looked so strong throughout the match against a former world champion, I don’t think the loss took anything away from him. Similarly, this continues the feud between the two teams in a logical manner by making Kane seem like a credible threat.

Roman Reigns def. Daniel Bryan by DQ (due to Kane’s Interference): Really loved how this match picked up immediately after the last match – tying these two segments together not only makes sense, but it makes for great continuity on the show (where so many times pro wrestling events feel like a stiched-together circus of events). Reigns looked solid here by showing his strength, and Bryan did a great job (as always) of building momentum in the match and getting the fans behind him.

The ending was fun. Bryan rolled a pin attempt into the ‘no-lock,’ and Reigns used his strength to fight his way to the ropes. I loved how Reigns then provoked Kane, who retaliated with a punch, thus causing the DQ. This is a genuine heel tactic, and a great way to put heat on The Shield. I’m also glad the emphasis was put on Kane causing the confusion here instead of Bryan. Short, but fun, match, and great segment overall.

Curtis Axel def. Sin Cara: Let me start off by praising WWE for not making them wrestle under those stupid Sin Cara lights. Paul Heyman did a great job of building up Axel before the match. Seriously, the man could sell a baby kitten as a World Champion. Axel also took the mic and sounded intimidating without turning into a monotone robot (see: Ryback).

Match was quick. Sin Cara got a few botched offensive moves, but Axel quickly shut him down and finished him with the perfect plex. It made him look very strong, and able to quickly adapt. I think this is good for his build. He needs more easy wins like this against lower and mid-card talent, while brushing shoulders with the big boys.

Big E Langston def. Alberto Del Rio: Decent back-and-forth. Big E wins after AJ grabs Del Rio which let Big E throw him into a ring post. The match was only OK (not as good as their other two outings), but does a lot for Big E’s continued momentum.

Ryback dismantled Kofi Kingston: Ryback entered via an ambulance. Is this a thing now? Kofi looked game by attacking Ryback head-on, and not showing any fear. While I question the decision to give Kingston so much offense against Ryback, the ending of this segment sold me on it. Ryback put Kofi through multiple tables, and looked like a monster. The announcers also did a good job by recapping the seriousness of Kingston’s injuries.

Jericho def. Cody Rhodes: Jericho is such a good worker, in great shape, and able to keep up with wrestlers much younger than him. These two put together a fast-paced match. Fun reversals with good near falls. Short but sweet. My favorite match of the night.

Wyatt Family Video: Apparently I missed this Monday night? Kudos to WWE for replaying it here, and for revisiting the promo videos as a way to introduce superstars (I feel like they’ve done a lot less of this in recent years).

Ambrose vs. Randy Orton ends in count-out (The Shield interferes): Ambrose wrestling in the main event is big. He looked like a serious threat here – this is how you build a star (and props to Ambrose for running with the ball). These guys put together an entertaining 10-minute brawl that elevates both men while leaving the possibility open for future encounters.

The Shiled interfered, but then Team Hell No came out to help Orton. I’m hoping this leads to a fruitful Ambrose vs Orton rivalry.

Submission Reversals: I really like the chain wrestling out of submission moves (both the no-lock and cross-armbreaker were broken-up). It’s believable, and creates an air of unpredictability in the match.

Overall Show: While Smackdown has always been the “B show” to Raw (and has become even less important since the brand extension ended), the creative team did a great job here of building an entertaining, wrestling-heavy show. Almost every match had some greater implication behind it, made sense in context of the larger story, and showcased fun in-ring action. No major surprises here, but that’s not always a bad thing.

The Bad:

Damien Sandow “Challenge” Segment: First off, where’d his robe go? I’m not a big fan of the suit. I liked how WWE followed up last week’s segment with another “Ancient Greek Challenge” segment (with a follow-the-ball game), and I thought there were a few really funny lines by both men: Sandow’s “Congratulations – your idiot license is good for another year!” and Sheamus’s “playing with your cup and tiny balls” retort. However, I hate how foolish Sheamus made Sandow look here. Is this a feud? If so, why should we take Sandow seriously?

The Ugly:

Show him your balls chant during the Sandow segment was pretty funny. But, to quote Sheamus, “I don’t think anybody wants to see that.”

Sin Cola: Apparently this trends a lot on Twitter, as a way to both make fun of Sin Cara and confuse the masses (people asking what ‘Sin Cola’ is just keeps it trending). Either way, I approve.