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Wrestling Weekend Overdose

Posted in Op-Ed, Pro Wrestling with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2011 by jaytan716

Between two nights of tremendous pro wrestling (thanks to WrestleReunion 2011) and one night of a curious, if not wasted, kickoff to the high season of sports entertainment (thanks to WWE), it’s been quite awhile since I took in so much wrestling. Surely, it’s that overdose, coupled with the vast contrasts in product and attitude, that draws me to wax poetic about what I saw and the impressions it made.

First, a one-time pitch of my background. I’ve worked behind the scenes in MMA for the past five years, though my heart and roots are firmly based in pro wrestling. I was trading tapes and reading the Wrestling Observer Newsletter before the internet, and had a very part-time exploration into the life of a pro wrestler, training and working less than a dozen matches in the early 2000’s. As an ex-wrestler, I consider myself more ‘ex’ than ‘wrestler,’ though I like to think that the experience of creating a gimmick and striving to work a logical, entertaining match for the few hundred fans that saw Kung Pow, the Howlin’ Shaolin Master of Disaster, offers me some credibility. Indeed, it’s a moment in my life I wouldn’t trade for anything.

To that end, WrestleReunion prove to be surprisingly enjoyable mix of old friends, older legends, and a strong dose of that good stuff which we all enjoy – fast-paced, high-impact, holy-shit memorable pro wrestling. Conversely, WWE’s inaugural PPV of 2011, the Royal Rumble, was another exercise of letdown and mild heartache – some fun new storylines and characters worth rallying for but denied the chance to make a meaningful impression on the few hundred thousand (and dwindling) households that tuned in to watch.

WrestleReunion – ROH and PWG Shows

For the past several years, West coast wrestling fans have read with envy about the conventions and fanfests in New Jersey, North Carolina, Chicago, Orlando, and Toronto. We yearned for that same experience here, and as Bill Apter and his team have delivered it twice now, fans have continued to bask in it such that Apter himself was able to confirm a 2012 edition on the second night of the show.

In a nutshell, the weekend was wrestling’s answer to Comic-Con and the annual Cauliflower Alley Convention in Las Vegas (though wrestling fans would do themselves justice to attend that one as well). The three-day event served several purposes: old school veterans got a chance to gather, laugh and reminisce about their adventures, aspiring and current talent got to interact with the OGs and show their skills over two fantastic shows, and younger fans got to meet both generations of wrestling stars.

To their credit (and nobody’s surprise), Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla both produced two tremendous shows on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Two important things stuck out to me over this weekend. First, it was great to see a forum where various generations of wrestlers and fans could engage so readily. I think it can’t be overstated how important it is that the pro wrestling community celebrates its legends and draws from the insight and perspective they offer. Not only is it just proper protocol to respect your elders, but in that people like “Superstar” Billy Graham, Jake Roberts, Terry Funk, Roddy Piper, and countless others (both attending and absent) built their fan base by simply getting over live and on weekly TV, without constant resources like YouTube, Twitter, DVDs and T-shirts, they offer a wealth of insight and wisdom from which independent wrestlers on the rise can build their own brands.

The other aspect of note for me was how much the talent on both nights put on their work boots and shot in with their best foot forward. Sure, ROH and PWG wrestlers aren’t known for calling it in, but in that WrestleReunion clearly was drawing an impressive roster of legends and a near-capacity crowd of fans, both squads seemed to recognize that if there was a time to bring their A-game, it was this weekend. It reminded me of how WrestleMania has come to be the night where wrestlers of all levels take more pride in having the best match possible than at any other point in the year. To that end, the ‘this is awesome’ chants and standing ovations were abundant on both nights, for the main events on down to the curtain-jerkers.

Hats go off to El Generico, for whom this must have been a special weekend. I’m not enough of an indie wrestling historian to know how often this has been done, but to headline back-to-back title matches certainly is a vote of confidence on behalf of the bookers. Likewise, kudos to Davey Richards, TJ Perkins and Low Ki, whose respective matches were my two personal favorites of each night. Richards x Perkins was a fantastic exercise in the brilliance of chain wrestling, while Richards x Low Ki took me on a match storyline ride that I haven’t enjoyed since the days of Japan in the early 90’s.

In all, the fact that old timers, fast risers, and fans of all ages got to rub shoulders so closely together affirmed for me that I was glad to be a part of this community. Pro wrestling deserves its Comic-Con, west coast fans deserve an annual event like this, and the legends of yesterday and indie stars of today and tomorrow deserve the chance to be celebrated as such.

WWE’s Royal Rumble

On the other hand, the Royal Rumble seemed content to underwhelm and fall short of delivering anything memorable.

In the first decade of this century, the Rumble grew beyond its own significance into also being the symbolic first step down the Road to WrestleMania, a three-month storyline and marketing campaign to build up the biggest night of the industry. As the tradition has developed, nowadays we watch the Rumble not only to see who wins, but also to get a sense of what we’ll see at the “Showcase of the Immortals.”

Given that, I was looking forward to seeing a continued build of the New Nexus and the Corre, both of whom intrigue me (notwithstanding Corre’s stupid name). Of course, Alberto Del Rio seems to have a booking rocket ship up his ass, so there was also the question about how he’d be handled (which we all know by now). Finally, I always enjoy seeing what compelling, creative finish the ‘producers’ would come up with, as there have been so many poignant and indelible Royal Rumble wins – Chris Benoit in 2004, Rey Misterio in 2006, and the Undertaker in 2007, to name a few.

I really liked how the Rumble started out, with CM Punk and Daniel Bryan getting an early chance to ply their trade with each other, and the steady entrance and subsequent domination by the New Nexus. This felt like a redux of Punk’s extended ‘Rumble control’ in 2010. And though the match itself started out with a brief Nexus x Corre, I was happy that angle was, for the most part, avoided.

However, things took a downturn midway through, and those angles seemed to have marred what was on its way to being another memorable (and story-building) battle royal.

First, as long as there is Primo, David Hart Smith, Trent Barretta, Joey Mercury, Darren Young, Goldust, the Usos, Skip Sheffield, or even Michael Tarver and his annoying snotrag, there is NO RELEVANT REASON to include Hornswaggle in this match. The end result was only a couple of comedy spots that contributed nothing to the already overbooked match.

Likewise, Booker T and Kevin Nash as surprise entries, while clearly a big hit with the fans, annoyed me. If they’re signed to longer-term deals, their appearances certainly were anti-climactic and forgettable, other than to say “hey guys, we’re back!” Are we to take these ‘legends’ seriously in the WWE Universe when both were quietly put to pasture within three minutes? Booker was eliminated by Mason Ryan, of all people – the guy who has less screen time than Michael Tarver’s snotrag.

I suppose I should be thankful that Punk and his Nexus got the screen time that they did, although their eliminations by Cena had no resonance and almost felt like quiet little feud blowoffs, leaving their control of the Rumble’s early minutes a seeming waste of focus.

The part that I’m most curious about is Santino Marella’s false longevity in the Rumble. Being one of Marella’s most ardent fans (I still think his IC title reign should have culminated in a match with Honky Tonk Man), I’m all for giving the guy some shine, but what really was the purpose of him lasting to the end? He continues to be a WWE tag team champion (as I write this part post-Raw) and is no more devious or heroically accomplished for being the 39th dump of the night. And if the goal is to build Alberto Del Rio into a WrestleMania headliner, you do so by having him survive the Cobra? I’m not salty that Del Rio is getting this push, but the fashion in which he won his WrestleMania title match was more than a little flat (as if April 3rd didn’t already feel that way).

The Finish

By 8pm Sunday evening, the weekend had reconfirmed a few things about the indie wrestling scene and the more mainstream sports entertainment product. The two still have their love-hate relationship, with a generation of young wrestlers toiling to excel in their craft while in pursuit of the big paycheck, while The Big Two continue to flirt with giving the reigns to talents like Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Low Ki, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and (hopefully eventually) Claudio Castignoli, though there’s still a reticence to fully pull the trigger. In the end, the struggle between art and commerce in pro wrestling continues, as perhaps it always will. Thankfully, however, we have the OGs of wrestling to give us perspective.

This entry was originally posted at FightingGeek.com

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