In order for me to write a piece like this, I must consider two sides of this story. Once from the perspective of the artist, and one from the standpoint of reality.
Cartooning and wrestling you see, are not really that far apart. The wrestler and the cartoonist often works crazy hours honing their craft. We often travel to “Parts Unknown” in order to sell said craft, only to have naysayers, the bitter and dreamless keyboard warriors tell us how “fake” or “untalented” we are, when said couch dweller can neither launch a 250 pound man via a powerbomb anymore than he can draw something more inspiring than a stick figure or sexually questionable furry on DeviantArt.
And yes, both cartoonist and wrestler alike will gladly die for their art. In fact, some have achieved this in the literal sense.
B.C. comic strip creator Johnny Hart died in 2007 at his cartooning desk, determined to finish at least one more strip before his time came. Eighteen years earlier and part-way around the world, Osamu Tezuka, cartoonist, animator and artist heralded as the father of manga, died as a nurse pulled him away from his drawing tools. As he screamed his final breath, "I'm begging you, let me work!" the removal of his pen from his hand must have been the same as having a limb pulled off. On the wrestling side of the coin, I don’t think any of us are going to live down the tragic deaths of Perro Aguayo Jr, Mitsuharu Misawa, Owen Hart or Moondog Spot anymore than previous generations could have moved past the unexpected and tragic death of Iron Mike DiBiase.
Not one of these were planned deaths, mind you. Each died from either heart attack, cancer or freak accident. But all of the above men died while performing the art they were best at, be that wrestling or cartooning. And on paper, it seems a beautiful way to die, by being surrounded by the thing you love.
But in reality, there is a horrifying aspect to choosing to die by your sword.
Especially if you happen to be a wrestler.
To protect the names of real life wrestlers, I’m going to create a wrestler for this scenario. We’ll pretend his name is “Jason Todd” and you get five brownie points if you caught the morbid joke.
So one day, against the advice of several doctors, trainers and anyone with common sense, Jason Todd enters the ring. His health is not at 100% but he is determined to continue fighting. And it’s a good wrestling match. Nothing too extreme, violet or over the top, just a friendly exhibition match against his longtime rival, “The Jokester” Crimson Hood. After a few well placed rest holds, two DDT’s and a toe-hold or two, it looks like ol’ Jason has the upper hand and is about to set up for a finisher.
… And then he collapses. No warning.
Jason rolls over, gazing at the pretty lights with his back flat against the canvas. He breathes his last, sighing, almost smiling, going out the way he came in. As the referee frantically comes into view and his opponent tries to cover the problem with a quick pin, Jason’s eyes roll back, and his spirit exits the building, over the parking lot, and up the entrance ramp to the great beyond.
And for Jason, this story is over. How poetic and beautiful for him, right?
But for everyone else, the nightmare has only begun.
The first problem, as the referee raises the X sign and the EMT’s enter the ring, is that Jason has forgotten that the entire arena is filled with all of his loving fans. If he is like at least half of all wrestlers, his mom, dad, wife, children and friends are among the seat warmers, dropping their comp tickets into their soda cups as they realize Jason has stopped breathing.
The next issue is that all of Jason’s friends and road family are either flooding the ring to save him, or backstage, about to hear the worst. Men and women who adopted Jason in spirit as their brother, uncle or mentor, now huddling together, screaming in disbelief. What a fun way to leave your best friends by traumatizing them for life, right?
Before the promoter is made aware of the situation, and certainly long before the EMT’s declare Jason a cadaver, we have the media as problem #3.
Let’s face facts. Whether you are wrestling at an Indy show of ten people, or in front of a WWE event of eighty thousand, the fact of the matter is that once you don a pair of wrestling boots, you are now and forevermore a celebrity.
But worse? You are now live bait. And the media hounds wrestling with more ferocity than a hungry shark heading for an underwater IWA Mid-South event after a failed attempt at going vegan.
As soon as Jason’s lifeless body is collected from the ring, some fanboy on his smartphone has just posted a picture of the decedent on Facebook, while another is doing a live video via Snapchat. Jason’s distraught father is tweeting that there has been a death in the family while another fan copies and pastes the news from the first onto a blog. A wrestling news site scrambles to put up confirmation of the event onto their news board just as TMZ snags an image for their broadcast. By the time the EMT’s have failed to resuscitate Jason, CNN has picked up TMZ’s post, and by the time Jason has been loaded into an ambulance, Nancy Grace, or some other famous low life, has just spread the false rumor that drugs killed Jason Todd. A talk show “expert” will declare Jason a “roid head” and it will be several weeks of unwanted news specials airing out wrestling’s dirty laundry, before an autopsy declares that Jason Todd died of natural causes, stemming from a heart condition.
In the meantime, the company that last booked Jason is being sued.
If his family isn’t suing for wrongful death, then his fans, or maybe the parent of a fan is suing for traumatizing the last six year old to take a picture with Jason. Angry parents are threatening to torch the company to the ground for making them have to explain death to their children, while the WWE is doing their own bit of damage control, because someone on YouTube discovered a failed tryout match Jason Todd one time in March of 1983 at a Madison Square Garden show, and because of his one night only job, the WWE is being wrongfully accused of forcing Jason to take a steroid he never had in his system. The PR team is scrambling to figure out whether or not they have enough footage to do a tribute montage for Monday Night Raw, while the promoter of Jason’s last company is about to file for bankruptcy in an attempt to save his bottom line from the oncoming legal troubles. The state athletic commission is threatening to pulverize the booker, promoter and referee for not doing enough to stop Jason from even entering the building, as his family plans a funeral they can’t afford, as police officers storm the building, hold the other wrestlers hostage for “questioning” and threaten to jail the promoter while the booker quietly sneaks off in the back, texting a heartfelt goodbye to Jason via Facebook.
Jason’s final show, which was being filmed for television, is now being censored to pieces in a dimly lit shack, with a frantic promoter chewing his nails behind a stressed out college kid. After nine different edits and tribute packages, the promoter decides to scrap the whole show, ensuring that the work of all of the other wrestlers on said program never makes air, without at least three minutes of tribute based prefacing. He can not profit from this taping without serious consequences. He juggles with this decision as three other companies offers to do a tribute show. One will send the money to the family, but come up several thousand dollars short of Jason’s final expenses. One will donate to a random charity in his honor, and a third will pocket the profit and leave his family high and dry, while his last company sinks into the sands.
In the weeks that follow, amid the controversy and televised chaos, a ten bell salute is held at every other promotion Jason ever worked for without blowing up a bridge. His fellow wrestlers grieve as they are told “the show must go on” and they are encouraged to get back in the ring and honor their fallen friend. Some of these people may suffer from a deep enough depression that they may turn to over medicating themselves, suicide or withdrawal from society, while others may need to seek counseling years after their hall of fame inductions. His family and fans are left crying in the night with haunting images of Jason dying in front of them, and a child asks softly where Heaven is and why can’t he just drive back from there like he did from Parts Unknown?
Years after Jason has either become unsightly worm food or the vacuumed ashes in a cheap jar, the ripple effect of Jason’s death are still being felt, as more and more wrestlers decide to ignore their doctors and die in the ring as he did, thus continuing an endless cycle of careless behavior, leaving more tragedy in it’s wake than wrestling has ever deserved.
We have seen this happen too many times. Everything I just wrote is the truth, and not one company, not one person, has ever been made “better” for having dealt with it.
It’s tragic when a wrestler doesn’t know when his time has come, and either a freak accident or an unfortunate and sudden health problem claims his life. But it’s so much worse if he knows better and does it anyway.
Yes, it is similar to murder to tell a wrestler not to wrestle. It is very much like cutting the hands off of a cartoonist.
But isn’t it more cruel to let that man die in front of his family or friends? To let him be selfish one last time at the expense of the people he claimed to care about?
I doubt I can change any minds here, but an in-ring death brings out a far worse and rolling tragedy than any other sport or celebrity death in the public eye. It ruins lives and sabotages the very peace the man seeks in his final three count.
It’s anything but a beautiful end.
Written and Illustrated by Koriander Bullard
I have to admit, I didn’t fully understand the process of the WWE Network when I first subscribed. Out of my own, sheer greed for wrestling’s history, I’ll be honest. I was impatient. But after doing a little bit of research on The Network, I can now say that I have a better understanding about why it takes seemingly forever for a certain wrestling show to make it to The Network.
In order to understand the process, let’s take a look at what the WWE currently owns the television rights to:
All of the Capitol Wrestling/WWWF/WWF/WWE tape library, including all Coliseum Video tapes, Titan Sports, etc.
American Wrestling Association (1957-1991)
Georgia Championship Wrestling (1944-1985)
Eastern/Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW)(1992-2001)
Memphis Championship Wrestling (2000-2001)
Ohio Valley Wrestling (1998-2008)
Deep South Wrestling (2005-2007)
Florida Championship Wrestling (2007-2012)
Smoky Mountain Wrestling (1992-1995)
Stampede Wrestling (1948-1989 except for Bret’s matches, Bret owns these.)
Global Wrestling Federation (1991-1994, half of this is shared with ESPN)
World Championship Wrestling (WCW) (1988-2001)
Jim Crockett Promotions (1931-1988)
Eastern States Championship Wrestling (1945-1973)
Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling (1973-1988)
Central States Wrestling (1950?-1986)
Championship Wrestling from Florida (1961-1987)
Championship Wrestling from Georgia (1984-1985)
NWA Tri-State/Mid-South Wrestling/UWF (1950-1987)
World Class Championship Wrestling (1966-1988; Angelo and Mario Savoldi own the final years of 1989-1990)
Maple Leaf Wrestling (1930-1995)
That’s a good several hundred hours of wrestling footage to cull from right there. Currently 87 years worth of grapples, holds and submissions, not counting what they can use from the public domain from the likes of say Gorgeous George or Lou Thesz. And this isn’t even counting the WWE film library of movies, TV shows and ads. This is just wrestling footage.
So this leads us to the actual film elements. While a bulk of WWE’s current library resides on VHS tapes, some of the older tapes came to the WWE main office in the form of Betamax tapes, Super 8 film and deteriorating, low quality, cheap stock film. This requires special, often expensive equipment to play. But this is just the start of it.
The first problem is in separating the film. While the ECW tapes were properly labeled and categorized, WCW tapes were dumped un-labeled into cardboard boxes. Each tape can hold between 6-10 hours of WCW programming, and may include ads, extras, and a wide litany of other programming on it. One tape may have two episodes of Nitro. Another may hold Thunder and Main Event. The cataloger isn’t going to know exactly what is on the tape until he puts it into the company VCR. Each box can hold tapes from any year. One box may have two 94 tapes, one from 2000 and one from 89.
The second problem comes during the transfer process. Once a tape has been re-labeled, someone now has to take that footage off of the tape and onto a computer. If the tape is in good shape and complete, great, wonderful. But if the tape warbles, flips, skips or is missing matches, guess what? Now they have to make phone calls, find excess tapes, even call back the families of the people they have purchased the tapes from in order to splice together a complete show.
A prime example of a spliced tape is Royal Rumble 1992. The original PPV cut skipped a few backstage interviews, and had live cheering when Hulk Hogan was eliminated by Sid Justice. However, the VHS version sold to consumers put back the interviews but dubbed over a fake booing track when Hogan was eliminated. The current version on The Network restores the original cheering and splices back in the lost interviews. Other examples include various episodes of Monday Night Raw, in which “Extra Attitude” segments at the end of the show splice back in lost clips originally aired for the live audience only, and the first season of Tough Enough, which splices back in segments MTV cut for time, most notable being the Triple H episode, where a restored clip shows the current COO shaking hands and offering sound advice.
Once the footage is spliced back together, it’s time for formatting. It isn’t enough to just fix the saturation and contrast and re-render the footage in HD, you also have to fit the footage to the screen. For example, Raw has only been shot in 16:9 letterbox since 2014. Until then, it was shot at 4:3, which means that for each episode to fit onto a modern television set, you either have to zoom way in, chopping up the sides of the screen, or you present the episode with black bars on the sides, focusing the original footage in the center. Most of the WWE’s archive can fit onto a 4:3 CRT monitor, but needs to be shown on black bars for 16:9 screens.
Next comes dubbing. And let’s face facts. If you have ever tried to upload a video to YouTube, then you already know how greedy the RIAA is when it comes to music. Many of the tapes feature songs that require extra cash and new contracts between the WWE and the RIAA, not to mention the musicians, composers and companies producing said tracks.
How much are these people wanting? Well let me be clear. In order to pay the ransom these music rights holders would want, the WWE would have to give up every wrestler on 205 Live and a few on NXT. Which would you rather have, the future of wrestling or a Limp Bizkit track from 2001? Yeah. I thought so. This is why several tapes have in-house music now.
There’s also a rights issue outside of the music. For example, Bret Hart owns the rights to his matches from Stampede Wrestling, while the WWE owns everything else. In order for Bret’s matches to air, the WWE has to contact Bret and ask for permission and then pay him a stipend. Fortunately, many of these tapes comes from Bret himself. But these are other tapes in which certain wrestlers or families of wrestlers may have to be compensated separately.
This leads us to the contract issues. While the WWE has been sued for the rights of several tapes, each lawsuit has been dismissed. Why? Because of how the tape library is purchased.
Each tape was either bought outright from a promoter’s family, or it was purchased during a bankruptcy for a now defunct company. Vince McMahon has never stolen a tape.
For most of the matches filmed, no contracts were ever signed stipulating how much a wrestler would earn if said tape went to sale. Until the mid 80’s, the average wrestler worked on a handshake agreement, which does not hold up in court. The wrestlers were paid to wrestle that specific night or nights, but no legal agreement came up in regards to video sales. In fact, most independent companies still run off of this principal. Here’s an example.
Let’s pretend that I own the Rainbow Sparkle Federation.
(I’m watching The New Day as I type. Work with me here.)
I am the promoter, so I own the copyright to the RSF footage.
Joe Blow is my mid card wrestler.
I have agreed to pay Joe Blow $400 to wrestle for me at Sparklebrawl.
Joe Blow takes his $400 and wrestles the best match of his life.
But next year, I have to fold the RSF. So I sell RSF to Vince McMahon.
Vince McMahon pays me $10,000 for RSF and I hand over the tape library.
Three years from now, Joe Blow finds his face on The Network.
Joe Blow sues Vince McMahon.
The lawsuit is thrown out.
Joe Blow never signed a contract with me, stipulating payment or royalties for that match he did at SparkleBrawl.
Joe Blow on a handshake agreed to wrestle at SparkleBrawl for $400.
I gave him $400.
He took the cash and wrestled as per our verbal agreement.
But he has no say over what I do with the tapes.
I owned the copyright, so if I choose to sell them to Vince McMahon, Vince may do with them as he pleases. He purchased them outright. I never made him sign a contract. End of story.
But some tapes may have stipulations. Prime example being the Worlds Collide tapes. This was a crossover event between AAA, IWC and WCW. While the WWE owns the WCW portion of the show, they still have to contend with AAA, which as of this writing is still active. This means dealing with the Peña family if they want to air the show on The Network.
Another example is with El Santo. Any footage the WWE procures featuring El Santo or El Hijo Del Santo must be paid to the Santo family. Tiger Mask’s matches may belong to Toei Animation while Jushin Thunder Liger’s legendary theme belongs to Sunrise and BanDai Namco. This requires special permissions and contracts as well, holding up the footage even longer.
Last comes a quality check, to make sure that the sound is synching up, disclaimers appear on any tapes involving controversial wrestlers, making sure the new music replaces the old, that cuts and splices sync, make sense but still preserve the show as much as legally possible, making sure that Benoit does appear but isn’t being made out to be the next coming of Cena, and in case any footage cannot be saved, that there is a card on the bottom of the screen, letting viewers know that this footage has been restored to the best of your abilities.
This is also where the popular Collections comes in. If a tape is still in the process of being edited, they can at least reserve random matches and clips here and there for the Collections as proof that yes, they are working on getting this done.
Lastly is the tiring task of uploading the content. This can take hours, sometimes days depending on the size of the video files. There are also schedules to keep. For example, if it’s Royal Rumble season, it makes sense to upload a WWE show based on qualifications for the Rumble. It would not make sense to upload a WCW Thunder episode. If DDP gets a DVD, then it’s perfectly fine to upload a WCW Thunder show he may have been on. Timing the nostalgia is almost as important as airing it at all.
This is just a taste of the work the WWE must go through in order to upload older wrestling tapes to The Network, and with 87 years worth of footage and counting, it looks like they will be at this for years to come.
Koriander Bullard is an author, cartoonist and human rights advocate. Keep up with her on Facebook!
Written and Illustrated by Koriander Bullard
On January 15, 2017, ex WWE wrestler Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka passed away, just twelve days after a court dismissed murder charges against him, stemming from the 1983 murder of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino. While his family went into appropriate mourning, showing much poise and grace via social media, and the wrestling world handled the loss on an individual basis, one entity was left without a blueprint on how to handle this issue.
The internet is rife with armchair bookers and angry wrestling fans, who weekly chastise the WWE for various reasons. But while everyone wants to talk about “the biz” aspect of the WWE, few really understand a situation like this from a real life business standard.
Let’s look at the big picture for a moment. The WWE is a publicly traded company, peddling several family friendly shows and a product line for ages four and up. The Attitude Era and the Ruthless Aggression Era were the only points in the company’s history where they actively did not try to air shows for families. This period lasted from late 1996 to mid 2007 in an almost eleven year segment of raunchy storylines and an eventual TV14 television rating for flagship program Raw. The rest of the company’s history is filled with mostly clean wrestling shows, save but for Diva segments and the occasional “rock the boat” character. Current televised shows are rated TVPG suggesting parental guidance during viewing, with the exception being TV14 and TVMA programs exclusive to the WWE Network, a subscription based, on demand platform, which reminds viewers about parental controls and an itemized list of reasons to use them before the latter shows air.
With that said, image is everything. Their current line-up again is aimed at families with small children. This creates a myriad of problems during an event like this, as the company now has an ethics issue to juggle.
Raw airs on Monday night, opening with a silent tribute card, showing the life dates of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and a random picture from their archives. Midway through the first hour, the WWE airs a tribute video, showing the highlights of Snuka’s career along with select photos and tweets from his surviving relatives, many of whom are also current employees of the WWE. The McMahon family joins The Rock in honoring Snuka’s career, while the video closes with a tweet showing Tamina holding her father’s hand as he passed and once again, his life dates.
A child in the crowd has a smartphone with him, a common sight these days. If he’s not old enough for one, he may lean into his mom or dad and ask who Jimmy Snuka was. It’s likely at this point that someone is either using the WWE app to pull up Snuka’s matches during the commercial break, or they’re using Google.
If the latter is happening, then we have a problem.
Going to Google pulls up several articles about the death of Nancy Argentino, the fact that the murder was never closed, and the fact that all three times this case has come up, Snuka has been brought in as the only suspect. The second or third link is usually Wikipedia, where we find out that while Snuka was never convicted of murder, he was to pay the surviving family $500,000, which he has now gone to his grave without paying. Articles detailing how he was alone with her in the motel room when he called the ambulance, as she laid on the floor, covered in cuts, bruises and a wide assortment of injuries, indicating she had lost a physical fight with a man heavier than she was. More and more ugly case details light up the smartphone, along with lengthy stories about Snuka’s drug history, and by the time the commercial break is over, we are left with a family scrambling for an answer for their child while also trying to sort out their own emotions.
This is where the WWE now has been placed into an uncomfortable predicament.
If they continue to honor the legacy of Jimmy Snuka, wrestling fans will claim that they are glorifying a former drug addict and murderer, who as of this writing, still has several action figures on the market under the “Legends” brand name. His face still is plastered on a litany of t-shirts and toys for children ages 4-10, which means that to acknowledge him, means that the parents of these children now have to explain drugs and homicide in a formula that a child would be able to handle, a feat no parent these days really wants to achieve. These people do not want their children to cheer for someone who may have committed a heinous crime, and they do not want the parental responsibility of explaining anything to their children at all.
But if they don’t honor the career of Jimmy Snuka, then the WWE will be considered to be shady anyway. It will seem like they are trying to keep his name a secret, as if they were hiding a killer. Or in another unsavory light, it will appear as though they are destroying this man’s history without knowing for certain if he was or was not a killer. Until proven in a court of law that he killed her, this man has gone to his grave innocent in the eyes of the law, and evidence or not, that is another scenario the WWE now has to contend with in each of their decisions.
Not acknowledging anything means withholding information from children, but acknowledging everything means glorifying a criminal as a children’s hero.
Fan opinion is also not helping. Fans are accusing the WWE of “pulling a Benoit” by withholding a collection of his matches for a special section (as of this writing) simply because “some whore” died. And yes, we are that callous as a nation, folks. Because Nancy Argentino died as Snuka’s girlfriend, fan accusations are that she deserved to die, she was a “whore” and that because she was female, she was likely trying to “sleep her way” to the “top” and that Snuka should be exonerated whether he killed her or not, simply for the fact that people enjoy his matches so much, they would gladly have let him set fire to a church full of the disposable gender without prosecution, if it meant they could enjoy his matches without censorship. The disgusting things fans have said about a woman dead for going on 34 years does not surprise me, as the same was said of Nancy and Daniel Benoit the instant the WWE decided to withhold Chris Benoit’s matches from circulation after their deaths in 2007. And with the fact that the average fan is quick to vote away women’s rights and freedoms, I’m not surprised women are seen as this disposable in society anyway.
So what can the WWE do in light of the Snuka trial?
Let’s be clear. Very few public companies have had to deal with the type of PR nightmares the WWE has had to endure since the 1980’s. The NFL in contrast has only been dealing with similar controversies for less than a decade. The WWE has had to put up with this for much longer while still pandering to an all ages audience. World Class Championship Wrestling is one of the only other companies that has had to deal with blow after blow in terms of dying wrestlers and crime on the same public, televised level as the WWE, and they have been out of business since 1990.
Pure and simple, there is no blueprint for a company to maintain a squeaky clean image during these times. No blueprint for the WWE to go by in case someone dies, someone has a drug past or someone is dragged into court for murder. Each case has been treated case by case, and the company has had to figure out how to handle these issues without a safety net.
As of this writing, the WWE is doing the only middle ground things they can do, out of respect and out of a need to keep face.
As soon as Snuka was arrested in 2015, the WWE placed his legends deal on suspension, and suspended his name from the Hall of Fame. They kept neutral, pending a court of law.
They ran a tribute video to Snuka the Monday following his demise, allowing room for fans and wrestlers alike to mourn if they chose to.
None of his matches have been pulled off of the WWE Network or censored in any fashion.
No further tribute packages have aired as of this writing. (01/17/2017)
This has been the approach the WWE has taken in recent years with wrestlers who died amid controversy. Chris Benoit, Woman, and Dino Bravo, each of whom died under contentious circumstances, all have their matches aired mostly uncensored on the WWE Network, albeit with warnings about sensitive content and parental controls. They are never named on the black warning screens, but fans figure out quickly that they are on the list of controversial subjects in the company’s history and are no longer surprised to see the card. The only noted censorship comes from a few of Chris Benoit’s matches featuring muted chants, but the Network no longer censors signs made by fans to cheer him on on recently added tapings.
The WWE has chosen with Jimmy Snuka and with several other controversial wrestlers, to play their matches as they were, barring music copyright dub overs, keeping the legacy of what they did inside the squared circle alive. However, they do not bring up what happened outside of television, keeping their private lives off of the Network in respect to their surviving families.
On the slippery slope of this ethics issue, the WWE may not have a blueprint to go by, but they at least have found middle ground. And considering the children watching, that may be the very best thing we can ask for at this time.
Written and Illustrated by Koriander Bullard
NXT TakeOver: Toronto back on November 19, 2016 marked the return of Mickie James to the WWE after a six year absence. But even the most die hard of wrestling fans may not have realized she was missing, what with her stint in TNA and more recently Global Force Wrestling. The reaction was universally mild among wrestling fans, and with many good reasons.
For starters, the last several years of her career has been marred by a lackluster performance. It’s hard to champion the 37 year old when a bulk of her career exists on Botchamania reels. There’s only so many rest holds, sloppy, loose choke holds and porn star quality screams a fan can sit through before reaching for the remote or heading to the latrine.
Another reason is because she represents a dark era in WWE’s history that is dying a slow, agonizing death: the era of the “Diva”. For as much of the Bella Twins and Mickie James as the company might want to shove down our throats, the fact of the matter is that these starlets represent a time in which women were supposed to be sloppy, eating up precious television time with whining and who-is-sleeping-with-whom story lines and nobody female was deemed anything more important than a disposable sex toy.
Wrestling fans today, surprisingly straight, male ones, do not want this. They want the current women of NXT and Monday Night Raw.
They want Charlotte, the tall, lanky child of Ric Flair, who is going above and beyond to outdo her father in terms of submissions. They want Bayley, a fresh faced heroine with a sunshine attitude and positive image, who serves as a great hero for little girls, but can also wrestle with the ferocity of the standard male brawler. They want Sasha Banks, an outstanding athlete with the heart of an underdog. They want Naomi, Becky Lynch, women who represent the future of professional wrestling with the same fire and tenacity as their male counterparts. Fans enjoy these women wrestlers because they make them believe in wrestling all over again.
Mickie James and the Bella Twins do not fit this mold.
From day one, the three have made it very clear. They do not love wrestling. This was supposed to be a temporary move before moving to more contemporary Hollywood choices, such as singing and acting. Wrestling was supposed to be a stepping stone, not the final destination. And yet time and again, when the modeling gigs dry up, the songs fall off of Billboard and the letter of film rolls drops from a B role to the bottom of the alphabet, wrestling provided this generation of Divas a safety net to fall back on.
This leads me to the top thing that bothers wrestling fans about these leftover Divas.
They don’t really respect their positions.
Oh sure, they say they “love this industry” but keep in mind, there is an over tired WWE writer with a Sharpie marker and a cue card, trying to make these females seem as much in love with wrestling as the new breed. But there’s only so many takes you can film where you try aimlessly to direct their eyes to look wider, more innocent, slip them the eye drops or otherwise dangle a check above the camera lens before you give up on making them seem more caring, and the fans just feel how superficial these Divas really are.
And that angers me.
For generations, wrestling fans had to watch as real women wrestlers were pushed aside or demoted to the status of “sideshow freaks” and never respected as real athletes, because they posses vaginas.
Growing up, I watched amazing athletes like Jacqueline, Victoria and Molly Holly have to pull twice their weight in work, just to get a spot on television, let alone a match. At one point or another, their talents as wrestlers were thrown away, and they were seen as precious more than just pretty faces. Each had to fight their way out of “Valet Land” and prove they were more than eye candy, only to have all of their hard work again tossed aside, so that some blonde bimbo in a bikini could prance around a gravy bowl. We had Ivory reduced from a spirited competitor reduced to a comedic jab at parental coalitions while Terri’s ever decreasing wardrobe ate up valuable screen time. Preceding them, there was Sherri Martel, Luna Vachon and Medusa. Each of them could wrestle, and each could wrestle men and rather well I might add. But for every match any of them had where they fought a man and won, it was a match pushed aside so we could focus on whoever had the cutest dress, pouted the prettiest or looked the most helpless at ringside.
Throughout history, real women athletes, such as The Jumping Bomb Angels, Rockin’ Robin, Wendi Richter, Mae Young and a veritable list of who’s who had to bite, scratch and claw their way to television, only to be chucked aside as a “special attraction” and nothing more.
The NXT class knows all about this, and it shows. They know the privilege of being on television at all, and they cherish every spot they get. Every time the young wrestlers get a main event spot or a top promoted segment, they move like this is the last chance that entire division will ever have on top.
And the sad thing is that they’re not far off. Every match could be the last time the NXT women get the spotlight. Every match could mean the end of their short run. Every week could be the last week they have, because the closed minded misogynists that relegated their predecessors to valet status are still working behind the scenes and aren’t going to retire any time soon. They see Triple H struggling to keep their stars shining, and they respect that. And they show that respect by wrestling like it’s the last night they will ever have alive, let alone in the WWE.
History has shown them why they must fight for survival. At one point between 1999 and 2002, the WWE had a promising future for women’s wrestling. Trish Stratus, Lita, Jacqueline, Ivory, Molly Holly, Jazz and Victoria were all determined to fight at their best and bring their branch of the sport to new heights. By 2003 we had seen a women’s cage match overtake Raw, and the future looked bright.
… And then came the Diva Search. And in a flash, it was all gone.
2004-2014 marked a decade where real women's wrestling was considered to be offensive and taboo. Gone were the properly dressed athletes in hard hitting brawls, replaced with scantly dressed, whiny, self-entitled Divas, botching their way through matches, phoning in their appearances and participating in vapid love triangles written to make all women seem like leeches.
And for as much blame as the WWE has been handed over these years, the truth is that many of the Divas performed just as badly outside Titan Towers once they were released. Many a TNA PPV has been marred by a lazy Gail Kim or Mickie James contest, in which the fans used the bouts as an excuse to visit the concession stand.
Which brings me back to NXT Take Over Toronto. While Asuka did her best to make it look like Mickie had the upper hand, the fans didn’t buy it. Mickie had stalled and used enough rest holds to make Larry Zbyszko proud. The crying, long winded screaming and overall performance just couldn’t keep the crowd vested into her, and Asuka’s win was a well deserved victory, greeted with a pool of men wearing the younger wrestler’s mask and proudly holding up signs in her honor, a sight usually reserved for male veterans in the squared circle. After the champion vacated the ring, Mickie stood, crying, expecting a standing ovation, but instead got a cool “just get the F out” response from the fans.
The excuse for the epic amount of stalling from Mickie?
Oh, she just had a baby not too long ago.
Oh really? Jazz had twins. She was back on the Indy scene in no time, and never needed an excuse for any of her bouts. So why should Mickie get a pass if Jazz doesn’t?
So if the fans did not like the dark Diva decade, why bother bringing any of it back? Especially if we can see by the clutter on the WWE Shop page that none of it sold?
The WWE needs to face facts. Times ave changed, and we are in the process of evolving. The harder you push for the Divas, the harder the fans will push for the NXT women. It’s time to retire the Divas for good, and elevate the women wrestlers.
But with Mickie’s recent return to Smackdown Live this past Tuesday night as the start of a groan worthy three year contract to the WWE --with a rumored future story involving her fighting the talentless Nikki Bella for a title soon to be off the shoulder of current Smackdown Women's champion Alexa Bliss-- it looks like the WWE is not prepared to join us in the new era anytime soon. This foolish decision will either turn out to be an easily corrected mistake, or the company’s ill conceived move to throw away their own future for the sake of nostalgia.
The weekend of August 19-21, 2016 marked an event that the most avid pro wrestling fan eagerly looked forward to for weeks: three straight nights of major pro wrestling PPVs featuring some of the best talent worldwide. Although WWE’s annual SummerSlam PPV received the most publicity on a mainstream basis and NXT’s latest Takeover event drew a lot of buzz, Ring of Honor’s latest live PPV, Death Before Dishonor XIV, managed to easily top the former and come within a hair of matching the latter.
A major plus was that after months of subpar sound hurting their PPVs, Sinclair Broadcasting finally upgraded their sound equipment and technical set up. So we could finally hear the live crowd at full throttle instead of a muted whisper. The poor sound made ROH’s previous PPVs look bush league when compared to the considerable resources WWE has at its’ disposal. The camerawork was also sharper and more professional, with no major technical screw-ups.
Now they are properly competitive with WWE and TNA production wise.
The show did boast the first terrible match on a live ROH PPV since their first in June 2014: a six-man grudge match that devolved into silly comedy instead of being the ass kicking contest it should have been. The tag team title triple threat match was also a disappointment. However, every other match was **** or better and several were just extraordinary. The booking of New Japan talent was more evenly doled out between losses and wins, no doubt a reaction to the defection of several high-profile ROH talent to NXT/WWE and Billy Corgan’s TNA and the increasing problem of fans believing that homegrown ROH talent has no chance of beating the Japanese stars.
1. #1 Contender’s Match: Kamaitachi Vs. Donovan Dijak Vs. Lio Rush Vs. Jay White: The winner of this match will receive a future TV title shot against the winner of Bobby Fish/Mark Briscoe, most likely at ROH’s next live PPV in September. This was a red-hot opener, as it seems to be a tradition to start off an ROH PPV with a sizzling Fatal 4-Way match. Rush was just incredible as this match was a star-making performance. He was simply great, risking his body and mind to provide one thrill after another. Despite the size difference of over a foot, Rush managed to nail a reverse hurricarana/Frankensteiner on Dijak outside the ring that has to be seen to be believed. Everybody had an opportunity to shine and despite towering over everyone else, Dijak managed to work well with his smaller opponents. I was kind of hoping Rush would win since he was the clear-cut standout, but Dijak scored the pin after finishing off Rush with the Feast Your Eyes, which is a reverse GTS, during which a wrestler slams his opponent into his knee rather than lifting the knee up into your opponent midswing. It looked great and completely devastating. ****1/2
Backstage, Silas Young cut a scathing anti-New Japan promo, echoing real life sentiments about the rising frustration over how New Japan and ROH talent has been booked as of late. There has been a loud contingent of wrestlers who left ROH in recent months, specifically Moose, Roderick Strong and Cedric Alexander, that complained about ROH’s booking of New Japan wrestlers consistently going over in matches featuring full-time ROH talent. It was an eerily effective promo that cut very close to the bone, I imagine.
2. Silas Young Vs. Katsuyori Shibata: Shibata is the current NEVER Openweight champion in New Japan, but the title was not at stake in this match. What WAS at stake was a TV title shot against the winner of Bobby Fish/Mark Briscoe at the TV tapings the following night. So two straight matches with a TV title shot at stake. It’s interesting to say the least. Shibata received a thundering reaction from the Las Vegas crowd. Young continues to improve greatly in the ring as this was one of his better matches, especially since it was heavy on pure mat wrestling for once. It was ultra-stiff and at times, brutally intense. With the exception of one sloppy bungle (which the live crowd heckled Young about for an eternity), Young’s in-ring work was super. The only problem- and it’s a major one that needs to be addressed soon- was that the fans clearly didn’t believe Young would score the pin and they were right: Shibata scored the pin after a penalty kick. So once again, instead of giving a TV title shot to a homegrown ROH wrestler who has been steadily improving with each match and has earned a title shot, ROH Creative went with the Japanese star, one who is not a big star that would provide a major rub for Fish or Briscoe even in defeat. This is a major issue that is bound to get worse as ROH keeps adding PPVs to their yearly schedule. Fans are starting to catch on that ROH talent will rarely ever score a victory over Japanese talent. It’s not going to help ROH’s talent one bit staying in this direction for much longer. Luckily some of the later matches would address this growing problem. Let’s hope it’s not too late. ****1/4
3. Grudge Match: Bullet Club (Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa & Yujiro Takahashi) Vs. Chaos (Rocky Romero & Trent Barreta & Toru Yano): For some strange reason, this grudge match was played completely for laughs. It was especially jarring considering that these two teams are at each other’s throats in New Japan. Although some of the comedy spots were clever and genuinely funny, after a while the exclusive focus on comedy became tiresome and stopped the match dead in its tracks. It was all the more galling considering the talent involved. Some of Yano’s facial expressions were hilarious, especially during a humorous moment when he shrugged his shoulders after accidentally clocking his own partners with a turnbuckle pad. I guess the match was No DQ since ref Tiger Hattori never called for the bell despite a weapon being used. A poor match at best that turned into a rotten shame at worst. Lucky for ROH, it wouldn’t be the worst match of the entire weekend thanks to a few badly booked and executed SummerSlam stinkers. *
The Bullet Club decided to continue beating on Yano after the match and Hangman Page (Adam Page, having reinvented himself from goofy hanger-on to threatening madman since turning heel and joining the Bullet Club last May) hit the ring to lynch Yano with his noose. Jay Briscoe came to the rescue, wielding a steel chair as a weapon and cleaned house until all that was left standing was himself and Page, leading to…
4. No Holds Barred, Anything Goes Grudge Match: Jay Briscoe Vs. Hangman Page: Now THIS is how you do a grudge match. This had to be the most violent match I’ve seen on a major PPV since the heyday of old school ECW. I thought it was the best match of the card, on par with the BJ Whitmer/Steve Corino bloodbath on ROH’s last PPV Best in the World. The match had the courage of some truly sicko convictions as Briscoe and Page truly took Anything Goes to a new extreme, including some novel uses for a hangman’s use, including a modified Stone Cold Stunner while holding it. This was Page’s arrival as a top-tier talent to look out for. Never has he looked so confident and impressive in the ring. For the second time in ROH’s recent product, I saw a homegrown star in the making. (The first was Dalton Castle, for those wondering.) Turning him from a goofball heel lackey of BJ Whitmer to the stone-cold executioner of the Bullet Club has done wonders for young Page. Briscoe deserves credit for helping elevate Page by being selfless enough to let him look strong and dominant. It worked wonders in establishing Page as a top player, especially after the company has lost several top stars to greener pastures. Wild match took the fight all over the place with enough tables and chairs busted to help fatten the bottom line of any supply house. Page was totally dominant towards the end, putting Briscoe through a table with the Rite of Passage. Briscoe was a bloody, sweaty mess. Rather than go for the pin right away, Page grabbed the noose and strangled Briscoe with it until he completely passed out. Page promptly nailed a second Rite of Passage and scored the biggest pinfall victory of his career to date. You’ll never see this kind of match on a WWE PPV any time soon. ******+++
5. IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada Vs. Dalton Castle: A funny thing happened on the way to a classic match. Fans popped like crazy for Okada and Castle, but seemed to care less about the superb mat wrestling on display. On a night when ROH techs finally addressed the sound problems that plagued their last few PPVs, they had to have a crowd that was more into cool ring entrances and high spots than psychology and matwork. Not helping matters was that the live crowd clearly believed Castle had no chance of winning against Okada. Too bad, because the match itself was a real treat. This was the best PPV showcase for Castle so far. He held his own against one of the greatest wrestlers in the world today and perhaps of all time, matching him move for move with skill and agility. I wonder if the flamboyant Lanny Poffoesque gimmick makes people forget just how skilled a wrestler Castle really is. To his credit, Okada gave Castle plenty of offense and allowed Castle to look like a million bucks even in losing. I can think of a few big names in other promotions who wouldn’t have given their opponents the spotlight to shine, especially one oversized, egotistical and extremely brutish Beast. Castle even had a big moment when he finished off Okada with the Bang-A-Rang but he couldn’t score the pin since the Rainmaker craftily rolled out of the ring before the cover. Eventually, Okada finished off Castle with a Tombstone piledriver and the Rainmaker for the pin. Perhaps the year’s most underrated match, judging from the live crowd reaction and the lack of love for the match amid fans online. ******
6. ROH TV Champion Bobby Fish Vs. Mark Briscoe: After several years establishing himself as a tag team specialist, Fish is really hitting his stride as a singles performer. This was his best TV title defense to date on live PPV. While Jay Briscoe is rightly acclaimed as a great singles talent, his brother Mark seldom ever receives the same acclaim. Mark Briscoe deserves major props for how good he is in singles action too. Briscoe eschewed his usual brawling style for a more technical mat game and to everyone’s surprise, it really worked. I thought it was some of the best mat wrestling of the entire weekend, although the live crowd became extremely fickle with the match, particularly the slower pace and the lack of daredevil high spots. Sometimes I wonder about the wrestling fans. Not every match has to consist of daredevil high spots! Sheesh. After a long, evenly matched bout, Fish scored the pin with a Falcon Arrow, retaining his TV title. Both men deserved better than the audience they managed to get here. Don’t be fooled by the people saying that something was missing in this match. It was as near-perfect as a TV title match can get. Perhaps this match will look better with age and gain a reappraisal from those currently underrating it. *****
7. ROH World Tag Team Champions The Addiction (Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian) Vs. Tetsuya Naito & EVIL Vs. Michael Elgin & Hiroshi Tanahashi: Many fans believed that this was the match of the night, but I found it disappointing both in execution and given the talent involved. For starters, how come War Machine were not included considering that they have unfinished business with all three teams in this match? I wonder if they’ll be the next disgruntled employees to leave ROH over the recent penchant of pushing New Japan talent ahead of homegrown ROH stars. Not to mention that these three-way tag team title matches are starting to get really old and predictable. I’m also fed up with the same boring finish of every Addiction title defense: Daniels and Kazarian cheat their way to a win or loss. I expect this kind of laziness from Vince McMahon’s WWE, not ROH. The live fans were happy since it eschewed mat wrestling for high spots, but at the expense of psychology and pacing. Compared to the tag team title match at NXT Takeover Brooklyn the following evening, this match was amateur night, which is sad and depressing considering all six men are amongst the best wrestlers in the world. Not helping matters was Matt Taven’s color commentary, which set new standards for grating obnoxiousness. The finish was acclaimed as clever, but it was just more of the same. Just as Elgin and Tanahashi had the match won, Daniels and Kazarian’s Japanese lackey Kamaitachi distracted the referee. This allowed Daniels and Kazarian to whack everyone with belt shots to the head. Yawn. Tanahashi managed to regain the advantage and finished off EVIL with the High Fly Low off the top rope. Daniels stole a tag by tapping Tanahashi’s boot, shoved Tanahashi out of the way and stole the pin by covering EVIL. The heel champs cheat their way to victory yet again. Double yawn. Can’t these guys win clean for once? Repetitive booking like this is what ruined Charlotte’s heel run as Divas/Women’s Champion this year on main roster WWE; must ROH resort to the same lazy booking? Taven announced after the match ended that he would be reviving The Kingdom, most likely after the next PPV in September, All Star Extravaganza. I imagine this will lead to an Addiction/Kingdom six-man feud for Final Battle, but that’s just a guess at this point. **3/4
8. ROH World Heavyweight Champion Jay Lethal Vs. Adam Cole: Between his record-setting TV title reign and his year-plus World title reign, Lethal has been some form of ROH singles champion since April 2014. Contrast that to WWE, where championships change hands more often than some people change their socks. Lethal has proven himself to be a top-tier championship caliber wrestler over the last two years. We’ve seen him go from hated heel to respected face in the span of his ROH World title reign. We’ve seen one incredible match after another. Tonight was no different. This was the grudge match everyone was waiting for after Cole and the Bullet Club attacked Lethal during his World title defense against Colt Cabana at May’s Global Wars PPV. Cole has kept making himself a very painful thorn in Lethal’s sign, even shaving off the champ’s cornrows in the aftermath of a locker room brawl on the most recent TV episodes. So the story was simple: Lethal was so hot to get his revenge that he might make a mistake that would cost him the title. After making a royal mess out of a grudge match earlier in the card, I was glad to see that ROH booking didn’t do the same with the main event. There was simply no time to waste, so they just got right to it, beating the living crap out of each other in true grudge match style. It was a more violent match than one would expect from Lethal, but it made sense given the story of ultimate revenge. The tables came out early but Lethal struggled to even find one as the ring crew thoughtlessly swept the party streamers that have become an ROH tradition to shower foreign talent and top-tier talent with under the ring apron instead of picking it up off camera. The tables were covered in streamer and Lethal was visibly irritated. Anyway, streamers proved to not be the only major error as Cole managed to roll off a table, causing Lethal to crash right through it during a Macho Man Flying Elbow Drop attempt. Lethal wound up being busted open by jagged table pieces, bleeding profusely. Lethal also went to the suicide tope one time too many, crashing rib-first into the guardrail during his sixth tope attempt. If this was WWE, the match would have been stopped dead both times, but since this was ROH, the match continued on. Perhaps because it was violent as hell, the live crowd was completely into Lethal/Cole. The rabid crowd noise helped this match greatly when watching it on TV, adding intense heat. There was simply no room for let up as the match was simply intense action from start-to-finish. Lethal seemingly put away his rival for good with the Lethal Injection but Cole incredibly kicked out. Cole seemingly finished off his prey with the Canadian Destroyer but Lethal kicked out. Lethal went once more for the Lethal Injection but Cole countered with a shining wizard and the knee to the gut for the 1-2-3. Cole becomes the third man in ROH history to win the ROH World Championship twice, following Austin Aries and Jay Briscoe. Cole didn’t have much time to celebrate his historic moment as Kyle O’Reilly, a recent victim of Cole and the Bullet Club, beat the crap out of the new champion with a clothesline and a stiff Brainbuster that would make Aries proud. I assumed that this was to establish O’Reilly was Cole’s first major challenger on PPV, but judging from the TV taping results, it looks like Michael Elgin will be getting that title shot instead at All Star Extravaganza. In a way, it makes sense since Elgin defeated Cole for the ROH World title on the premiere live PPV, Best in the World 2014, but if that was the direction they were heading in, why not have Elgin lay out Cole? This is the kind of thinking you’d expect from McMahon’s main roster WWE, not ROH. Sigh. ******+++
The three-day Weekend of Wrestling continued with NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II special, live once again from- where else?-Brooklyn, NY. The Barclays Center was packed with 15,671 fans, roughly 100 more than last year’s Takeover Brooklyn event.
As for the show itself, it was the usual super effort one has come to expect from the NXT Takeover franchise. It did feature one of the weakest NXT womens matches since Eva Marie was stinking out the joint on a weekly basis, as the after-effects of Vince McMahon’s premature roster poaching of NXT came back to bite them in the rear. However, every other match ranged from very good to off-the-charts. Under the careful guidance of HHH, even the weakest match was booked correctly with precision, skill and an eye towards a proper payoff in the future. More than I can say for what Vince McMahon and his Uncreative team did the following night.
Of the three major pro wrestling PPVs of the weekend, NXT Takeover wins the gold medal. It wasn’t the greatest Takeover event, but it was the best show of the weekend and once again, NXT showed up main roster WWE during a weekend of head-to-head shows. Only ROH provided serious competition with a strong PPV that kicked off the three-day weekend of major pro wrestling events.
Austin Aries Vs. No Way Jose: Despite being the storyline heel, Aries was given a thundering face reaction by the Brooklyn crowd. This wouldn’t be the last time such a phenomenon would occur this evening. Despite the worries that greenish up-and-comer Jose would struggle with his first televised high-profile live match, this was a solid opener. It soon became crystal clear that Aries was calling this match and it was certainly a testament to Aries’ skills in calling a match as he brought out the best in a promising rookie. To Jose’s credit, he proved to be a very good listener and more than held his own against a more experienced veteran. The live Brooklyn fans, a notoriously fickle and picky bunch, even got into it and started chanting for Jose in dueling chants with the pro-Aries contingent. Jose even broke free from Aries’ Last Chancery finisher and scored a near-fall with the Falcon Arrow, which certainly gave him some much needed cachet. However, a Jose victory wasn’t meant to be as Aries finished off his quarry with a sunset flip power bomb that transitioned into another Last Chancery for the tapout. ***3/4
As if the victory wasn’t enough, Aries started beating on Jose, turning him into the most dour sore winner since Stone Cold turned heel at Wrestlemania X-7. However, Aries let go of yet another Last Chancery when Hideo Itami made a surprise return after a year-plus on the shelf from a shoulder injury. Aries looked terrified as Itami glared at him from the stage. Itami soon found his way to the ring and Aries went for the attack. Itami was too quick for him and he soon devastated Aries with the GTS finisher that he hadn’t had the chance to use in his NXT tenure outside of a little-seen Wrestlemania 31 weekend fanfest show. So I guess we’re getting Aries/Itami at the next Takeover special, likely in October.
Ric Flair was in the audience with his soon to be fifth wife Fifi the Maid. He must be a glutton for punishment to want to add a potential fifth alimony to his financial woes.
Ember Moon Vs. Billie Kay: For those wondering, Moon is a recent arrival from the SHIMMER Women Athletes promotion, where she wrestled under the ring name Athena. This is where Vince McMahon’s main roster call-ups came to bite NXT big time as the extremely sloppy Kay got a PPV-level match despite being nowhere near ready to work a live televised match. To be honest, sloppy was putting it mildly as Kay botched one spot after another including Eat Defeat and a horrific powerbomb that could have killed Moon had she landed differently. She also failed to properly sell Moon’s offense. Despite this being her first NXT match, Moon got an incredible reaction from the live crowd. Well, fans can recognize actual talent when they can see it. Moon was simply awesome in the ring as everything she did looked great. Her work was so crisp and strong that she managed to overcome the liability of being stuck with a mediocre opponent and did enough to make the match fairly decent. Despite it being a weak match, this wound up being better than either of the two women’s matches on the main roster PPV the following night, which is certainly depressing. The finish was genuinely spectacular as Moon took Cena’s Stone Cold Stunner off the ropes to an insane new level by adding a tope and a twist before nailing the Stunner. Of course, Kay didn’t sell it. Moon is the real thing; Kay is still like a green banana in need of serious ripening. **1/4
3. Bobby Roode Vs. Andrade Cien Almas: It just wouldn’t be a Takeover special without Tom Phillips making a complete screw-up on commentary. This time around, he talked about how Roode traveled to Brooklyn from his Manhattan base via helicopter. Guess he wasn’t paying attention to the vignettes between matches that showed Roode traveling by limo, not copter. Despite being the storyline heel, Roode received a standing ovation and a total face reaction from the Brooklyn crowd, replete with 15,671 fans all singing the lyrics to Roode’s theme music and chanting “This is GLORIOUS!” It visibly shocked Roode, who clearly wasn’t expecting to receive such a superstar reaction and having never received such a reaction before, was even suppressing tears. Takeover Brooklyn II finally kicked off into high gear with this match. Roode seemed motivated to prove his worth as his performance here was miles better than the last year or two of his TNA tenure. Then again, he’s finally in an environment that isn’t dysfunctional and in which the head honcho isn’t more concerned with their own bid for stardom. Anyway, back to the match itself, which truly was glorious. Almas more than held his own in the ring against Roode and looked like a megastar by the time the match concluded. Even the Brooklyn crowd started giving him audible props midway through the match. Roode himself seemed to relish actually facing a quality opponent instead of the WWE rejects and assorted losers that were Dixie Carter’s pets in TNA. Almas scored several near-falls that had the live crowd completely unglued with suspense. Alas, a victory wasn’t meant to be for Almas as Roode finished off his opponent with the Glorious Slam (a modified pump handle slam) for the pin and a huge pop. ****1/2
4. NXT Tag Team Champions The Revival (Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson) Vs. Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa: This was the best match of the entire weekend, a rollercoaster ride that was an exciting throwback to the tag team classics of the 1980’s. We too often forget how good we had it then: The Wild Samoans, Tony Garea & Rick Martel, Barry Windham & Mike Rotundo, Tony Atlas & Rocky Johnson, Adrian Adonis & Dick Murdoch, Greg Valentine & Brutus Beefcake, The British Bulldogs, The Hart Foundation, The Midnight Express, The Brain Busters, The Fantastics, The Brain Busters (Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard), The Killer Bees, Demolition, The Road Warriors, Strike Force were just a few of the teams that made tag team wrestling so great back then. Thanks to HHH’s willingness to revive some of the basic building blocks of what worked in the past, NXT’s tag team division is on its’ way to being the modern day equivalent of that boon period of tag team wrestling. This match features the tag team that I consider the best and most complete tag team in professional wrestling today: Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson. Their in-ring skills are outstanding. They understand the concept of classic tag team heel psychology, making them the single best heel tag team since Anderson & Blanchard. Their mic skills are surprisingly strong for up-and-comers. Their matches have been some of the best tag team matches on American TV to date. How Wilder and Dawson weren’t called up to the main roster while lesser talent like Mojo Rawley, Carmella and Baron Corbin somehow were is a mystery not even Sherlock Holmes, Monk or Columbo could crack. That’s not to slight Gargano and Ciampa, who made their mark on the indie circuit and ROH before finding a new home in NXT. They were sensational here, working so flawlessly with Wilder & Dawson that I hope this program continues. And judging from the most recent batch of TV tapings, it looks like HHH and his Creative team is going to keep this feud going. This is what sets him apart from his father-in law and the Hollywood sycophants that dominate main roster Creative: he sees something that works and doesn’t feel compelled to “fix” it or try to make the fans rue the day they get emotionally invested in something as simple as a classic tag team match. Even more amazing was that mere weeks after their star-making performances in a ******++++ Match of the Year candidate at the Cruiserweight Classic, Gargano and Ciampa managed to top that phenomenal bout with one that was even better. The match started slowly, as the classic tag team battles of the 80s so often did, building things up to a fever pitch that kept the live crowd unglued with suspense and delight. It was so great to see the classic tag team psychology of keeping the babyface team from making the tag, building up the heat to white hot incinerator levels that are so often missing from WWE’s main roster tag team matches these days. Another plus was that there was actual wrestling here rather than a collection of high spots or lame comedy, as Vince loves to load tag team matches with on the main roster. Fans popped huge when it appeared Gargano and Ciampa had won the tag team titles, but Wilder got his foot on the bottom rope and the match was restarted. The match told the story that Gargano’s knee was weakened from his encounter with Ciampa at the CWC weeks earlier, so Dawson & Wilder took advantage as the great heels would in the past. Eventually, the pain became too great to overcome and Gargano tapped out when Dawson reversed the Figure Four. This match is one for the memory banks. ******++++++++ (to infinity and beyond)
5. NXT Women’s Champion Asuka Vs. Bayley: I remember mentioning to friends that I felt sorry for the women who had to compete at SummerSlam since they would have a hard time following this eagerly anticipated rematch between two of NXT’s best women wrestlers. Then again, I didn’t think the main roster women would bomb so spectacularly when I made that remark. At first, I believed I had jinxed them, then I read that contrary to popular rumors, Vince McMahon WAS present and in charge at SummerSlam, so the jinx was already there. Anyway, back to the match. I thought it was a superb match, albeit not nearly as great as their Takeover: Dallas title change match. For starters, since Bayley made her main roster debut at Battleground last month, one figured this would be her swan song from NXT. Therefore, few believed she was regaining the title. That hurt the match a bit. Not helping matters was having to follow one of the greatest tag team matches of recent years. Still, this was a near-perfect match and they did a great job of parlaying Bayley’s underdog persona and the memory of her title win at last year’s Takeover: Brooklyn into sheer emotional drama. Asuka played the thin line between face and heel to perfection, eventually helping overcome the lack of fan expectation for a title change live in Brooklyn. Bayley managed to escape the Asuka Lock that caused her downfall in Dallas and even countered a second Asuka Lock into a near-fall. Each near-escape finally got the fans to start believing in the possibility of a title switch. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be as Asuka gave Bayley three stiff and swift kicks to the skull. Asuka covered Bayley’s seemingly lifeless corpse for the 1-2-3. In a show of respect for a worthy opponent, Asuka lifted up Bayley and embraced her now-defeated rival, all while choking back tears. Contrast this to Nikki Bella holding up her thumb and forefinger into the L for Loser position after winning a horrible match the night after. The difference between NXT’s women’s division and WWE’s is summed up in one word: respect. There is none on display in the main roster, as McMahon wants his women at each others' throats in constant acrimony. In NXT, respect is paid to a worthy opponent, even by the heels. It’s quite a contrast, isn’t it? ****3/4
6. NXT World Champion Samoa Joe Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: Vince McMahon has famously claimed that WWE fans would never truly embrace a Japanese wrestler. Along comes HHH to once again disprove his father-in-law’s harebrained theories as Nakamura received one of the most stunning babyface pops ever given to a Japanese wrestler appearing on a WWE or NXT program. Not only did fans give him a standing ovation, they proceeded to sing along to his theme music during his entrance, which was one of the more spectacular on an NXT show to date as it featured a live fiddle performance. Even Nakamura seemed surprised and moved by the rave reaction from the fans. Joe received some cheers, but the fans were overwhelmingly behind Nakamura, reacting to everything the King of Strong Style did. Some in the IWC have complained that the match was too slow and even too foreign, but I found it gripping from start to finish. This was a total Japanese-style match, with a slower-paced build to something more frenzied and brutal. Since Joe has legitimate Japanese wrestling experience and Nakamura is such a natural in the ring, it turned out to be a phenomenal match. It certainly proved that under the right hands, ROH no longer has an exclusive corner on genuine Japanese-style matches on American soil. The chain wrestling was superb, as both men showed they are masters of the mat. When the match finally kicked into high gear at the halfway point, it was simply off-the-charts brilliance. Joe confidently finished off Nakamura with the Muscle Buster, but just as he was secure in believing he had the match won, the King of Strong Style kicked out. Nakamura has his own moment of shock when Joe kicked out of the Kinshasa kick. Joe attempted the Kokina Klutch but Nakamura wiggled free and nailed Joe with a knee to the back of the head. One Kinshasa later and Nakamura scored the 1-2-3 to become the first Asian wrestler to hold the NXT World Championship. It was a history making night as the top two singles titles in NXT were both held by Japanese talent who were most worthy of being elevated to such heights. Some are complaining that Nakamura winning the title doesn’t do anything to elevate him. Little do these armchair critics realize that it’s the title that’s being elevated by being around the waist of one of Japan’s greatest talents. Strike that, one of the world’s greatest talents. Only good things can come from a Nakamura NXT World title reign. I can’t wait to see what’s next. ******+++
When I was in seventh grade, my grammar school decided to throw a Halloween party for the entire school. It was hyped for weeks as the greatest party of the school year. Their first school-wide Halloween party the year before was a big success and a good time was had by all, so we were really looking forward to the sequel. It turned out to be one big trick rather than a treat. The teacher in charge of putting the party together was beyond lazy and uninspired and needless to say, the party was just one big bore.
I normally wouldn’t start a wrestling recap with something so seemingly unrelated, but when SummerSlam 2016 ended after a marathon length of 6 hours and 6 minutes this past Sunday night, 25 year old memories of that bad Halloween party came flooding back. The three-day Weekend of Wrestling ended with a whimper instead of the bang that this show seemed poised to deliver on paper.
SummerSlam 2016 was the wrestling equivalent of said party: lazy, uninspired and overlong. This was not a good show at all. While it was packed with 13 matches, only two managed to live up to the high expectations on paper. Most of the matches wound up disappointing in one way or another. The booking had more holes than the entire production line of a Swiss cheese factory. Three matches had no proper finish. One match was a total bait-and-switch that only left a sour taste in the mouths of all watching. Both World titles and their respective champions were made to look unimportant while a pair of drug cheats got the top two matches on the card.
WWE is claiming a live attendance of 15,974 inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY for SummerSlam, allowing them to boast that main roster WWE one-upped NXT by a slight margin. However, NXT bested WWE in the one area that truly matters: show quality. I read in the Observer that the main roster talent and crew felt motivated to top NXT Takeover. If this is the product of a motivated roster and crew, I’d hate to see what a show would be like if they were complacent and idle. Thumbs down and a crummy end to a three-day Weekend of Wrestling!
1. Pre-Show Match: American Alpha & The Hype Bros & The Usos Vs. The Vaudevillains & The Ascension & Breeztango: I admit I had major apprehensions about this match. Lately, pre-show tag team matches have been a hot mess, featuring random pairings of leftover guys not featured on the main card rushing through a far too short match. Imagine my surprise when this 12-man, 6-team tag match bucked the odds and wound up being one of the better matches of the overall show. They had 11 minutes, which was a major improvement over the less than 4 matches pre-show tag bouts had been receiving as of late. All six teams also worked like they had something to prove, which in a way, they do considering Vince McMahon’s penchant for mismanaging tag team wrestling. This extra motivation made for an exciting match. Even Fandango seems to be flourishing in a tag team role, something I would never have believed possible. American Alpha were the standouts; everything they did was simply fantastic. They seem to be building to an Usos heel turn, which is just as well considering the tandem have been booed out of every arena recently due to their familial affiliation with Roman Reigns. Chad Gable and Jason Jordan had the match won against the Vaudevillains, but Jey Uso tagged himself in and helped his brother steal the victory away with the Uso Splash. There was subtle acrimony when the Usos blanched at Gable & Jordan when the latter team held up their compatriots’ arms in victory. Nice subtlety that is often lacking on the main roster WWE product. ***3/4
2. Pre-Show Match: Neville & Sami Zayn Vs. The Dudley Boyz: This would be the latest swan song of the Bubba Ray and D-Von on a WWE PPV as Vince McMahon chose to renege on a handshake deal he had made with the team a week before regarding a contract renewal. Geez, I remember the days when a McMahon handshake deal was actually ironclad. It appears that Neville and Zayn are being packaged as a permanent tag team instead of being pushed as the legitimate singles stars they were in NXT. Oh well, better a solid tag team with a good chance to dominate the division instead of being jobbed to oblivion to arrogant beasts like Brock Lesnar. Match was a basic tag team match, but solid most of the way. Since the Dudleys were leaving, it only made sense for them to put over the new team on the way out. Neville scored the pin after a Red Arrow on Bubba while Zayn held D-Von at bay. ***1/4
3. Pre-Show Match: Sheamus Vs. Cesaro, Best of 7 Series Match 1: This was supposed to be on the main PPV card, but with Baron Corbin/Kalisto being scrubbed due to a worked injury angle for the latter, they decided to stick this match on the pre-show, where they would receive less time to pull off the great match both are capable of. Sure enough, that is exactly what happened. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good match but not the great match both are capable of. If any match should have been made the sacrificial lamb, it should have been the six-woman tag team match, especially since it looked weak on paper and was even worse in execution. But since John Cena used his political muscle to ensure that his girlfriend's match remained on the main card, Cesaro and Sheamus were royally screwed. There was one amazing spot where Cesaro climbed atop the enlarged ringpost and leapt off, leveling Sheamus with a lariat that has to be seen to be believed. Since this was a throwback to the traditional Best of 7 series of JCP/NWA lore, it made sense for the heel to win the first encounter, which Sheamus did with one well placed Brogue Kick. Word on the street is that the winner of this series is in line for a shot at the Universal title. Cesaro should win, but if the rumors are true that Roman Reigns is getting yet another world title run, Vince will rehash Reigns/Sheamus, which was already done to death in late 2015/early 2016. ***1/4
4. Enzo Amore & Big Cass Vs. Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens: There may be no tag team on main roster WWE as completely over with live audiences as Enzo and Big Cass are. They are the most charismatic team I’ve seen in years. Fans actually recite their dialogue in stereo with Enzo and Big Cass, not to mention eagerly eat up everything the duo says and does with relish. So what does McMahon do with this potential gold mine? Continue to job them out. It was even worse this time around since 1) Jericho and Owens were thrown together at random with no real set-up or even a reason why; 2) Jericho is not the lightning sharp workhorse he once was, visibly older and slower and 3) Enzo and Big Cass were the hometown tag team, yet they proceed to lose to the foreigners. The match was fairly solid. Enzo is getting blamed for missing spots, but when you’re working with an older veteran who was lost much of the speed from his fastball, it’s definitely a difficult job. I thought he did quite well considering the handicap of being matched against Jericho. To be fair, Jericho did look better in the ring than he has the past few months but he’s still a long away from his prime. Hiding him in a tag team was a smart move. Owens was fantastic and whenever he was in, the match was really good. For the most part, it was a solid, fast-paced affair. Then came the crummy finish, where the wrong team went over and to add insult to injury, Jericho scored the pin. A thrown together team made out of spare parts just beat your regular full-time team. Morons. ***1/2
5. Women’s Champion Sasha Banks Vs. Charlotte: This was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the entire show because both of these women are amongst the best wrestlers in the country and even the world, yet the match was barely average and extremely sloppy. To those who have eagerly followed the previous Sasha/Charlotte classics on NXT and Raw, the match must have seemed as if Brie Bella and Kelly Kelly somehow tied up the real Sasha and Charlotte, disguised themselves as the better talents and proceeded to do their usual sloppy, lazy and uninspired Divas matches that tortured the masses five years ago. That preceding remark may have been a run-on sentence, but it was fitting for describing a run-on match. As it turned out, by evening’s end, we would find out that Sasha Banks was entering the match with a severe back and shoulder injury. This certainly explains why the match was so below par by the high standards of both women. Charlotte screwed up a spot on the ropes that resulted in Sasha being slammed hard back first on the mat. Sasha looked like she was seeing stars and certainly didn’t do her back injury any favors, much less the match. They went through the motions, lacking the smooth spark of their classic matches of the past. Sasha attempted to make Charlotte tap to the modified Crossface, but Charlotte sloppily rolled atop of Sasha and the ref counted the pin. At least she didn’t cheat this time to secure a victory. Knowing that Sasha was nowhere near ready to perform at her usual high level, WWE could have made a last minute change to the match on the pre-show. They could have removed Becky Lynch from the worthless six-woman tag and added her to Sasha/Charlotte, stating that it was the brainchild of Raw GM Mick Foley and Smackdown GM Daniel Bryan, who both desired to stage the rematch of the century and a last stab over deciding which brand would wind up with the title. The triple-threat could have hidden Sasha’s injury-induced weaknesses and a fired-up Becky would have been able to carry the load. Another option would have had Foley declare that Sasha was too injured to compete, so the title was vacated but that Charlotte would have to earn the title the hard way by facing his newest acquisition: Bayley. Either of those options would have been better than what they did go with in the end. **
6. Intercontinental Champion The Miz Vs. Apollo Crews: The Intercontinental Championship hasn’t felt relevant in years due to the lack of care on the part of WWE Creative in making it feel like the important secondary title it once was. This match did nothing to fix that problem. It wasn’t the fault of Miz or Crews, as both are solid workers and capable of having good matches. The problem fell entirely on Creative, who couldn’t be bothered to build this match up properly on the TV leading up to the PPV. Then there was the crummy finish. Both men were having a really good match, albeit one on the short side at 6 minutes. However, the finish was beyond crap, as Miz retained the title after his wife Maryse distracted the ref, allowing Hubby Dearest to ram Crews’ head into the giant ringpost, following it up with a Skull Crushing Finale for the pin. The IC title, its’ current champion and the up-and-coming Crews all continue to look weak. Way to go, Vince. ***1/2
7. John Cena Vs. AJ Styles: Far and away the best match of the show and the only one that was anything close to extraordinary. After disappointing at Money in the Bank with a sluggish match, both men make up for that lackluster bout with one of the year’s best matches. Cena has finally shaken off the ring rust that he accumulated over an eight-month shelving due to injury. Styles was finally allowed a showcase for his considerable in-ring talent. The match was refreshingly devoid of the constant outside interference and clusterf*** booking that has plagued all of Styles’ post-Mania 32 matches. After being lulled into a coma by the last few matches, the live crowd in Brooklyn finally came to life again. The crowd was largely anti-Cena. God these “John Cena Sucks” chants are getting old. Not to mention that such chants just expose how stupid the IWC clods actually are by insisting that Cena can’t wrestle when he’s proven for over 11 years that he is a superb all-around wrestler. Cena and Styles put on a real nailbiter, taking each other to the absolute limit. At 30 minutes, it was a long match but it was so brilliantly executed that it felt far shorter. The ending was a worry, especially since WWE has repeatedly done the wrong thing and book Cena to win yet feuds that he could easily afford to lose. Given that he’s taking three months off to film another season of a TV show that people clearly preferred watching paint dry instead of tuning in, it made sense for Styles to win. Thank the heavens that common sense prevailed. Styles finally pinned Cena with the springboard flying forearm after several attempts by each to put their quarry away for good. Cena sold the loss like it was a heartbreaking one, pulling off his “Never Give Up” armband and holding back tears. It felt as if the guy telling us never to give up just did. While shocking to some degree, it gives Cena’s character some much needed context for his inevitable return. This match blew away everything else on the show. ******+++
8. WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day (Xavier Woods & Kofi Kingston) Vs. Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows: I knew we were in for trouble once Anderson and Gallows were turned into jokester heels instead of the vicious monsters they were in Japan. I knew we were in for even more trouble once Jon Stewart showed up in the New Day’s corner. Yet I was unprepared for just how bad this match turned out to be. Without Big E, the New Day’s live reaction was noticeably muted. The Kofi-Woods tandem didn’t work and gel together as smoothly or sharply as the usual Kofi/Big E tandem, leaving me to wonder if Big E truly is the heart and soul of this group. Anderson and Gallows were so below par and clearly not allowed to work at their usual high level that it was just sad to watch. It was a depressing match fitting for an increasingly depressing night. The match plodded along with no excitement or good wrestling for what seemed like an eternity. Anderson and Gallows were just about to cover Woods’ corpse for the win after finishing him off with the Magic Killer when Stewart interfered. He started begging for mercy and straining for laughs that weren’t there, so Anderson and Gallows decided to give him the Big E treatment of ramming his balls straight into the ringpost. Before they could make Stewart a permanent castrato, Big E made his return and cleaned house. The ref just threw his hands up and gave up on this match, with no winner declared live. Lord knows I wanted to join him. The following day, WWE.com would clarify that Anderson and Gallows won via DQ. This wound up being the worst match of the entire weekend. What a depressing fact that it was this one. ½*
9. WWE World Heavyweight Champion Dean Ambrose Vs. Dolph Ziggler: At a time when a great match was desperately needed, two stellar in-ring performers gave us only an average one instead. This was yet another crushing disappointment in a show loaded with them: a great match on paper that turned out to be astonishingly mediocre in execution. It soon became clear that not one person watching the match live inside Barclays believed that Ziggler could plausibly pull off the win. He has been jobbed out to the point that no one believes he’s a plausible contender and serious threat to any World champion. Aside from the lack of plausibility and crowd heat, another problem was that Ambrose and Ziggler just didn’t gel as opponents, lacking that creative spark the best feuds often have. It wasn’t a bad match so much as a lazy one. When it was all over my immediate impression was that both men went through the motions and were more concerned with getting it over with as quickly as possible. There was no palpable suspense; Ziggler’s repeated act of constantly covering Ambrose to get near falls fell flat without the nail-biting moments or big moves to justify such a concept. Ambrose scored the pin with Dirty Deeds, but at the end, he didn’t come off looking like a dominant champion. **1/2