Eric’s Blog: How much new blood is too much new blood?

Self-explanatory

Give me three character traits about each of these new WWE wrestlers:

Ryback, Damien Sandow, Antonio Cesaro, Brad Maddox, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Big E Langston

I can do this for maybe four of the eight listed here, and I’d be stretching in a couple of cases. So tell me why I should spend $40 on a ticket or $60 on a pay-per-view to watch them do anything.

WWE introduced a number of new characters throughout 2012, including a glut of them in the past 10 weeks, with only a couple of them receiving proper character development beyond superficial “I hate this guy and want to beat him up” or “I hate you people and want you to stop booing me” type stuff. Most of them are rookies to the WWE main roster, others are repackaged familiar faces, but they are all a part of an unlabeled “new talent initiative” coursing through WWE.

But what good is new talent when you hardly know a thing about them? The basis of pro wrestling is emotional investment: Do you care enough about this guy to pay to see him get beaten up? Do you care enough about that guy to pay to see him get his revenge? WWE has proven itself over the decades as a master emotion manipulator, but especially when they put forth a great deal of effort. It’s when they introduce a new character and let him languish that things get frustrating.

Take the example of Antonio Cesaro (with a white wine pairing), the former Claudio Castagnoli who enraged and then endeared himself to Ring of Honor fans through his actions and his character development. When he landed in WWE, he became a nondescript European rugby player (so of course he’d “go pro” by becoming a wrestler, just like plumber TL Hopper and dentist Isaac Yankem) who may or may not be the strongest man pound-for-pound in WWE, depending on how the Smackdown announce team feels that Friday. To hear him talk, well, you’d know he thinks he’s superior to Americans, because aren’t all British royalty? Oh, that’s right, he’s a Swiss rugby guy. Huge disconnect there for me, that can’t be corrected just because he gives Brodus Clay a face plant.

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Stunt Granny Audio #208

Eric and Kevin are back, and the boys discuss Kevin attending WWE Monday Night Raw in Columbus, Ohio. Who was over? Who was a dud? What was Kevin’s favorite moment? His biggest disappointment? What did the guys think of the Jerry Lawler-CM Punk-Paul Heyman-Mick Foley angle? The Ryback-Brad Maddox match? The action-packed 8-man tag? They also do some quick hits: Will Steve Austin wrestle CM Punk, and would they spend the money for a ticket? What’s their favorite Eddie Guerrero memory? Will they spend $1.98 on the paperback version of AJ Styles’ book? All this and a little more!

Stunt Granny Audio Show #208

Eric’s Blog: What I love – and hate – about WWE Main Event

Tonight’s episode of WWE Main Event on the Ion television network marks Week Six of a newly produced, newly formatted program that gives WWE an extra revenue stream and, apparently, a sandbox in which to play.

To the point of the new format, right out of the box, WWE placed an active superstar in, what looked at the time to be, a permanent color commentator position. The announce team of Michael Cole and The Miz had potential, both in calling the action and in growing the stagnant “Miz” character, even preparing Miz for a future in broadcast should he choose to accept it.

My eyes were opened even wider to the new format when only two matches were announced, then recorded, then broadcast on each show: one headline match and one “undercard” bout. And the headline match lasted a good 20 minutes. And, week to week, the headline matches were set up by something that had happened on the previous episode. AAAAND, the wrestlers were still given promo time – not soliloquy time, but just enough time to get themselves and their match over.

So many thoughts went through my head as the weeks went on:

  • How great is it that WWE hypes one match for a whole week on one of their shows?
  • How great is it that WWE doesn’t try to cram 10 pounds of shit into a 5-pound bag?
  • How great is it that WWE is employing the pre- and post-match promos with Matt Striker, often in the ring or at ringside, fight-night style?

Furthermore, WWE appears to have learned from its previous thrust into the one-hour basic-cable limelight – WWE Superstars on WGN, which debuted in April 2009 – and didn’t overhype its new show as “the place to see all of the biggest WWE stars!!!” Three years ago, the opening match featured the Undertaker, WWE’s resident part-time legend. Two years and 51 weeks ago, Superstars became the Fit Finley Fiasco, with your occasional Big Show here and Jericho there.

With WWE Main Event, you’re probably going to get a Randy Orton or a Sheamus or an Alberto del Rio, you’re probably going to get them in a six-man tag team match, they’re probably going to have a really good, made-for-free-TV match, and they may even cut a nice promo.

Then in the undercard, you’re likely to see someone climbing the ranks like Dolph Ziggler or Cody Rhodes get a win over a floundering but memorable Brodus Clay, when it could be worse, like Jey Uso or Epico. And if you do see Jey Uso or Epico, it’s probably in a tag team effort with their respective partners, Jimmy and Primo, in a decent 10-minute match. The point here: WWE is also utilizing its talent base as best it can here. Rather than feeding Zack Ryder to Kane in a meaningless match, you might get Zack Ryder & Santino Marella – Team CoBro – in a fun, well-worked, 10-minute tag match against the super-over Kane & Daniel Bryan. And then everyone wins.

Everything I have typed above comprised the list of things I love about WWE Main Event, not to mention the fact that the name and, to an extent, the format are throwbacks to days of yore, when I would record the WWF’s sporadic network TV show, The Main Event, on VHS. So now, for the thing I hate about Main Event: None of these formatting positives will translate to the A-show, Monday Night Raw, or the B-show, Smackdown. These are the shows where my dreams go to die. I don’t want 20-minute promos by Brad “Show Your Teeth, Boy” Maddox. I want 90-second promos from Sheamus, something I can digest, not cram. I don’t want three hours of scattershot bullshit. I want 60 minutes of well-planned programming that strikes a balance between wrestling and talk, with getting yourself over as the fulcrum. I don’t want main events that were thrown together last hour by a crooked general manager. I want seven days of hype for a match between two men who have a score to settle.

Pro wrestling is not that hard. I am not that hard to entertain. Maybe I’m in the minority by feeling this way, but WWE Main Event nails both of those things far more often than either Raw or Smackdown.

Eric’s Blog: Twenty-five facts about WWF WrestleMania III

Today marks 25 years since the monumental professional wrestling event that was WWF WrestleMania III. The event that would purport to break the world’s indoor attendance record, the event headlined by three-year champion Hulk Hogan vs. former best friend and “undefeated” Andre the Giant, the event that encapsulates the incredible boom period of the 1980s somewhere between the petulant innocence of rock-n-wrestling and the glitz and glamour of global dominance.

With 25 years gone by, let’s take a look at 25 fun facts about this canonical event.

1) Sorry to start on a down note, but known deceased wrestlers, managers and wrestling personalities from that card include Gorilla Monsoon, Lord Alfred Hayes, Joey Marella, Hercules, Little Beaver, Little Tokyo, Fabulous Moolah, Junkyard Dog, Dino Bravo, Adrian Adonis, Davey Boy Smith, Randy Savage, Miss Elizabeth and Andre the Giant.

2) Attendance for this show has been disputed for the whole of its 25-year history. Vince McMahon and WWE claim 93,173, which would have broken Pope John Paul’s attendance number at the time. Since then, Wikipedia cites 93,682 in attendance for the Pope’s visit. Dave Meltzer and the Wrestling Observer frequently cite a faxed report from a Silverdome worker stating 78,000. And Hulk Hogan constantly increases the figure to the point where he may have slammed a 900-pound Andre the Giant in front of 17 million screaming Hulkamaniacs.

"Anybody want a peanut? YOU! You, Hogan! You want a peanut!"

3) The announced total combined weight of the two main-event participants – Hulk Hogan at an announced 302 pounds and Andre the Giant at 525 pounds – is the most of any singles WrestleMania main event.

4) WrestleMania III marks what some consider the furthest WrestleMania-to-WrestleMania dive down the card for one wrestler: King Kong Bundy, who headlined WM2 against Hulk Hogan in a steel cage for the WWF Title and then teamed with two midgets to wrestle Hillbilly Jim and two more midgets in the third match of 12. The match’s saving grace: Bob Uecker, who likened Little Beaver after a 450-pound Bundy elbow drop to “marinated mushrooms.”

5) The double countout ending to the Billy Jack Haynes vs. Hercules “full nelson challenge” would be the second of its kind in WrestleMania history – the first being Paul Orndorff vs. Magnificent Muraco at WM2 – and would not be the last – Brutus Beefcake vs. Ted DiBiase and Hacksaw Duggan vs. Bad News Brown at WM5, Roddy Piper vs. Bad News Brown at WM6, Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith vs. Vader & Mankind at WM13, and the first finish of Miz vs. John Cena at WM27.

6) The epic Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage match was, at that point, the longest match in WrestleMania history at 14:35, topping Hogan & Mr. T vs. Piper & Orndorff (13:13), David Sammartino vs. Brutus Beefcake (an excruciating 12:43), Piper vs. Mr. T (a laborious 13:14) and the British Bulldogs vs. the Dream Team (13:03).

"Alice who-per?"

7) Accompanying Jake “The Snake” Roberts to the ring for his match against the Honky Tonk Man was shock-rock icon Alice Cooper. (No More) Mr. Nice Guy would be the fourth recording artist to accompany a wrestler at WrestleMania, the others being Cyndi Lauper (in the corner of Wendi Richter at WrestleMania 1), Ozzy Osbourne (seconding the British Bulldogs at WrestleMania 2) and of course Jimmy Hart (who performed with the Gentrys and managed many WWF superstars of the day).

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Eric’s Blog: Defending my stance on Daniel Bryan

Portrait of a Man... Trying (Not Very Hard) to Not Laugh

If you’ve listened to our Royal Rumble review audio with me and Dusty, and if you’ve listened to Stunt Granny Audio #174 with Kevin and Jeremy, you’ve heard a handful of opinions on the character portrayed by Daniel Bryan, described by the Masked Man at Grantland.com as a wrestler who “has transitioned steadily — artfully, even — from a vanilla underdog hero into one of WWE’s most effective and intriguing villains.” I could attempt to poke holes in adverbs like “steadily” and adjectives like “effective” – when Bryan’s heel turn began, it was obvious to all but the 10-est of the 10-year-olds, and its effectiveness is yet to be determined thanks to a downward-trending Smackdown rating and no real opportunity to draw money.

But it’s the artfulness of Bryan’s heel turn that has me concerned, for a number of reasons. I attempted to explain them in the middle of a vitriolic hate parade called a Royal Rumble review, and, possibly lost in translation, Kevin took that as me “not getting it” (paraphrased), assuming I didn’t realize it was part of a heel turn.

Oh, my friend, I realized it, and Kevin and I have since hashed it out over instant messenger, but I wanted to expand on my thoughts here. To set the agenda, this is the World Heavyweight Champion we’re talking about, this is the former Bryan Danielson we’re talking about, and this is a duplicate attempt at a comedic heel character we’re talking about. It’s a concoction that could either blow up like anhydrous and a batch of meth ingredients, fizzle like baking soda and vinegar, or turn out mildly palatable like this watered-down vodka cranberry I’m drinking in the hotel restaurant as I write this.

Allow me to post here what I wrote to Kevin, and elaborate as necessary:

his celebration is meant to be overbearing
but I also have the stance that it’s getting in the way of taking him seriously
again, they have a world champ who wins on flukes
and a (former indy darling and) great wrestler who acts like a fucking dope
I understand the concept, but why they feel the need to do it to Bryan is a little confusing
other than he really is a fucking dope
So yes, his jumping up and down and screaming “YES! YES! YES!” as he squeaks past his larger opponents on technicalities is a purposeful attempt at giving a wrestler overbearing qualities in the scheme of turning him heel. But again, this is the World Heavyweight Champion here, a main-event (sometimes) position meant to be held in some distinction, and a title currently held by a man who can wrestle his ass off night in and night out. By comparison:
strangely, I could see Jack Swagger doing that with the US Title
but not Daniel Bryan and the World Hvt Title
historical example: Randy Savage was off kilter like Daniel Bryan (but in a little more maniacal way)
but you would have never seen him jumping around like a retard at the zoo with the WWF Title
My argument here is that this is a legitimate way to turn someone heel, but why does it need to be the World Heavyweight Champion and one-time Best In The World? Well, Kevin made two valid points in our conversation: One, this is likely an attack on Internet fans, which Vince McMahon feels the need to do now that he has no other business competition. Since he can’t make Billionaire Ted skits or bitch out the federal government for trumped-up trafficking charges or buy up/take over shriveling territories for pennies on the dollar, he needs to focus his attention on the skinny, pimply nerds he hates, and Bryan is the proxy. Two, it’s working, and Bryan is getting booed, to which I said:
can’t argue with a crowd reaction
and it’s a decent crowd reaction
if it were 20 percent sympathy boos and 80 percent crickets, then there would be more to criticize
Bryan is getting over in spite of the goofiness, and thanks in part to the goofiness
And all of this in spite of the fact that the far better-known and longer-tenured Chris Jericho recently returned and, until Monday, was playing the exact same character, an evilly smiling, smarmily pandering quasi face with an agenda just waiting to pull the wool over the fans’ eyes. So I guess it’s a credit to Daniel Bryan that he can take a misplaced gimmick like “smiling dope,” which, by the way, he is…
… and make the crowd dislike him. It may be enough to keep the undersized WWE superstar employed. Time will tell if this is a main-event-level gimmick, but my gut, and a dash of history, tells me it’s not.

Eric’s Blog: For CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, Benoit and Guerrero comparisons a little too apropos

CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, in happier times. Like, last night.

Last night at the WWE TLC pay-per-view, long-time indy favorite and beloved smallish pro wrestler Daniel Bryan did the unthinkable: He pinned a 500-pound wrestling giant to win the World Heavyweight Championship. When the above picture of fellow champion CM Punk and Bryan surfaced, comparisons to the late, regaled and internationally celebrated Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero were instant: Two scruffy, 200-pound darlings of the hardcore type of fan had finally made it in the land of storybook monsters and mythological heroes. Think this is going to last very long? History tells you not to bet on it.

What seems like a million years ago but was really only in 1992, the WWF was staving off the symptoms of internal sex, drugs and rock-and-roll scandals. A handful of then-current and then-past WWF employees were being accused of sexual exploits with under-aged, starry-eyed, same-sex nubiles. Vince McMahon was being implicated in stories from women painting him an insatiable sexual monster. Multi-time champion, world-renown hero and No. 1 merchandise peddler Hulk Hogan needed a break after eight years, not because Hulkamania no longer went wild but because the gravy train took a stop at “The Arsenio Hall Show,” where the 800-pound orange gorilla lied about his steroid use (“One time, brother,” and the needle had been stuck there ever since, dude), an issue that would put McMahon on trial for the better part of the next 18 months.

Without the Hulkster to weigh down the company, the WWF went in a few different directions with its headliners and championships. This experimentation was largely unheard of for the billion-dollar company; it had sold out arenas with the same guy on top since Bruno Sammartino’s inaugural eight-year reign. (Sure, Bob Backlund, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, was a pale, smallish guy, but a lot of other, bigger wrestlers headlined those cards.) Tinkering with success was simply not in the WWF formula, until fate (and the company’s own misgivings) forced its hand. Thankfully, in 1991, McMahon had brought in Ric Flair, largely considered the greatest professional wrestler ever, to be the chief antagonist, first for Hogan, then for famed star Roddy Piper, and later for Macho Man Randy Savage. It was with Savage that Flair battled for the WWF Championship, a prize normally held by someone who either weighed or looked like he could bench-press 300 pounds.

With the steroid issue bringing the WWF’s roster of physiques into question, McMahon began putting the belt on smaller, yet very accomplished wrestlers: first Flair, then Savage, then Flair again. But the writing was on the wall; one Wembley Stadium 80,000-plus sellout aside, box offices were dwindling as the WWF moved away from Goliath-versus-goliath main events. If there’s one other thing the McMahon family has always had a penchant for besides Herculean physiques, it’s Samoans.

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Eric’s Blog: After talking with @Lagana, is it time to riot?

zack ryder

(NOTE: My brief conversation with Dave Lagana over Twitter this morning began with no intention of it being turned into a blog post. However, as the discussion went on, I realized how important it was to get these thoughts out to everyone who couldn’t see them for themselves on Twitter. And anyway, out of the 175 million registered Twitter accounts, only 69 of them follow @StuntGranny, and one of them is Lagana himself. See, people know who we are! Dave, I appreciate you allowing me to interrupt your morning and am sure these thoughts will be well-received by the literally dozens of SG readers. P.S. Follow Dave Lagana @Lagana, and follow his podcast @IWantWrestling)

As many wrestling fans were last night, I was distraught (yeah, that’s a strong word, but following wrestling is my hobby, and it’s still real to me, darn it) over Long Island’s own Zack Ryder not appearing on Monday Night Raw last night as it emanated from Ryder’s hometown.

Ryder has made a name for himself in the past 12 months as a “Jersey Shore”-like guido with an obnoxious but infectious catchphrase (“Woo WOO woo! You know it!”), one-legged tights (he’s down to no-legged trunks now) and a four-month-old YouTube Web show that garners more than 100,000 views per episode thanks to Ryder’s and friends’ sense of humor, self-deprecation, charming amateur videography and editing, and especially the feeling that they’re creating this just as much for us, the fans who care, as they are to kill time and have fun.

Hell, Dolph Ziggler, Chris Jericho and Wade Barrett came out in support of Ryder on Twitter after his lack of appearance Monday. Ziggler said WWE didn’t “rib ‘the kid’,” they ribbed “the fans” and “the boys in the back” (wow) and even “kicked [Ryder] in the nuts” (double wow). Jericho called it “lame,” saying wrestling should be about “fun,” and Barrett simply Tweeted the initials of Ryder’s battle cry: “WWWYKI.”

Are you serious, bro? Really, would it have been so hard for WWE to allow Ryder to wrestle on Raw in front of his hometown crowd?

To hear former WWE writer Dave Lagana tell it, it’s not as easy as you’d think.

I lucked into a Twitter conversation with Lagana on Tuesday about the fact that the increasingly beloved Ryder didn’t get the chance to capitalize on his growing popularity by basking in his own glory on his employer’s flagship television show. There’s no better, more experienced and more appropriately responsive person on Twitter to ask these questions of, so I inquired if he had any “insight as to why hometowner @ZackRyder was left off the actual Raw program.”

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