Between The Ropes Wrestling Podcast – July 10, 2013

Better late than never – Brian and Steve talk about Raw from Monday night including the debut of the Wyatt Family, Daniel Bryan’s role this week and if he is being used too much, the lead up to the Money in the Bank PPV, Vickie Guerrero out as the Raw GM as well as Matt Morgan getting his release from TNA Wrestling.

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WWE Raw Rundown – July 8th, 2013

Raw SidewaysEntertaining Monday Night Raw tonight. While three hours still feels too long for a weekly wrestling show, the show had a number of great hooks, and a solid final build towards Money in the Bank that made it worth watching. Let’s take a look: [Read more...]

WWE Smackdown Rundown – July 5th, 2013

smackdown outlineA lot of stuff happened last night on Smackdown.  That’s not to say a lot of important stuff happened – outside of a great Randy Orton v Christian match, and an interesting main event angle, most of the stuff was pretty standard fare. Still, it wasn’t a bad way to spend two hours. Let’s take a look:

The Good:

Opening w/ CM Punk: “If I was John Cena…” was a great opening line. While I thought his attempt at relating Independence Day to his own individual independence was a bit out-of-character, his focus on winning Money in the Bank was strong. Alberto Del Rio interrupted him about halfway through, looking slick in an all-black suit. He claimed that it was “his show,” and proceeded to insulted America, Independence Day, and Dolph Ziggler. This gave CM Punk the chance to look intelligent here, by calling Del Rio out for his phony patriotism earlier in 2013.

It was an obvious a way to set up CM Punk vs. Alberto Del Rio for the main event, but it worked. Both guys looked game, and it allowed Smackdown to capitalize on the (rare) advertised apperance of CM Punk. By the numbers, but effective.

Punk – Heyman Backstage Segment: Heyman argued that Punk had nothing to gain from this match, being only 9 days from MITB. Punk ended up telling Heyman to just stay out of it. This segment served its purpose of furthering the divide between the two men.

The Usos def. Team Rhodes Scholars: Damien Sandow put over MITB before the match, and argued that Rhodes Scholars is not falling apart, contrary to what some people think. The Usos showed a lot of unity throughout the 25 second match. They hit a double-splash from opposite corners to finally put Damien Sandow away.

The Shield cut a solid promo after the match, putting over their unity, and planting the idea of Dean Ambrose “lurking” around with the Money in the Bank contract.

AJ Lee/Big E Langston Backstage Segment: After running away from Kaitlyn, AJ told Big E to get the car ready. He asked about Dolph Ziggler, to which AJ said she’d text him from the car. The beginning of the end for this power couple? Intriguing.

Randy Orton def. Christian: I really liked the backstage interview beforehand with both men, as it put this match in perspective (from their rivalry back in 2011), while also giving Orton and Christian the chance to state their case for Money in the Bank.

In-ring, these two got off to a slow start. After the commercial break, they amped things up quite a bit. A lot of great reversals by both men, and a good way to play off the fact that they’ve fought each other a number of times. Christian hit a sphere late in the match, and Randy Orton sold it like a champ.”Vintage” Orton psyched up the crowd, and after one reversed RKO, he finally nailed the second one.

If you missed Smackdown, this is THE match to check out. Orton and Christian have incredible in-ring chemistry, and while this didn’t live up to the hype of their great 2011 summer feud, it was the most entertaining match of the evening.

Dolph Ziggler def. Drew McIntyre: Ziggler cut an excellent promo before the match, commenting on how winning the World Heavyweight Championship was the biggest night of his career, and mocking Del Rio for his phony patriotism. Once the match started, McIntyre got a surprising amount of offense. He missed a running knee into the ring pole, which gave Dolph a chance to fight back into the match. Dolph hit the Zig-Zag and scored the win. Match was nothing special, but the overall segment clicked.

CM Punk vs. Alberto Del RIo (with Paul Heyman on commentary) ends in a no-contest:
Heyman, who had been ordered earlier in the night by Teddy Long to provide commentary during the match, added a lot to this segment. Both Punk and Del Rio matched up well inside the ring, and I appreciated all the subtle things both of these veterans added (like Del Rio’s focus on Punks arm, and the way Punk sold the injury).

After things sprawled outside the ring, Heyman getting involved was obvious. However, I did not expect Del Rio to punch Heyman, or Punk to look so incensed. I liked the ending here – Punk helping Heyman makes sense since they’re still friends, and it sets up a great next chapter between the two men. And while Del Rio ended up getting the short end of the stick, I don’t think he loses much for it. Entertaining segment.

The Bad:

Kaitlyn vs Alicia Fox: Solid in-ring work by both of these ladies. Alicia Fox showed a few good holds, and Kaitlyn stepped up the intensity. AJ Interrupted and distracted Kaitlyn, giving Alicia Fox the chance to steal a pin. I guess it works to further the feud, but the segment just felt missable by all accounts. If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a dozen times.

Fandango def. Justin Gabriel: Gabriel was just getting started before Fandango caught him with a kick and scored his patented leg drop from the top rope. It was good to see Fandango in action again, but this match did very little to convince me that Fandango is going to win Money in the Bank. These two could put together an interesting match. As it was, this segment was a complete throwaway.

Zeb Coulter/Jack Swagger/ Antonio Cesaro Video: Another one of the “We The People” videos, with the added bonus of Cesaro in a KGB hat. Coulter said a lot of hogwash about Americans not taking July 4th seriously, blah blah blah. Next, please.

The Ugly:

(none)

‘Monday Night Raw’ Reaction and Review – 7/1/2013

Be sure to check out the Raw Rundown for complete coverage of last night’s show.

MITB ParticipantsMoney in the Bank All-Stars was highlighted in a very effective way last night. The show’s opening managed to get a bunch of stars in the ring together at the same time, for a very specific purpose, without feeling over-booked.I also thought each wrestler did a great job of selling why they were going to win the match. And while the “I just happened to be right behind the curtain when you happened to say this specific thing to make me come out here” bit was overplayed, it served as a great catalyst for getting everybody in the ring. Plus, the visual of seeing all six competitors in front of the ladder, under the briefcase, definitely sold a few more Pay-Per-Views. Good stuff.

I’m also really starting to dig the “All-Stars” idea. WWE has tried to promote the Royal Rumble as its own “All Star” game for a few years now, but the concept there just doesn’t work (what other sport has an All-Star game with bottom-tiered players involved?). This, on the other hand, actually makes a lot of sense. I’d even like to see the company take it a step further, and pick 14 All-Stars who have matches together to qualify for Money in the Bank.

The McMahons, on the other hand, were not handled well last night. It just felt like the EXACT SAME THING that happened last week – they all come in and give Vickie their opinion, and she’s stuck in the middle, unsure of what to do. Knowing that this is all going somewhere with Vickie’s Job Evaluation next week makes me feel a little better. I’m just not feeling the “hurry up and wait” storyline deliver of these past two Raw episodes.

The audience also played a huge role last night, just not in the crazy/unpredictable ‘night after Wrestlemania’ way. Instead, they sat on their hands and as little emotion as possible. And I’m not blaming them at all. Almost every match seemed to drag on, and without the audience to liven things up, the show felt like a total snoozefest. I blame a lot of this on WWE booking decisions – creative simply isn’t giving viewers enough reasons to be invested in the product. Last Friday’s Smackdown was great – purposeful segments, fun matches, and a brisk pace. This was the exact opposite of that.

The divas reality show is going to probably suck. Like the segment on Raw. And I hate the Bellas. Enough said.

Champion vs. Champion was great, though. They hyped it throughout the night, Vince McMahon himself even put it over as a big deal, and the show effectively used history to spotlight both World Championships. My only complaint is that I wish WWE would have advertised this earlier, and treated this like a “themed show” coming in. But that’s just me being petty. I think WWE was wise to make this feel like a big deal, and I’m glad John Cena and Del Rio delivered with an exciting match. The World Heavyweight Championship earned a little more respect last night. Kudos, WWE.

WWE Raw Rundown – July 1st, 2013

Raw SidewaysAnother show of baby steps tonight on Raw. WWE seems stuck right in-between two major events, and creative seems reluctant to move forward with any real consistency. Let’s look a little closer. [Read more...]

Between The Ropes Wrestling Podcast – July 1, 2013

btrlogoBrian and Steve look ahead to WWE Raw tonight, marriages and engagements, titles being retired, Doink the Clown passing away, rumors regarding the lineup for Summerslam and WrestleMania and who should headline the shows, the new WWE Performance Center, a physical WWE Hall of Fame possibly being built and more.

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WWE Smackdown Rundown – June 28th, 2013

wwe smackdown logoIf you missed Smackdown last night, you missed the best (major) wrestling show of the week. WWE put together a fun, athletic two hours for Friday Night that delivered from top to bottom. Let’s check it out. [Read more...]

Between The Ropes Wrestling Podcast – June 25, 2013

btrlogoBrian and Steve are back to talk about Raw from Monday night including Daniel Bryan against Randy Orton and the CM Punk – Paul Heyman storyline, the backstage interaction with Bryan and Triple H from the previous week, the upcoming Money in the Bank PPV, the Wyatt Family and how they could possibly be used and a discussion on who is the bigger star between Brock Lesnar and John Cena.

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‘Monday Night Raw’ Reaction and Review – 6/24/2013

For complete coverage of everything that happened last night, check out the WWE Raw Rundown.

image2993Things got off to a hot start last night, with the Daniel Bryan/Randy Orton stuff. Although cancelling the match and postponing it until later in the night felt like a cheap way to squeeze every last drop out of this feud, it made a lot of sense to have this rivalry headline the show. Especially if, and I’m just guess here, this was their final match.

Bryan winning here made sense, as he needed a way to re-legitimize himself as a singles wrestler. I’m just curious what’s in store next for Orton. Their mutual-respect handshake at the end makes it seem like they’re putting the brakes on a Orton heel-turn. Then again, this could just be setting the WWE Universe up for a swerve.

Speaking of set-ups, I think it’s pretty obvious here that Punk is being “set-up” by Paul Heyman. Their interactions last night carried a lot of weight and emotion, which was good. But it’s also the exact type of thing that will be replayed over and over once Heyman finally turns on Punk. Overall, this seems to be a great way to extend the feud between now and Summerslam without using up all of Brock Lesnar’s appearance dates.

The Shield has officially dropped to lower mid-card duty (don’t say we didn’t warn you). Hopefully their feud with The Usos will be quick and painless. This is the major consequence of no long term build with The Usos – that is, nobody gives a crap about their storyline.

Money in the Bank participants were announced last night, albeit rather informally. I can’t help but imagine this would have carried so much more weight had they let the wrestlers come out to the ring and jabber back-and-forth about who was going to win. I’m also confused about whether or not this is the only Money in the Bank match this year. If so, this is a stacked match, and should be very entertaining. If not, I think the company would have been wise to limit the participants here by spotlighting a few key performers (imagine how great a four-way Punk vs. Bryan vs. Orton vs. RVD MITB match would be), and then save the “all hands on deck” match for the World Heavyweight Championship MITB.

The McMahons were featured again, just not quite as heavily. It seems like creative wanted to put them back on TV, but now has no idea where to go with this storyline. At least Vickie seems to be shining in her role as “pawn” in the game of WWE Corporate chess.

Overall show was definitely lacking. About halfway through, the momentum completely died. Mark Henry’s segment fell flat (they should’ve just stuck with Cena’s promo, and kept Henry off TV another week), CM Punk had a lackluster match with Darren Young, and the spark from last week seemed to have evaporated. We’re officially back in the summer hangover – let’s just hope things pick back up again BEFORE MITB.

Mark Henry Should Be the Next WWE Champion

henrycenaExciting surprises are synonymous with televised professional wrestling. Throughout the rich history of a company like WWE, there have been countless events that people still talk about today. Remember the time Eric Bischoff showed up as the GM of Raw? What about the evening Stone Cold Steve Austin drove a beer truck down to ringside and doused The Corporation? And we’re almost to the two-year anniversary of CM Punk’s career-defining “pipe bomb promo.” [Read more...]

Rob Van Dam Returning to WWE

Last night during the WWE Payback pay-per-view, a video was shown announcing the return of Rob Van Dam to the company at next month’s Money in the Bank PPV.

Van Dam was last under contract with the company in 2007 and decided to leave when his contract was up.  He did appear at the 2009 Royal Rumble for just the one appearance.  Then in 2010, he joined TNA Wrestling where he had been until earlier this year.

Once his contract expired, it was widely speculated where Van Dam would go next, especially after he appeared at the WWE Hall of Fame the day before WrestleMania 29.  Officially, Van Dam was there as a guest of Booker T who was being inducted that night.

Hulk Hogan always seemed to be a big supporter of Van Dam’s and wanted him back with TNA Wrestling.  But even he seemed a bit off guard last night when asked about RVD jumping over to WWE.

As for Van Dam, it will be interesting to see what kind of a deal he received from the WWE.  He has made it very public over the years that he disliked the travel schedule that came with being a full-timer with the WWE.

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.