Yeah yeah yeah I know, this is over a month old. And with Russo in charge I assume a million things have happened in the last four weeks making the belated report seem even more dated. Hopefully what I lack in timeliness I will make up for with thoroughness or some such.
Hmmm? What actually worked on this episode? Well there was a bowtie, a beatdown, and a look in Stings eyes:
I. The Bowtie
-I need to get a scanner so I can draw a picture of Mike Tenay’s bow tie. He had this two tone bowtie that ruled. It was symmetrically split on front between grey half on bottom and black half on top, and you could also make out the back layer off the bowtie where the color pattern was reversed. I can’t do the bowtie justice. Imagine an 80s highschool movie where the nerd tries to score the ska chick.
II. The Beatdown
-The LAX beating of AMW during autograph signing was great. Loved the attack on Harris’ hand. The wall bump by Storm was pretty great. Luckily more people haven’t watched Jersey All Pro.. As while the beatdown was great the wall ride just reminded me the degree to which Hernandez is a poor man’s Monsta. Which only reminds you that Abyss is a poor man’s Suba, that Konan is a poor man’s Johnny D, that Rhino is poor man’s Magic, that Sabin is poor man’s Dixie, Senshi is a poor man's Low-Ki, Lethal is a poor man's Rainchild, Dutt is a poor man’s Insane Dragon and Petey Williams is a poor man’s Elax. Are Killings/Hoyt supposed to be working a poor man’s J-Train/Laithon gimmick or a poor man’s Buff E/Mace Mendoza gimmick? Either way pale imitations.
III. The Look In Stings Eyes
-I liked the look on Stings face in the rafters at the end of the show. In the last Impact workrate report, I wrote about the idea that I might like the Russo Christian booking. The Crow character has always been a character that brings down judgment. The Sahadi videos of Borden re donning the Sting make up where all about Sting as creature of the rapture and judgment. Christian pop culture built around rapture readiness doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for me and really doesn’t work within the context of wrestling storytelling. As modern rapture pop- culture seems to be concerned with God’s judgment at the expense of a complete lack of interest in God’s grace (the grace that should be the road to salvation). Stories of redemption without grace. Sting tonight sat in the rafters not looking down in judgment. Instead he seemed to have a melancholy look on his face. He was looking down in contemplation. Was he contemplating his own burdens: the dangers of the temptations that lay in the ring below? Was he contemplating the burdens of the wrestlers in the ring below? I don’t lip read but it looked to me like he may have been contemplating Galatians:
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. (Galatians 6:1)
Was it Galatians? I’m not sure. But he definitely did not see himself as an instrument of God’s judgment. He was instead looking to God for guidance. Or perhaps for escape (Psalm 55:6)
WHAT DIDN’T WORK:
The easy Russo criticism is to say he does too much stuff: tries to squeeze so much into each show that in the end nothing stands out. The problem with the criticism is you miss the fact that its not just that there are too many things happening but also that none of the things “happening” are any good. You could split the show into five major happenings: (I) Douglas v Bubba interaction, (II) Fight for Right tourney, (III) LAX beatdown on AMW (IV) X Division three way and LAX/Petey Williams mic work, and (V) Angle/Joe promo package for PPV. Of those only the LAX vs. AMW beatdown made the top. Not just that too much happening, but everything that is happening is poorly conceived or poorly executed.
I. Douglas v Bubba interaction
On paper, one would think it would be impossible to screw up the Shane Douglas v Bubba Ray confrontation. I mean this has a lot of things going for it:
(1) Shane Douglas is delusional. Shane Douglas delusional and bitter is one of my favorite things in all of wrestling. So I’ve been thinking a lot about wrestlers “shooting” on the mic lately as have been reading a lot about the behind the scenes story of the development of the Loose Canon persona. The WWE DVD plays down the drug use and suggests that Pillman died from a “broken heart”. Meltzer writes about how great the gimmick was and if only Pillman wasn’t so drugged up. Somehow this all misses the point. The Loose Canon gimmick wasn’t a gimmick based on a guy “shooting”on the mic. The loose cannon gimmick worked because the gimmick was there is this guy who is completely coked out of his gourd and thus unpredictable. The “shooting”was part of the unpredictability. But the gimmick was “unpredictable coked out of his gourd”. “Shooting” wasn’t his character, it was symptom/ of his character. Shoot angles by and large suck. They suck because the “shoot” isn’t a manifestation of the character, instead the shoot is the end in of itself. The essential premise is wrestling is a carny hustle---wrestling fans know it’s a carny hustle and thus don’t believe a lot of the angles being pushed---that when a wrestler tells the audience the behind the scenes truth, the audience will then trust the wrestler and his angle. But for the most part shoot angles end up being an excuse for lack of character development. Great, so Rob Van Dam is speaking truth to power, so what? Why should I care? What’s his motivation? What does him sharing the backstage gossip say about his character? Speaking truth to power doesn’t always make you honest, sometimes it makes you a whiner. Shane Douglas’gimmick at his best is that he has a huge ego and is delusional. My all time favorite Shane Douglas angle was the one he did with Terry Funk in XPW. Terry Funk and Shane Douglas did this “Who made who “ angle with the premise being that the two were arguing over backstage slight where both were taking claim for making the other. Nothing is more entertaining than Shane Douglas shoot mic work where he explains how he “made”a guy who had the NWA belt in the 70s. Shane Douglas accusing other wrestlers of resting on their ECW legacy, is about as hilariously delusional as you get and should make for entertaining TV.
(2) Bubba accuses Shane Douglas of being bitter and holding a grudge. In general nothing is stupider than wrestling angles built on perceived backstage slights. I really don’t care who rubs who the wrong way by failing to shake hands in the locker room. I’m not a wrestler; I don’t care about backstage rules of etiquette. On the other hand Bubba Ray Duddley and Shane Douglas worked for ECW. EC fn W!!Breaking backstage etiquette in ECW isn’t about hand shaking. It’s ECW. Breaking the backstage code means you either failed to share drugs or you failed to share a ring rat. I can actually understand an angle built on either of those sleights. I mean I don’t know who is face and who is heel in an angle between a bitter guy and a guy who bogarts drugs/ring rats. But I can see it motivating a feud.
(3) The angle makes the Naturals heels again. The Naturals are far better as heels than they are as faces.
So in summation this angle has a lot going for it in theory: (1) it plays into Douglas’character of being delusional, (2)it has the potential to set up realistic motivated feud as it plays into what the audience understands as being the backstage environment in ECW, and (3) it makes the Naturals heels. This should work and work well. But NO. You get small hints of (1) and (2), but those are buried in long Russo “mystery”mic work. “What is the mystery of what Douglas whispered to Bubba”. The majority of the mic work was built around the awkwardness of the two referring to “what I had to say when I whispered in your ear”, “what you had to say when you whispered in my ear”. The mystery of “the whisper” became the center of the mic work. Mic work wasn’t about motives, or grudges, that should make me care. Mic work was about “mystery”. What’s my motivation for caring about that? And well (3) wasn’t really accomplished as the beat down was kind of half assed. They barely beat Bubba, and D-Von (who is really good at bleeding and selling guy jumped) is only seen in backstage video. Tenay is shown the backstage video and tells us that the camera man tells him that “That’s the dirty work of Chase Stevens and Andy Douglas”. Cameraman caught the Naturals beating down D-Von backstage and wasn’t able to tell anyone tell after they came out and beat of Bubba? This whole thing was just incredibly poorly executed.
II. Fight for Right tourney
-On paper booking a tourney should be pretty easy. I’m not the biggest fan of tourney style wrestling at this point but still. Was this aired the same week as the push-over competition on Real World/Road Rules Duel? Simple tourney where you watch Derrick move his way through it. Derrick smallest guy, works underdog constantly sprawling. Has real competitive first round match against tall lanky CT. He goes in low and takes advantage of the height difference. Second round match he’s paired up against Eric who has about 280 pounds on Derrick. Derrick manages a couple shuks and go behinds in order to get Eric off the plank. Brad has an easy first round against Kenny, a competitive tough fought second round against Evan (who is booked as your other big athletic scrapper). You’re actually stoked to see the finals as you have a sense of what both guys bring to the match. A couple weeks back I watched the GDR episode with the one night tag tourney where they squeezed an entire tag tourney plus a qualifying battle royal into a one hour episode. No match went over three minutes and honestly watching it, it feels less like a tourney and more like a gauntlet match. If this was edited into a tag cybernetico it would get nominations for match of the year. They ran seven matches in the course of an hour and I can probably tell you the teams and who went over which match. It did a nice job even in that constrained time establishing tiers/levels of wrestlers. So Texano Jr./Heavy Metal beating Hombre Sin Nombre/Olimpico and Terible and Misterioso II defeating Blue Panther/La Mascara left you stoked to see the final match up. I wanted to reference The Duel and GDR “tourneys” because they are both tourneys where every match took place in under three minutes. But every match told a story about the qualities each “wrestler” brings to the ring. And so in the final match up the viewer knows the skills that everyone brings to the table and it is that knowledge that makes you anticipate the final. That’s what tourney booking should do.
TNA’s Fight for the Right tourney failed to do that. TNA actually had longer matches than either Real World/Road Rules Duel or Guerreros Del Ring. This isn’t about the match length. This is about the booking of the match finishes gave you know sense of what the skills the wrestlers bring to a match. If you don’t know what each contestant brings to a contest why do you want to watch the next round?
The three way collision stunk. Slick Johnson refs. Killings has a nice dive and Aj Styles tried to tell an in-ring “overcoming hurt” story but what was the point? Every one came out with a second and the body of the match was focused on the interactions of the various seconds eventually leading to Bobby Roode’s removal from the match. Oddly the seconds didn’t lead to the match finish. Match finish being a really flat Killings misses a move and then is rolled up finish that really had nothing to do with the whole structure. And after match that part of the finish was completely secondary. Post match is all about the seconds. Backstage Bobby Roode complains to Brooks about the match. “I need crowd control and an image consultant”, You need to start interviewing people: crowd control person, pr person and an image consultant”. For a second I’m excited as “crowd control”? Could it be Curtis Hughes? Terry Runnels is leathery enough to be a pr person. But fuck. Its Russo, so I figure P.R. person means they’re bringing back Apollo.
Fight for your right final is Abyss vs. AJ Styles. Again AJ Styles tries to make a match of it. And fuck his performance tonight has been really impressive. Abyss stinks. His offense stinks but he’s big enough that it’s impressive when he eats offense. He’s essentially Rochester Roadblock with a push. I mean it’s always impressive when Luger racks Roadblock. Actually that is unfair as Roadblock had better looking offense. The problem with Spike vs. Abyss was that while Spike had much better looking offense than Abyss, Abyss would eat the offense and then no sell it shrugging it off, and well too much of the match time was wasted on Abyss’ offense. Here this is worked not with AJ as underdog but AJ as the man. Remember back to the Hashimoto vs. Nathan Jones match, imagine a poor man’s Hash vs. a poor man’s Nathan Jones. AJ pretty much controls most of this on offense with Abyss cutting him off a couple times. AJ does a really impressive job over rotating to sell for Abyss’shitty stuff, as he really makes the Black Hole Slam and retard run to corner spots look devastating. Then they do a ref bump a Christian run in with a chair shot, double count, ref conference restart, James Mitchell run in, Christopher Daniels run in, and Chris Sabin run in. Um the finish of this match was worked like a “Please Don’t Stop”match except they replaced multiple giant finishers into two counts with multiple run ins into two counts. First of all the body of this match really wasn’t building to a please don’t stop finish. Second the idea that an audience might chant “Please Don’t Stop Running In”is hilarious. Felt like the bookers had no confidence in the wrestlers ability to convey “big match”and so instead threw out every booking device to give the audience an edge of seat” experience. Unfortunately this absolutely shat on the match. Plus how does this set up the final? Fight for right tourney earns you a championship shot. I want to see Sting vs. a guy who can beat AJ Styles after eight false finish run ins? What does Abyss bring to the ring in a match with Sting? The ability to win a match when there is a ton of extraneous shit happening? My favorite “booking”to give this a “big match”feel was camera focusing on Sonjay Dutt exaggeratedly shaking his knees nervous on the edge of his chair. Dutt was so focused on the match that he didn’t realize that Sabin had left his chair to run ringside. The whole thing was just poorly conceived.
IV. X Division three way and LAX/Petey Williams mic work
X-Division three way stank. I’ve liked about 2/3 of the backstage Kevin Nash/Shelly bits. But Kevin Nash comes out ringside and damn he looks old. I mean 2006 Kevin Nash looks older than 2006 Warren Beatty. Nash gets into commentary booth and 2006 Kevin Nash’s commentary jokes are about as relevant and hip as 2006 Warren Beaty. Perhaps less relevant. I haven’t seen Bullworth in a while. I mean Tenay is right there trying to say “sic” as many times as possible: “He’s going for his sic flip piledriver, that’s just sic” Nash is sitting next to square looser Tenay and Nash still came off old and uninteresting. Match itself was pretty shitty. Why is Hebner reffing an X-Division three way? Why are they pushing Petey Williams as a face? Really he was working face in this match. Someone thought that the problem with the shitty Sabin/Williams series was the face/heel structure. “Yeah these matches would work a lot better if Williams was the face and Sabin was the heel”!!! Meaningless three way that goes under three minutes. Half of the time spent setting up the heel miscommunication finish. Post match Konan comes to the ring and delivers a shitty promo where he invites Williams to join LAX. Doesn’t the L A stand for Latin America. He tells Williams that “Yo Petey. You are an immigrant like us…we will show you how to deal with the white boy”. Umm. He tells Petey that the Latin American “immigrants”(Hernandez in Mexican colors, Konan in Cuban colors and Homicide in Puerto Rican) will help Petey (Canadian) learn how to deal with the “white boy”??? Not how to deal with the “gringo”or the “Yankee” but with the “white boy”. “Yankee”would have probably been the best choice of words for this angle and it still wouldn’t make sense.
V. Angle/Joe promo package for PPV
I’m not exactly sure when it happened but somewhere down the line “MOTY” became the functional equivalent of a little girl singing “Greatest Gift of All” at a talent show. Lots of kids will perform at your talent show. There will be a kid who manages to do an impressive ballet piece to Ciara’s “Oh”, there will be a kid who does a comedy act where his Jesse Jackson impression has a fat woman laughing so hard that she goes into apoplectic shock, there will be a group of boys doing a step dance routine so complicated that people will talk about it for days. None of those things will win. The little girl singing “Greatest Gift of All” will always win. It will be the least memorable performance, it won’t get talked about after the show, it won’t have the emotional connect that some of the other performances will have but it will always win.
Hey remember when Samoa Joe was threatening Scott Steiner ““I’m gonna make your children cry”, and Steiner was calling Joe a “half breed”? Samoa Joe gets on the mic and guarantees Angle “I will crush you”, and Angle says “My match against Samoa Joe I guarantee it will be a match of the year”. You know I kind of was enjoying the pull aparts between these two but this promo package kind of killed my desire to see that match up. These two guys apparently don’t want to crush each other. Samoa Joe wants to crush; Angle just wants to have an athletically impressive match.
I think it was 2003, Tenzan had just won his first or second IWGP Heavyweight title, and Kobashi had started his GHC title run and I started writing about my dislike of a type of Clash of the Titans main event wrestling that I referred to as “Jim Steinman/Meatloaf” booked wrestling. I liked some of the actual man vs. Mythical God matches (Kobashi vs. Ogawa, Kobashi vs. Honda) but most of the two Gods meet left me feeling as unmoved as “Bat Out of Hell.” So the Steinman/Meatloaf riff has been something I’ve been using for about three years now. The problem with that particular talking point is that I actually like matches between two “bigger than life” wrestlers. I just don’t like when they’re Jim Steinman productions. I like Gospel music. If you look at my Ipod I’d say about a solid third is gospel or gospel derived music (Little Richard, Carter Family, Aretha, Erma, and Carolyn Franklin, etc.). Music about the “bigger than life”: God, commitment to God, trying to let God into ones life. At its best, more than any other musical genre it’s a genre about the artist having strong convictions about the material. The material matters more than anything else. And I believe in Samoa Joe. I think he has the skills and the conviction to be a Mahalia Jackson type performer. But Angle is Whitney, who puts vocal histrionics above everything else. And well let’s be honest Kurt Angle is the Whitney Houston of wrestling: lots of natural gifts, no real ability to put those gifts together in a meaningful way, and an embarrassing drug casualty. Is it possible that with the right material, the right arranger, with Joe in the control booth these two could have a good collaboration…where Whitney’s talents can be put to work for a solid song?? Yes.
But Angle announces “I can guarantee one thing, my match with Samoa Joe will be match of the year”…and well he’s guaranteeing that it’s going to be Whitney style histrionic meltdowns and melismas for cheap pops. Fuck the last time Angle built a match around delivering “the best in ring performance” was 2005 where people heaped praise on him and Bette Midler harmonizing on “The Greatest Gift of All”. I have no desire to see Samoa Joe dragged into that type of shit.
I thought Shelly looked more...afraid (not quite the right word, but it works) more than disgust. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who picked-up the Abyss jealousy seeds being planted (what an observant bunch of viewers we are).