Sunday, 31 December 2006

The Two Sheds Review Archives - 2006

Mark Henry - The Ten Million Dollar White Elephant

It was almost ten years ago when WWF Chairman Vince McMahon took one look at a man who was fresh out of competing at the Atlanta Olympics and who wanted to become a professional wrestler, and signed him to a contract with the idea of making him a big star in the future.

Sadly, this isn’t a column about newly crowned World Champion Kurt Angle, but the WWE’s other current Olympian, Mark Henry.

It was in 1996 that Vince McMahon signed Henry to a massive ten year, one million dollars a year contract, with the intention of training Henry up and pushing him as the next big star, the All-American hero.

But it didn’t quite go that way, did it? Because the WWF was losing the Monday Night Wars to WCW, things were about to change. The era of the clean cut hero was about to change, and the era of the crotch chopping and beer swilling anti-hero was about to begin.

The story goes that at the beginning of Henry’s career, the WWF merchandise division ordered that for every Austin 3:16  t-shirt made, ten Mark Henry t-shirts should be made. Steve Austin’s shirt became one of the biggest merchandise sellers in wrestling history. What happened to Henry’s shirt? There’s probably thousands of them in some boxes in a warehouse somewhere.

But what about Henry’s actual wrestling career. After Henry completed his training, he began with a feud with Jerry Lawler, which saw The King submit to Henry’s over the shoulder backbreaker. However, injury put Henry on the shelf.

When he returned to action, the WWF was in the middle of a change in creative direction, heading into the Attitude era. Steve Austin was becoming the hottest star in wrestling, with The Rock, who, like Henry, was pushed as a smiling baby face, had ditched the smile and joined the Nation of Domination, the WWF’s version of the Black Panthers militant group. It was a short time later that Henry himself joined the Nation.

But as The Rock rose to super-stardom and became WWF Champion in 1998, Henry was again left without direction. It wasn’t long before the creative team came up with something for him. Re-dubbing him Sexual Chocolate, Henry became a sex addict, courting Chyna, seeking help from a therapist, who he ended up having sex with, before moving on to his ultimate conquest, the geriatric Mae Young, and in one of the most tasteless angles in WWF history, Mae announced she was pregnant with Henry’s child, before she prematurely gave birth, on live television, to a hand. Yep, you read that right. Mae Young gave birth to a hand.

Later Henry was given time off to train and compete in Arnold Schwarzanegger’s World’s Strongest Man contest, which Henry won with flying colours. He would return to the WWF, who began to push him on his achievements in Arnie’s contest, before putting him under the management of Teddy Long. But this went absolutely nowhere. He became nothing more than a job-boy to the likes of Shawn Michaels, Booker T and everyone else on the Raw brand.

Henry made his return to our screens a couple of weeks ago on the Smackdown brand.. Now managed by Melina, Henry attacked Batista, and began feuding with him until Batista’s injuries forced him to give up his World title.

Mark Henry is now a ten year veteran of the wrestling business, and currently one of the company’s longest serving employees. But has Mark Henry’s career been a success? Far from it.

There seem to be two reasons why Henry’s career hasn’t been an outstanding success. The first is because of Henry’s lack of wrestling ability. Sure, some of his power moves are impressive, but his matches fail to grab one’s attention. 

During all of his years in the WWF/E, I can’t remember one good Henry match. All I can remember of his career are his activities outside the ring.

The second reason seems to be that despite the fact he’s been wrestling for ten years, he just isn’t over with the fans. For a wrestler to become successful, they need to develop an emotional bond with the fans, whether it’s a one of love or one of hatred. Despite that fact that he’s been pushed time and time again over the years, Henry has never developed that kind of relationship with the fans, and it’s the fans who really can make or break a wrestler’s career. You only need to look at John Cena’s speech on Raw this week to see that.

Yet once again Mark Henry is getting another push in the WWE, despite the fact that the fans just don’t care about him. Maybe it’s just Vince McMahon trying to get every penny’s worth out of Henry’s one million a year contract.

Henry’s contract is due to expire later this year. So far the Internet newswire hasn’t reported anything about talks over a new contract, and there are probably a great number of fans who hope that these talks never take place.

In Mark Henry, Vince McMahon invested ten million dollars on what is little more than the professional wrestling equivalent of a white elephant. When I think about the money that’s been invested in Henry, I think about all of the wrestlers, the highly talented athletes, who have been released over the years in so-called cost cutting exercises.

When people look back on the career of Mark Henry in the next few years, they’ll scratch their heads and wonder what was going on. How could the WWE constantly push a guy who would never get over with the fans? And were they really naïve enough to sign him to a ten million dollar contract?

One thing is for sure - Mark Henry’s bank manager will certainly be a happy man.

Is Kurt Angle A Deserving Champion?

There’s something that’s been bothering me these past few weeks, something that’s been niggling at the back of my mind every time I watch Smackdown, and it only really dawned on me what it was while I was watching No Way Out a few days ago. I found myself asking if Kurt Angle really deserved to be World Heavyweight Champion.

Let’s have a look at Angle’s match record before he jumped ship from Raw to Smackdown on January 13th;

January 8th: Lost Elimination Chamber match at New Year’s Revolution. 
January 2nd: Defeated John Cena in a first blood match on Raw.
December 26th: Lost to Daivari via count out on Raw.
December 12th: Defeated Ric Flair on Raw.
November 27th: Lost to John Cena at Survivor Series.

And these are just Angle’s singles and title matches on Raw and pay-per-view. They don’t take into account his losses to John Cena at house shows, or his losses in tag-team matches.

Now I’m not one to put down Kurt’s accomplishments in both the amateur and professional wrestling fields, and I know that the circumstances surrounding the World title situation on Smackdown were beyond the control of the creative team, but let’s look at things in a slightly more realistic manner. If Kurt had been a heavyweight boxer rather than a heavyweight wrestler, would such a record have been enough for a shot at the World title? I think not.

Although professional wrestling has added touches of realism in recent years, recent records of wrestlers going into title matches is something that hasn’t been addressed. Angle’s recent record before his World title win is just one example of this. For instance, Mark Henry hadn’t done anything of note in the WWE for nearly three years before he got a crack at the World title. Last summer, the late Eddie Guerrero lost a series of bouts to Rey Mysterio, actually only winning one match of the series. A few weeks later he got a World title shot against Batista.

I could give several other examples, but I think you know where I’m heading with this.

It’s very rare these days that we see a storyline where a wrestler spends weeks and months beating every wrestler he faces, not letting anything get in his way, so he can get a shot at a title to prove how good he is, that he is the best of the best.

But these days it seems that the creative teams are incapable of devising such storylines, and that’s what makes professional wrestling less appealing these days. Let’s forget about making new stars, and just stick with the same old faces we’ve seen for years on end.

After all, it worked for WCW, didn’t it?
 

The Boogeyman - All Smoke And No Fire?

When I first saw Marty Wright on my television screen, I could tell that there was something different about him. You could tell that he had a real passion for the wrestling business, so much so that he lied about his age in the trials for the 2004 Tough Enough series. You couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy when the judges threw him out of the competition for his deception.

But while eventual winner Daniel Puder was heading into obscurity, the WWE gave Wright a second chance, and signed him to a developmental deal and sent him down to OVW. And thus, the Boogeyman was born.

Last summer promos began to air for this exciting new character, a character that looked like he would shake things up big time. Injury prevented the Boogeyman from making his scheduled debut, but when he did, he certainly got everyone talking. With his front teeth missing, weird face paint, and clock smashing antics, Wright was causing quite a stir on both Raw and Smackdown.

But then he actually wrestled.

Emerging from putrid looking smoke, the Boogeyman stepped into the ring and demolished all before him, force feeding his fallen foes live worms as they lay dazed on the mat.

And that’s about it really.

Although highly impressive outside the ring, the Boogeyman’s matches have already become somewhat stale. After the dramatic entrances to some of the biggest pops heard from WWE crowds in years, the Boogeyman squashes his opponents in under two minutes in exactly the same manner.

Which leaves one wondering what is going to happen next to Marty Wright’s career. He’s already made John Bradshaw Layfield, the longest reigning WWE champion in years, look very ordinary, and now he’s feuding with Booker T, it looks like he’ll be allowed to do the same with the former WCW champion.

So what will happen when the Boogeyman wrestles a match that lasts longer than three minutes? What will happen when someone is allowed to get some decent shots in? Will the Boogeyman be allowed to show vulnerability? Even similar occult-like characters in the past, most notably Kane and the Undertaker, eventually had to sell for their opponents.

And when this does happen, will it be revealed that after all the hype, the Boogeyman is really all smoke and no fire?
 

1PW - The Blueprint For British Wrestling

Those of you with long memories will remember my recent review of 1 Pro Wrestling’s debut show, A Cruel Twist of Fate. (It was just last week in fact!). The review was very favourable, and apart from one match, I enjoyed the DVD a great deal.

But there are some things I didn’t put in the DVD review, as they would have seemed out of place in such an article, hence this piece.

You see, I haven’t just been impressed with 1PW’s debut DVD release, I’ve been impressed with the entire company, and although they’ve had a great deal of criticism for using mainly foreign talent, I truly believe that 1PW could teach quite a few other promotions, both old and new, a thing or two, in a way becoming the blueprint for British wrestling. But to see what I mean, you have to go back about three years to the very roots of the company.

In 2003, Stephen Gauntley launched his own wrestling merchandise company, 1 Up Games, stocking various items from around the world, from his home base in Doncaster. In-store and online trade meant that the business grew very quickly.

1 Pro Wrestling became an off-shoot of 1 Up Games, and Stephen used the knowledge he had gained from running his merchandise business to good effect when setting up his wrestling promotion. Unlike other up-start, or even more established promotions, Stephen realised that it takes more than just one or two people to run a successful wrestling promotion. For the scale of operation he had planned, Stephen realised that he would need help.

Backstage, Stephen appointed people to head up various departments, such as marketing, advertising, a commercial director, and a director of European operations. As for the wrestling side of things, Stephen put together a five-man booking team, obviously believing that it shouldn’t be just one man coming up with all the ideas. He also recruited British wrestling veteran Blondie Barrett to act as a road agent, helping to put forward the booking ideas to the wrestlers, and helping lay out and plan the matches as well.

So with everything set in place, things looked good for their debut show this past October at the Doncaster Dome, except that one of his main event stars pulled out. Having returned to the WWE in the summer, Matt Hardy was no longer to fulfil his contractual obligations to 1PW and pulled out of the show. (He pulled out of Alex Shane’s Universal Uproar as well). But this wasn’t exactly a draw-back for the company. Boasting talent such as A.J. Styles, Abyss, Al Snow, Raven, the Sandman, and British stars Doug Williams, Jonny Storm and Jody Fleisch, A Cruel Twist of Fate proved to be an outstanding success.

On DVD, the Doncaster dome looked perfect for a wrestling show. Packed to the rafters with over 1500 fans, the only thing that seemed to deter the fans on the night was the fact that the show was a little long. By the time of the Styles/Abyss main event, it was almost midnight, and they were absolutely knackered after an already action packed show.

Everything about the show looked professional, from the giant video screen to what happened outside the ring. During an altercation between Styles and Abyss, the two men had to be separated by a security team. But unlike other shows, the men used as actually looked like a security team. It wasn’t just a case of getting a few workers who were hanging around backstage dressed in various jeans and T-shirt combinations, each man was dressed in exactly the same way.

Everything about the show just looked and seemed right, and since that time, 1PW’s success has continued, with several more sell-out shows at the Doncaster Dome, as well as plans to hold smaller shows with more British stars around the country.

A few weeks ago, 1PW announced that they had signed a deal with The Wrestling Channel to air highlights of their various shows in the Supercard Sunday slot. Given that the promotion has only been in existence for less than six months this is a major coup. However, the fact that only highlights from the shows will be aired on the channel is another major factor business-wise. By only airing selected matches, it will make the fans watching 1PW on TWC for the first time want to purchase from their ever-growing DVD library. It’s similar to the deal Ring of Honor have with TWC, throw the fans a few tasty morsels and they’ll end up wanting to buy the main course.

1PW must also be commended for their public relations. There have been instances recently where new, up-start promotions have shown that they can’t take criticism, especially when it’s posted on various forums such as the UK Fan Forum. They end up getting into slanging matches with their customers, which in the long term doesn’t do them any good, and turns off fans from buying their DVDs and attending future shows. As a business, Stephen and 1PW know that it’s best to turn the proverbial other cheek as far as criticism goes. While it’s good to get feedback, it isn’t good to get into any arguments.

So when you look at the big picture, 1 Pro Wrestling really could be the blueprint for the future of British wrestling. Stephen Gauntley realises that no man is an island, that he can’t do everything himself, and that’s why he’s assembled a great team to help make 1PW a force on the British wrestling scene, and I truly believe that any new promotion, and some of the older ones, could learn a few lessons from Stephen. He knows that you shouldn’t run a wrestling promotion as a hobby or as a tool to put your mates over. A wrestling promotion should be run as a business. After all, the object of a business is to make money.
 

Stone Cold - The One Trick Pony

Before I go any further, I want to go on record as saying that I’m a huge Steve Austin fan. Ever since I first saw him in the USWA about fifteen years ago, I knew he would become a major player.

But recently I’ve become embarrassed by what I’ve seen of the man on television.

This past Saturday night, Austin took on John Bradshaw Layfield in a beer drinking contest. After downing a few cold ones, Austin took JBL down with a stone cold stunner, before downing a few more cold ones as the live crowd roared their approval. But while the fans in
attendance loved every minute of it, to me this little act was becoming stale and tired.

Almost three years ago, Steve Austin put in a great performance against the Rock in what turned out to be his last match. Nobody knew then just how bad Austin’s knee and neck injuries had become. The following night on Raw, General Manager Eric Bischoff fired Austin for lying about his health problems.

Since then, Austin has served as general manager and “sheriff” of Raw, while continuing to stunner anyone who got in his way, as well as downing cold ones whenever he could.

He’s also had several disagreements behind the scenes, which meant he was off our screens for months at a time, but he always came back, usually around the time of the WWE’s biggest shows, stealing the limelight, dishing out a few stunners and downing even more cold ones.

See what I’m trying to get at here?

As sad as it is for me to say, but I really think it’s time for Steve Austin to consider his options and move away from the world of professional wrestling. If his injuries really prohibit him from competing in that final, career defining match, then he should stop with his tiresome act and step away from the ring completely.

Compare Austin’s situation to that of his former rival Bret Hart. Since his appearances for the now-defunct World Wrestling All-Stars promotion, the Hitman has received numerous offers from both WWE and TNA to return to television in non-competing roles, something that he’s turned down because he wants to preserve his legacy as one of the greats, and because he knows that after his recent health problems, he wouldn’t be able to put in the same type of performance he did years ago. By appearing in skits, Austin is harming his legacy, and his appearances no longer guarantee ratings. If they did, then Saturday Night’s Main Event would have drawn more viewers than either Raw or Smackdown.

Just give us one more match Steve, one more defining moment. If you can’t do that, then leave us with our precious moments, and don’t outstay your welcome.
 

Only One True World Title?

Everywhere you go in the wrestling world, you’ll find men claiming to be world champions. No matter where they are, in a high school gym, in the middle of nowhere, or in the biggest arenas, you’ll always find someone claiming to be the true world champion, even if they haven’t left their home town in years.

So what promotion in this mixed-up crazy world can really lay claim to have a true world heavyweight title? Let’s look at the usual suspects, taking into account where these titles are defended, and who against.

Let’s start off with both of WWE’s main titles, the WWE and World titles. Many of you will probably say that these are the rightful world titles because they are part of the biggest wrestling promotion in the world, and they’re defended all over the world, wherever WWE hold a show. Now, that may be the case, but can anyone answer this question? When the WWE last toured my homeland, was a Brit given a title shot? There are currently three Brits on the Smackdown roster in William Regal, Fit Finlay and Paul Burchill. Will they get a shot at the World title when the WWE tours over here next month? Probably not.

A few years ago, the NWA could lay claim to having the real world title, but not these days. For decades, the champion would travel around the various territories, including trips abroad, defending the title against the top stars of those territories, but even though the NWA has countless affiliates all over the world, I don’t think we’ll ever see the likes of Christian Cage or Jeff Jarrett defending the belt against UK affiliate Hammerlock’s top stars soon.

The Ring of Honor title is one of the few currently active titles to have been defended overseas, when Samoa Joe faced the Zebra Kid at the FWA’s Frontiers of Honor show in 2002, but even though Brits Doug Williams and Nigel McGuiness have wrestled for the title, it’s mainly been defended in America, and mainly against North American talent.

Over in Japan, the IWGP, GHC and Triple Crown titles may be defended against North American, British and Japanese stars, but these belts are never defended overseas.

So what makes a true world title? It should be a title that is defended around the world, and against the stars of the various countries it’s defended in. And for me, there’s only been one title that’s met this criteria in the past year.

In February 2005, Takao Omori won a tournament in Japan to crown a new AWA World Champion. A few months later, Steve Corino won the title, becoming the first man to have ever held both the NWA and AWA versions of the title. Corino would go on to defend the title all over the world, in America, Canada, Japan and Britain, facing stars from those countries, before losing the title to Shinjiro Ohtani in Japan this past January. The AWA World title may not be as prestigious as it was twenty or thirty years ago, but there’s no denying that Corino did a hell of a lot in raising the profile of this once great championship, and by defending the belt all over the world, he became a true World Champion.

So the next time you see John Cena or Kurt Angle going on about how they’re true champions, just think of the likes of Corino and Ohtani, and wonder if someone like Robbie Brookside will get title shots when the WWE tours Britain in April, instead of being jobbed out to the likes of Simon Dean and Gene Snitsky.
 

Time To Regulate British Wrestling?

About a week ago I logged onto the Classifieds section of the UK Fan Forum and saw an advertisement for a new British promotion called One Chance Wrestling, promoting their first show, System Failure, in Leeds on June 1st. The line-up for the show looked quite good, with British stars such as Aviv Mayaan, Jack Storm, Dave Moralez, Andy Simmons, former WWE star Joe Legend, and current TNA star Petey Williams booked for the show. I didn’t pay that much more attention to the post, until a few days later when I visited the UKFF again and saw that the thread was then six pages long.

I began to wonder what had happened. Could it be that Kriss Sprules or Daniel Fitch had been arguing with the UKFF regulars again? Upon closer inspection, I found out why this new promotion was now such a hot topic for discussion.

The promoter, Amitai Winehouse, is just thirteen years old.

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from Summit Wrestling promoter Nick Aldis. It’s no secret that Nick and I haven’t exactly been friends in the past, but as far as I was concerned that was all water under the bridge. We’d even discussed doing an interview in recent weeks.

But when I received an e-mail from Nick with the word WARNING in the subject box, I thought the worst. I opened the e-mail, and I found that it was indeed a warning, but not the kind I was thinking of.

Nick had emailed several people in the British wrestling industry telling the story of someone who had enquired about hiring a ring from him. Nick had carried out several checks, and became suspicious with some of the things the person had asked him to do. Nick checked with the venue, and found out that the person, Amitai Winehouse, was just thirteen years old.

When it was revealed on the UK Fan Forum just how young Winehouse was, the thread promoting his show immediately became a hot topic, but rather than insult the youngster, many of the forum visitors tried to delve deeper into this situation, in an attempt to find out just why a thirteen year old wanted to promote a wrestling show, how he was booking the talent, and how he was arranging things such as insurance and wotnot.

To his credit, Winehouse came across very professionally, willing to ask any question that was put to him, and revealing that he had the full backing of his parents with this little business venture, even though he was still getting a barrage of criticism. The old adage of learning to walk before you can run came to mind while reading this thread.

It also made me wonder if seasoned campaigners and overseas workers knew just what was happening with this show, and if they knew that the man in charge was actually thirteen years old.

The past few years has seen countless wannabe promoters in Britain trying to get their piece of the pie. While established promotions such as WAW, All-Star, Premier and the FWA had mixed fortunes, promoters such as Sam Knee with HEW, Sanjay Bagga with LDN Wrestling and Daniel Edler with IPW:UK joined the ever growing number, earning a great deal of praise with their shows, while others such as Jamie Worthing’s TBW, Daniel Fitch’s MEW, and Kriss Sprules’ OPWO have enjoyed mixed fortunes to say the least. Other people have expressed an interest in holding shows.

Since the wrestling business blew wide open, it seems to be every wrestling fan’s dream to promote their own show. Some of them want to use the platform to put themselves over, to portray themselves as the second coming of Vince McMahon, while some of them just want to hang out in the dressing room with the boys, hearing stories from their lives on the road so they have something to tell their other buddies.

But the problem is that there are very few regulations with regard to holding a professional wrestling show. There are licences required by law, depending on where a show is being held, but compared to promoting other forms of entertainment or sport such as boxing or mixed martial arts, it seems as if any Tom, Dick or Harry with access to a fan forum and a few wrestler’s e-mail addresses can hold a show.

So maybe it’s time to actually do something that’s been discussed for years now, to form a wrestling board of control, to license promoters and wrestlers, to weed out the wannabes who have no real idea what they’re doing, to weed out the wannabes who are trying to get into the wrestling business just to get a few kicks.

But given the nature of the wrestling business, and the egos involved, I can’t see this happening anytime soon. Although some wrestling promoters work together to good effect, I can’t see a time when the majority will work together for the good of the business.

After reading the thread on the UKFF, there’s no doubting the fact that Amitai Winehouse is passionate about the wrestling business, but at the age of thirteen he should be thinking about other things in his life. If he’s dead set on holding his own wrestling show, there are countless promotions in Britain he could buy a show from, who would handle everything for him. Now is not the time for young Mr. Winehouse, and while his interest in the wrestling world should be encouraged, his desire to become a wrestling promoter should not be.
 

He's Not The Legend Killer, He's A Naughty Boy

Was it really surprising that Randy Orton got suspended from WWE?

Without a doubt, Randy Orton is one of the most gifted wrestlers of his generation. Having suffered a severe shoulder injury early on in his WWE career, Orton came back strongly as part of Triple H’s Evolution group, bringing renewed prestige to the Intercontinental title, cementing his spot as a bright young heel, and becoming the youngest World Champion in WWE history.

But even as far back as 2004, there were rumours. While Orton played the brash, arrogant, cocky heel on television, life was apparently imitating art, as Orton played his character backstage as well, and it didn’t sit too well with many people.

News hit the internet that Orton had played a major role in the departure of Amy Weber and other women WWE  employed after the first Diva Search contest, and rumours of untoward behaviour to other female members of staff continue to this day.

Then there were instances away from the ring and outside the arenas. Even when Orton was a baby face between September 2004 and the summer of 2005, Orton apparently rubbed numerous fans up the wrong way, treating them with utter contempt, and telling autography hunters where to go. There was also a reported incident with a disabled driver who drove across Orton’s path as he left an arena.

Orton’s brash demeanour did not sit well with the veterans of the locker room, most notably Ric Flair and the Undertaker. When news broke of Orton’s suspension the day after Wrestlemania 22, it wasn’t a surprise. In fact, WWE managed had originally wanted to suspend Orton two months ago, around the time of No Way Out, but decided to keep him on the road to save their Wrestlemania main event.

In a statement on the WWE website, Orton appeared very humble, admitting he had made mistakes that could cost his career dearly in the long-term. This past Tuesday, Orton wrestled Kurt Angle in the first round of the revived King of the Ring tournament. Watching him walking down the aisle. Orton looked like a man taking his last walk to the electric chair. Orton tapped out to Angle’s ankle lock, and sold a severe broken ankle in the process, which is now the storyline reason for his absence.

But before this week’s edition of Smackdown aired, news broke that Orton wasn’t being suspended for sixty days, he was being suspended indefinitely. So now there’s the distinct possibility that Orton may never appear in a WWE ring again, that they’ll continue to pay the minimum amount required by his contract until it expires. If they fired him outright and put in the usual no-compete clause, he’d end up in TNA by August. But by only suspending him, they’re making sure that TNA don’t get their hands on a bonafide superstar.

It really is a sad state of affairs for Bob Orton Junior’s baby boy. Before the untimely death of Eddie Guerrero last November, Orton was being groomed as Batista’s successor as World Champion, and with Kurt Angle’s ongoing neck problems, the Undertaker’s part-time schedule, and the fact that Batista won’t be back from injury until June at the earliest, Orton would have been a viable alternative to Rey Mysterio should his World title reign falter.

But sadly, none of this will ever happen, unless Orton looks deep within himself and realises that his brash, cocky behaviour could cost him one of the most promising wrestling careers of the 21st century.
 

What If Shawn Michaels Had Been A Muslim?

I’m going to start this particular column by making an admission - I’m not a religious man. I never have been, and probably never will be. I’ve only been inside a church once over the past five years, and the next time you’ll see me in one will probably be at my funeral. But this doesn’t mean that I haven’t felt uncomfortable watching WWE lately.

I felt uncomfortable watching Vince McMahon mock Shawn Michaels’ religious beliefs. I felt uncomfortable watching Vince McMahon standing in a church mocking God. I felt uncomfortable watching Vince McMahon standing in the middle of the ring saying that he was going to start his own religion. And I really felt uncomfortable watching Vince McMahon in his office with tons of bread and fish flying around the place, and turning Shane’s water into wine.

So you can imagine how I felt at the beginning of the McMahon’s match with Michaels this past Sunday at Backlash. But while I was watching this, one thing kept going through my mind.

Think about this - what if Shawn Michaels wasn’t a born again Christian? What if Shawn Michaels was a Muslim?

How would the world, and in particular the mainstream media, have reacted if Vince McMahon had “booked” Allah as Michaels’ tag-team partner at Backlash? What if Vince hadn’t stood in a church, but in a mosque, insulting Allah and the prophet Muhammad during that segment on Raw?

There would have been outrage around the world. McMahon and WWE would have taken a hell of a pasting in the mainstream media. Television stations that carry WWE programming around the world would have considered pulling the offending shows from their schedules. And given the fact that there were countless protests after offensive cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper, there would probably have been numerous protests, with quite a few outside arenas and the lavish WWE offices.

Yet because Shawn Michaels is a Christian, it seems that the mainstream media aren’t that offended by this. We haven’t heard anything from any Christian groups about the offensive nature of these segments. Will they wait until Shane, portrayed as the son of the god of McMahonism, is crucified on a live edition of Raw? On second thoughts, Vince would probably save a crucifixion for pay-per-view. Who knows, if it’s promoted properly, the buy-rates would go through the roof!

But because Vince is mocking Christian beliefs, that’s okay I suppose. And it doesn’t really matter if a non-religious person such as myself is offended by these segments, does it Vince?
 

The British Wrestling Magazine War - Powerslam v Fighting Spirit

Since the demise of Bill Apter’s Total Wrestling magazine two years ago, there’s only been one British-based wrestling magazine that consumers have been able to buy - Powerslam. But with the recent launch of Fighting Spirit, Powerslam once again has some competition, and even though it’s early days, let’s take a look at the current king of British wrestling magazines, and new pretender to the throne.

Powerslam magazine has been around for years. Edited by Fin Martin and boasting a writing team consisting of Anthony Evans, Greg Lambert and Mo Chatra, the magazine has firmly established itself in a market that consisted of the often hard to get Pro Wrestling Illustrated and the kayaked WWE publications. In an era when the majority of wrestling fans get their news from the internet on a daily basis, Powerslam clearly aims itself at the smart mark market, and while the magazine is very well researched and put together, there are aspects of Powerslam that don’t sit too well with it’s readership.

Firstly, there’s the lack of coverage with regards to the ever-growing British scene, which many consider inexcusable for a British-based magazine. It seems that unless a promotion is willing to fly in plane loads of overseas stars, Powerslam isn’t interested. Perfect evidence of this is the fact that there have been only two articles dedicated to British wrestling in the past five years, while promotions in Japan and the American independent scene appear in the magazine on a regular basis.

Powerslam is also known for being overly negative about the current wrestling scene, often to the detriment of certain aspects of the business. A clear example of this is Fin Martin’s almost constant criticism of Ric Flair, which seems to be something of an obsession for him. Indeed, Fin always seems to be overly critical of wrestlers of a certain age.

While the actual layout of the magazine is fine, when you compare Powerslam to a publication like FHM or Loaded, it looks very bland.

Currently priced at £2.90 for forty pages, it’s a magazine which can often be read on a short train journey.

Fighting Spirit, the new kid on the block, published it’s first issue just a few weeks ago. Editor James Denton has assembled a top notch writing team, including Bill Apter, Phil Austin, Bryan Alvarez, Scott Keith, R.D. Reynolds, and in the first major difference from Powerslam, wrestling veterans in the form of Lance Storm and Dan “The Beast” Severn.

The next major difference is in the style of coverage Fighting Spirit provides. While Powerslam occasionally covers the mixed martial arts scene, Fighting Spirit has made covering the MMA scene one of it’s major selling points. Indeed, in the first issue there’s a great article on Chuck Lidell, and Dan Severn pays tribute to the retiring Randy Couture.

The British scene also gets extensive coverage here, not just in the news section, but in a feature on the FWA Academy. There’s also more extensive coverage of the Japanese scene.

The reviews section is also more extensive. Whereas Powerslam’s review section is sometimes missing for issues at a time, Fighting Spirit gives us six pages of book and DVD reviews.

Layout-wise, Fighting Spirit is certainly more eye-catching, and priced at £2.99 for eighty-plus pages, it’s definitely better value for money.

While it’s still early days, it’s clear that Fighting Spirit is more than capable of giving Power slam a run for it’s money, and it will be interesting to see where both publications will be in twelve months time. Will Powerslam change it’s somewhat tired format to compete? And will Fighting Spirit be able to maintain the momentum it’s built after it’s first great issue? Only time will tell.
 

Why WCW One Night Stand Will Never Happen

Ever since the first ECW reunion shows of 2005, fans around the world have asked if WWE would ever hold a reunion show for that other famous wrestling promotion that closed down in 2001, if we will ever see a “WCW One Night Stand” show.

Well, I’m here to tell you now - it will never happen. And here are the reasons why.

Think back over ten years ago, when the WWF began to publicly acknowledge the existence of other promotions on their televised shows and pay-per-views. Jerry Lawler’s connection with the USWA was recognised. The Smokey Mountain tag-team titles were defended on pay-per-view. A WWF team even won the NWA World tag-team titles. And, of course, ECW stars turned up on Raw for a mini invasion of sorts.

But throughout all of this, one promotion was heavily criticised, from the infamous Billionaire Ted skits, to Jim Cornette’s weekly rants, to D-Generation X’s invasion of one of their shows, the WWF took a great deal of pleasure in poking fun at World Championship Wrestling.

For years, and especially during the prime years of the Monday night war, it was virtually rammed down the throats of WWF fans that everything about WCW was inferior. It became a form of mental conditioning, brainwashing if you will. WWF fans were conditioned to think of WCW as the enemy.

WCW was buried at every opportunity, even when the WWF purchased the company, and especially during the invasion angle.

And it even continued when the invasion angle finished. While he was general manager of Raw, Eric Bischoff would be reminded by Vince McMahon on a regular basis that he ran WCW when it was losing millions.

Finally, in The Rise & Fall of ECW DVD, WCW was portrayed as the enemy who stripped ECW of their talent, while WWF was seen as a kindly benefactor who kept ECW afloat through various monetary donations.

So having brainwashed it’s fans for well of a decade, and long after the company folded, that everything to do with WCW was bad, would WWE suddenly tell us that WCW actually wasn’t that bad after all? Would they go all out to promote a reunion show on pay-per-view? I think hell is more likely to freeze over first.

But what about nostalgia, I hear you say. Nostalgia is big in the wrestling business these days. Surely nostalgia can make a WCW reunion show happen?

Not bleedin’ likely. Although wrestling fans will fondly remember the prime years of the nineties, the New World Order, Goldberg’s winning streak, the Steiner Brothers when they were the world’s greatest tag-team, and the classics between Ric Flair and Sting, they’ll also remember the massive egos, the exorbitant wages, the burial of careers, the crazy booking ideas of Vince Russo, and the fact that while the company were making massive profits in the mid-nineties, in their final full year of trading, WCW lost sixty million dollars.

You see, when we think about ECW, we think back to the great characters and wrestlers, the innovative style, and Paul Heyman’s great booking. We overlook the fact that Heyman wasn’t really a good businessman, that a number of wrestlers went without pay for months at a time, and that the company went bankrupt owing millions to various companies and individuals. The fanatical ECW fans are willing to overlook these points because of the great matches and shows that ECW produced.

So while ECW nostalgia will always be big business, especially when the promotion is re-launched next month, WCW nostalgia will never reach the same levels, and for that you can blame one man - Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
 

Taking British Wrestling To The Next Level

Recently, on a forum I frequent with great regularity, there was a topic on how a British wrestling company can make it big, how they can attract major investors and sponsorship to move up to the next level. However, despite the fact that kayfabe passed on years ago and that anyone with a pair of kick pads can get into a training school, I learned that the world of professional wrestling here in Britain is still a closed shop in many aspects, and it’s this that may be hindering British wrestling’s progress.

I’m going to approach this subject from a strictly business point of view. I have never run a business, nor do I have any wish to, but I was part of a successful small retail business for seven years, and during those seven years, the business expanded in every year bar one. I observed, I picked up a few tips, and I’d like to try and apply them to a business model for a wrestling promotion.

First, promotions shouldn’t constantly go on about what they’ve done in the past. They shouldn’t harp on about how their company has appeared in numerous print publications and on numerous radio and television shows. If a wrestling promotions wants outsiders to invest, they’re not going to care too much about the past. It’s the present and the future that will always matter the most to them.

It’s all well and good to bombard people with vague figures, saying that their shows always sell-out, or that DVD and merchandise sales are always good, but without the cold hard facts to back these claims up, it means nothing. What does it mean when a promotion says it always sells out an DVD? It could mean that they only made ten copies of a certain release, or it could mean they sold a thousand.

Speaking of figures, unless a promoter has got a close friend who trusts them implicitly, any potential investor is going to want to see the books. They’ll want to know just how much money flows through the company, from how much profit is made on the merchandise, to how much money is spent on venue hire, right down to how much is spent on paper clips and coffee cups. And they’ll want hard evidence, which means receipts, receipts, and even more receipts.

They’ll also want to know about something which all promoters and wrestlers are reluctant to talk about in front of people outside the business - the sticky subject of wages. While it is understandable that people in the business don’t want to tell outsiders just how much they pay the talent, it’s something they’re going to have to divulge, which includes keeping written records of how much is paid and to whom. If you’re not willing to tell potential backers these details, then what’s the point of talking to them in the first place?

There’s also several other areas that could put off possible backers, but the main one I’m going to concentrate on here is everyone’s favourite subject, the internet.

In the 21st century, the internet has become a powerful tool as far as advertising and promotion goes. But a lot of people tend to forget that the internet isn’t the be-all and end-all as far as advertising goes. Last year a high-profile promotion had to cancel a show at short notice because they failed to attract a big enough audience. This was because they didn’t even advertise the show locally.

The internet is also a great way for a promotion to get instant feedback from their shows. But when the feedback is negative, some promoters and wrestlers show that they have very thin skins, and start arguing on public forums, sometimes coming across very poorly, acting like bears with sore heads because people had the temerity to criticise them.

Perhaps this is why some promotions actually ban their wrestlers from posting on forums. Perhaps this is a practise that many promotions could implement. Appoint just one person to handle press releases and the like, and to keep good relations with the paying public. If a possible backer sees that a promotion has good public relations, then that’s all the better.

What might be off putting to any outsider wanting to invest in a British wrestling promotion is this - it’s just too damn easy for anyone to hold a wrestling show these days. It seems to be the dream of every smart mark with a few quid to spare, become a wrestling promoter, come up with a flashy set of initials, get the first show filmed, make yourself look good in front of the proverbial three men and a dog, and they think they’re the second coming of Vince McMahon. It may be cool to hang out with a few wrestlers backstage, but they forget all about the hard work that goes into the business side of things, and when they get the slightest bit of criticism on the almighty internet, they stick their heads in the sand.

What a lot of people, both in and out of the wrestling business, tend to forget that it is a business. A business like no other, I grant you, but a business nonetheless, and the goal of any business is to make money and attract investors. Yet the way that certain aspects of the British wrestling business are at the moment, big money investors would probably be very reluctant to part with their hard-earned cash.

By reading this you’ll probably think that I’m not a supporter of the British wrestling scene. Nothing could be further from the truth. But I would like to see a time when the biggest and most established promotions in Britain hold shows that have regular attendances in their thousands. I would like to see a time when you could walk into your local HMV or Virgin Megastore and see the latest British wrestling DVDs alongside the latest releases from WWE.

But I doubt if this will happen anytime soon. Unless British wrestling is willing to change it’s ways a little, and is willing to get rid of the wannabes who only want to make themselves look cool in front of the boys, the money men won’t come, and fans on these shores, fed a staple diet of WWE, TNA and ROH won’t give a monkeys about our home-grown talent.
 

The British Wrestling Ambassadors

The other day I had a rather interesting conversation with a young British wrestler on MSN Messenger. The young man, who will remain nameless, began his professional career a couple of years ago, and even though he’s sill in the formative stages of his career, he claimed to be an ambassador for ambassador for British wrestling. He got rather annoyed when I disputed this, pointing out that he had only competed for two or three promotions in the south and east of England.

But the youngster got me thinking, thinking about what makes a true ambassador for British wrestling. I began to think long and hard about this subject. For me, a British wrestling ambassador isn’t just someone who competes in Britain, but someone who carries the word about British wrestling around the world, someone who shows that they’re just as good as their counterparts in Europe, America, Mexico and Japan.

Over the past few decades there have been numerous Brits who have made names for themselves abroad, with Davey Boy Smith, the Dynamite Kid and Chris Adams being the first ones that come to mind. But who are the current stars that fly the flag for queen and country around the world? Well, here’s my current ten, starting at ten and working up to number one.

Number ten is a woman who has just signed a developmental contract with WWE. Four years ago Nikita was heavily criticised after her match at Tommy Boyd’s Revivalshow, but since then she’s worked on her skills and become one of Britain’s top female stars, working all over Europe and in America and Japan, and becoming the
first British woman to sign a WWE deal, having impressed during a try-out last November. While there are some who will claim to be better wrestlers than her, you can’t deny the fact that she deserves her chance after all the hard work she’s put in.

Number nine may seem a strange choice to some of you, because he’s never actually wrestled overseas - Alex Shane. While he certainly has his critics as far as his wrestling ability goes, you can’t dispute what he’s done to promote British wrestling, not just in this country but around the world. As an agent for some of Britain’s top stars it’s his job to get his clients work overseas, and as the recently appointed Director of European Operations for Ring of Honor, he certainly has the scope and contact to promote the British scene on a wide scale.

Number eight is one man who is a definite for this list - Robbie Brookside. Having wrestled for over twenty years, Brookside enjoyed tremendous success in America and Japan and continues to compete all over Europe. If anyone epitomises what it means to be a British wrestling ambassador, then it’s certainly Robbie.

At seven and six are two wrestlers who are always mentioned together - Jody Fleisch and Jonny Storm. Both of these tremendous high flyers have competed all over Europe, America and Japan, against each other and against the local stars.There’s no doubting these two deserve to be on this list.

Number five sees a man rumoured to have interested Vince McMahon a few months ago, Doug Williams. The Anarchist is considered by many fans and experts to be the best technical wrestler in Britain at the moment, and as a regular for ROH in America and Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan, Williams has held numerous titles all over the world, and his style of wrestling is popular wherever he goes.

At number four, over in Ring of Honor, Nigel McGuiness continues to champion the British style, which seems perfectly suited to the ROH style. McGuiness continues to compete in Britain from time to time, as well as working on the American indy scene.

I wasn’t sure whether to include Paul Burchill on this list, but he makes it to number three, mainly because he’s the only Brit ever to have been head hunted by WWE. Burchill was a big fish in a small pond in Britain, but in WWE he seems to be of average size. There’s no doubting his talent, but it may be a while before WWE fans see him challenging for the second tier titles.

Coming in at number two is Fit Finlay. The Northern Irishman has been in America for years, and recently returned to the ring after an extended absence, and even though he’s approaching his 49th birthday, he looks like he hasn’t lost a step. His recent matches with Bobby Lashley and Chris Benoit show that he’s just as good now as he was during the World of Sport heyday in the eighties.

William Regal heads the list at number one. Currently plying his trade on the WWE Smackdown roster, Regal has been competing in America for well over a decade for both WWE and WCW. His style is definitely unique when compared to some of his American contemporaries, and it’s a pleasure to watch him on television whenever he appears, even if it’s on the weekend shows.

So there you have it, nine men and one women, ten people who fly the flag for British wrestling, home and abroad, and with the wealth of talent in Britain at the moment, I have no doubt that these ten names will soon be joined by several more.
 

How To Enjoy Wrestling

Today, my friends, I’m going to give you some advice, a lesson if you will. It’s something I’ve learned since I quit working in the wrestling business, and it’s a piece of advice that you, the ordinary wrestling fan, can use.

I’m going to tell you all how you can really enjoy watching the noble art of professional wrestling. It’s really quite a simple piece of advice, and I’m surprised that I never discovered this before.

So what is this piece of advice, this wondrous piece of knowledge that I’m about to impart on you? It’s this - if you want to enjoy professional wrestling, never become friends with a wrestler.

There, I’ve got if off my chest. Now I’m going to tell you how I reached this conclusion.

For four years, I hanged around with some of Britain’s finest professional wrestlers. I travelled around the country, and watched a lot of wrestling in the company of wrestlers.

Now, before I go any further, I must say that for the most part I enjoyed these times. For the most part.

You see, internet smart marks and website writers take a lot of flak for the way they talk about wrestling, for the way that they dissect and over analyse every detail, going over every aspect of everything that happens with a fine tooth comb.

But believe me, as far as this goes, they’ve got nothing on the wrestlers.

Many is the time where I would watch an edition of Raw or Smackdown, and I would comment on a particular wrestler I liked, only for my view to be shot down. It didn’t matter that I was viewing things from a fan’s perspective, it only seemed to matter that I wasn’t viewing it from a wrestler’s viewpoint. My views would be criticised because I would often miss fine, minute, often microscopic technical aspects of a wrestler’s performance. “Julian, will you stop being a punter!” was the cry I heard with great regularity.

So it was during these years that I began to look at things from a wrestler’s viewpoint. I began to look for the chinks in the armour, forgetting that the reason I began watching wrestling in the first place was that I found it to be very entertaining.

So, six months ago, I stopped hanging around with wrestlers. While I kept in touch with a few of them via e-mail, I stopped entering into debates about the merits of a certain wrestler’s performance, and sat down in front of my television to try and re-capture what I had lost.

It took me a while, but I’m now at a point where I’m actually enjoying watching wrestling again. I can sit on my sofa and enjoy a match for what it is, not looking for every tiny error in a match, and not giving a damn about what was going on backstage. I no longer have to put up with wrestlers telling me that I shouldn’t like someone just because they had a slight technical flaw in their game.

People say that wrestling fans can be over critical towards the business. But they’ve got nothing on the wrestlers as far as this is concerned.
 

If It Wasn't ECW Would You Still Complain?

This past Sunday night I settled down in front of my television to watch the British premiere of a brand new wrestling promotion. The card was very entertaining, some great promos, a battle between two former world champions, a hardcore icon beating the hell out of a useless character, and a very entertaining battle royal.

Oh, and the promotion just happened to be called Extreme Championship Wrestling.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve learned that wrestling fans, internet columnists and magazine writers are indeed an impatient bunch, whose expectation levels are sometimes set way too high at times.

It seems that whenever people hear the letters E, C, and W put together into a cohesive sentence, they hark bark to the mid-nineties. They expect innovative booking, five star matches every day of the week, and they get a picture in their mind’s eye of a group of wrestlers flipping the bird to Ted Turner and Vince McMahon, telling them where they can stick their brand of professional wrestling.

And having read the various comments from fans and experts alike about the re-birth of Extreme Championship Wrestling, it seems that the majority of you were expecting the same thing to happen when the new ECW made their bow on the Sci-Fi Channel in America.

But what a lot of people seem to be forgetting that the wrestling world today is a totally different kettle of fish. It really is hard for some people to fathom just how different the wrestling world of 2006 is from the wrestling world of 1996. There’s no doubting the fact that Paul Heyman and his bunch of merry men were very innovative back then, and did a hell of a lot to influence the wrestling business back then. But back then ECW was virtually existing on a shoestring budget. Back then the goal was to please the fans, to get people talking about the ECW product, and to put on the best matches they possibly could. It seemed that actually making money was way, way down on the to do list, while making a tidy profit was way up on the to do lists of Ted Turner and Vince McMahon.

Back then ECW was more or less controlled by one man, a man who wasn’t shackled down by corporate types in Armani suits, a man who wasn’t told to make a massive amount of money from gate receipts and merchandise sales. ECW was run by a man who just wanted to put on great wrestling shows for the fans. He didn’t have any suits to answer to.

So is this what 21st century ECW fans wanted today? We they so naïve as to expect the same thing 1996 non-corporate values from a brand now run by the biggest corporate promotional machine in the history of the modern world? It seems so.

Today’s ECW fans were expecting the proverbial moon on a stick. They wanted Paul Heyman and his bunch of merry men to once again flip the bird to Vince McMahon, forgetting that it’s actually Vince McMahon funding the whole thing in the first place, forgetting that it’s Vince McMahon getting ECW valuable airtime on Raw and on pay-per-view, forgetting that it’s Vince McMahon who got them the national and international coverage the likes of which ECW never had when it was in syndication and on the former TNN.

They forget that although Vince McMahon wants good booking, he also wants good television ratings and pay-per-view buy rates, and good merchandise sales. McMahon wants to please the fans, but he also wants to please his share holders as well.

But the fans want instant results. They want their old ECW back, forgetting that this ECW is ECW in name only. Sure, there’s a few old familiar faces working for this brand, but there’s a few new faces as well. And what a lot of die hard ECW fans seem to forget that the old ECW didn’t suddenly become innovative overnight. It took quite a while before Paul Heyman actually got his hands on the book, and began to give the fans what they wanted.

So while 99.999 percent of wrestling fans, writers and experts were writing off the new breed of Extreme Championship Wrestling before it even got off the ground, this writer, this life long wrestling fan, is sitting in front of television awaiting the next instalment this Sunday night. This fan is going into this new experience with an open mind, and not with a “well, this is going to be s**t” attitude. Why? Because it makes things far more entertaining.

And if you, the wrestling fan, the internet columnist, the magazine writer, and the smart mark, were to follow my example, you wouldn’t be so damn negative all the time. Besides, if you don’t like the new breed of Extreme Championship Wrestling, what’s stopping you from watching or doing something that you actually do enjoy?
 

Was John Chapman A Victim Of His Own Success?

Last September I had the pleasure to interview John Chapman, one of the new, young breed of wrestling promoters in Britain. It was just six months after his debut show, and not long after he’d signed a deal to become the official British affiliate to the legendary American Wrestling Association. In the ten months since that interview, Chapman Promotions, or AWA:UK as they became known, has signed deals to provide wrestling segments for Sky Sports’ popular Soccer AM show, and to provide programming for the new Fight network, due to launch in Britain later this year.

Yet just hours after holding a successful show this past Saturday afternoon, John announced that he was calling it a day, and that AWA:UK was closing down.

When I first heard the news, I wondering what had happened to make John reach this decision. Since his first show, in May 2005, I’d heard nothing but good things about his promotion. Unlike other promotions, it seemed that every wrestler who worked for John enjoyed working for him. His shows drew decent sized crowds, and earned good reviews from those in attendance.

I immediately thought that something had happened, that the politics that frequent each and every part of the professional wrestling business got to him, and, like so many others over the past few years, he’d had enough, and decided to give British wrestling a wide berth.

But after reading his statement, it seems that this wasn’t the case. It seems that John has simply become a victim of his own success.

AWA:UK, in just over a year, did things that took other wrestling promotions a lifetime to achieve. They signed a deal to get national and international television exposure, became an affiliate to one of the oldest and most prestigious worldwide wrestling brands on the planet, and looked to be heading to greater heights. As the old saying goes, the sky was the limit.

But as many others in the wrestling business have found, John discovered that no man is an island, and running a highly successful wrestling promotion is not a one man job, and is not a job that anyone can take lightly.

John more or less started Chapman Promotions as a hobby. As a lifelong wrestling fan, his dream was to put on a few wrestling shows. But with a young daughter and a full-time job outside of wrestling, as AWA:UK became more successful, it demanded more of his time, and became something of a chore, and when something you once enjoyed doing becomes less enjoyable, John decided to simply stop doing it.

So where does this leave AWA:UK at the moment? Quite simply, the promotion no longer exists, as of this past Saturday night. The deal with Sky Sports will now be taken over by Sanjay Bagga’s LDN Wrestling promotion. As for the Fight television deal, John has recommended Stephen Gauntley’s 1PW and Daniel Edler’s IPW:UK promotions for the channel. Whether the powers-that-be at Fight will take either of these promotions onto their schedule remains to be seen. The show that was held last Saturday, which was originally scheduled to air on Fight, will still be released on DVD by Pinfall Productions.

As for John, he won’t be leaving the wrestling business entirely, as he’ll be taking on a part-time role with the aforementioned LDN Wrestling.

Having seen one of John’s shows on DVD, it looked like he was heading the right way as far as the wrestling business was concerned. I’m sure that like many of you, the fans and supporters of the British wrestling business, will wish John Chapman well with his future endeavours.
 

Bigger Isn't Always Better

It was at the beginning of April that the WWE unleashed their latest monster upon an unsuspecting wrestling world. Hardly inspiring anyone with his performance, the 7’3” Great Khali attacked the Undertaker, and yours truly immediately began to get flashbacks to WCW and the WWF of the early 90’s.

Back then Ted Turner had a 7’7” Argentinean that couldn’t stand the pace of the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA, so he had to find something else for him to do, and what better place for him to go than his wrestling promotion?

An so El Gigante was inflicted on WCW fans. A lumbering joke, Gigante was matched up against the likes of Ric Flair, Sid Vicious and the One Man Gang, until he vanished from the scene in 1992.

Only to turn up in the WWF in 1993, thanks to Vince McMahon’s love of big men. Now renamed the Giant Gonzales, and with Harvey Whippleman as his manager, the Giant targeted the Undertaker, which led to one of the worst bouts in Wrestlemania history. The Giant again proved that he was useless as a wrestler, before returning to Argentina, fading into obscurity, thankfully.

Which brings us back to 2006. After just three months in the developmental system, Dalip Singh was called up to Smackdown, re-named the Great Khali, given Daivari as his manager, and matched against the Undertaker.

Now, just four months later, confidence in Khali has hit rock bottom, so much so that his Summerslam last man standing match with the Undertaker was moved to Smackdown, because he couldn’t be trusted in front of a live, worldwide, television audience.

And it’s easy to see why his performances so far have been far from inspiring. In fact, they’ve been downright awful, and now the creative team have finally taken notice, and it looks like Khali will either be released from his contract of sent back down for more training.

But the main problem is that whenever Vince McMahon and his team get their hands on a seven foot-plus potential wrestler, they view him as the next coming of Andre the Giant or the Big Show, forgetting that these two were/are actually quite good at what they did/do.

In a small way, I feel sorry for Dalip Singh. The man was put into a situation he wasn’t ready for or could handle. In the end the critical writers and fans will blame Singh for the situation, when it’s really those in power who should shoulder the blame.

But this is something that probably won’t happen, and in another few years another 7’4” man will walk through Vince McMahon’s door wanting to be a wrestler, and Vinny Mac’s eyes will light up, and he’ll forget about the problems he had with Dalip Singh and Jorge Gonzales.
 

Two Broken Bodies

January 2003. In his first major pay-per-view match-up in nearly two years, Scott Steiner challenged Triple H for Raw’s World Heavyweight Championship at the Royal Rumble. Steiner had made his return to the WWE some three months earlier at the Survivor Series, and this was his first television match since his signing. Having overcome serious health problems including major nerve damage to his leg, this was perhaps Steiner’s last shot at the big-time.

And it stunk. Move after move was botched, and the crowd booed both wrestlers out of the building as Triple H was disqualified for using his trusty sledgehammer on Steiner. As one noted journalist wrote at the time; “Both men were built like tanks, and moved like tanks as well.” This match was definitely one of the worst of 2003.

Moments later, Kurt Angle defended Smackdown’s WWE title against Chris Benoit. In what was the polar opposite of the previous match, two of the world’s greatest ever wrestlers put on a wrestling clinic, with Angle winning and retaining the title after Benoit tapped to an ankle lock. As the Crippler leaves the ring, he receives a standing ovation for a match that was definitely one of the best of 2003.

It’s well known fact that both Scott Steiner and Kurt Angle have both suffered from numerous health problems over the years, but that’s where the comparisons end.

Steiner’s health problems have clearly hindered him in the ring. In recent months I’ve had the pleasure of watching NWA/WCW shows from the late eighties and early nineties, namely Starrcades 89 and 90, and the New Japan/WCW supershow. On each of those shows, Steiner teamed with his brother Rick, and against the likes of the Samoan Swat Team, the Road Warriors, Doom, Hase and Sasaki, and Muta and Saito, he put in a hell of a performance, evidence that the Steiner Brothers were indeed one of the greatest tag-teams of all time.

But it’s clear that as Steiner piled on the pounds, his skills declined, and his last tenure in the WWE and current tenure in TNA are evidence that his skills are not what they used to be, and that his injuries have been catching up with him for years now. Not even Samoa Joe, regarded by many as one of the best wrestlers in the world at the moment, could get a decent match out of Steiner. It’s clear to all that observe him that he’s now just going through the motions, and perhaps it’s now time Steiner hung up his boots. Sadly, this isn’t going to happen.

Kurt Angle is perhaps the polar opposite to Scott Steiner. While he has suffered numerous injuries over the past few years, he has always given one hundred percent, even though it has cost him dearly. Numerous neck injuries and operations have taken their toll on Angle’s body, and now, with his body in such a state that he has to take a ton of painkillers just to get into the ring and perform, Angle realises that now is the time to rest, to rehab his various injuries, to attempt to get back to his best, so he can give the fans a top notch performance every time he steps through the ropes. Unlike Steiner, Angle is happy just to go through the motions.

This is a tale of two broken bodies, of two people who have performed for you, the fans of professional wrestling, despite numerous, career-ending injuries that will hamper them for the rest of their lives. But when we look back on the careers of Scott Steiner and Kurt Angle in a few years, which one will provide the fondest memories?
 

Stop The Crossing Over!

Those of you who know me well will know that I am a huge comic book fan. As a youngster I used to collect tons of Marvel and DC comics. I have a cupboard with loads of these in, some of them dating back to the 1970’s, although these days I prefer to buy graphic novels rather than individual comics.

One thing I used to enjoy, and I still do, are the crossovers between the two companies. Spider-Man meeting Superman was THE event back in the late 70’s, and even recently, when the Avengers met up with the Justice League of America, it was an event, something to look forward to. It was an event because something like that didn’t exactly happen too often.

So why am I writing about comic books in an article that is meant to be about professional wrestling? Patience, my dear friends. You’ll soon find out why.

I’m probably one of the few people on the face of this planet who enjoys the new ECW show. Sure, some of the wrestling may not be up to scratch at times, but I think that WWE are doing a good job in establishing a third brand, even though it’s not the ECW that gained a cult following all those years ago.
 
However, I do have one huge gripe with the shows, and if WWE really want to establish ECW as a great third brand, then there going to have to stop something that they’ve been doing since they re-launched ECW in the summer, and that’s stop the crossing over!

Since the show began, it seems like Raw and Smackdown stars have been turning up on an almost weekly basis to appear in the main event. From the Undertaker to Randy Orton to Batista to Triple H to Shawn Michaels, both of the champions that ECW have crowned have faced stars from their rival brands, and while these matches have been entertaining in their own, they have highlighted the fact that there seems to be only one ECW main eventer at the moment, and that’s the Big Show.

With Kurt Angle leaving the company, and Rob Van Dam having been pushed down to the mid-card to feud with Hardcore Holly, no new names are being pushed forward as the next challenger to the Big Show’s title, even though there are quite a few wrestlers on the ECW roster who could give the Show a run for his money.

But while Raw and Smackdown stars continue to appear in ECW, and vice versa, that just isn’t going to happen, because what would really liven up the show at the moment is if they selected one wrestler, be they an ECW original or one of the new breed, and they used a storyline where Heyman through numerous obstacles in the path of this star to stop him getting the title match with the champion. With the Survivor Series coming up in November, now would be a good time to start such a storyline.

Besides, what hardcore ECW fan wouldn’t mark out if the Big Show were to feud with the Sandman or Tommy Dreamer right now? Maybe even Rob Van Dam could be put into this sort of feud, especially as in the storylines Heyman screwed him out of the title and then suspended him for thirty days. If handled correctly, this kind of storyline would really draw the fans into it, and really make them care about what’s going on. After all, isn’t that what a good professional wrestling angle is meant to do?

So if ECW is to succeed, and to reach the same levels as Raw and Smackdown, then the crossovers have to stop. By all means give ECW a match or two on the four cross-brand pay-per-views, but stop Raw and Smackdown stars going to ECW, and stop ECW guys from working on Monday and Thursday night television shows.

And if they did that, then the next time an ECW star met a Raw or Smackdown star, it would seem all the more special.

But only if it happened once or twice a year.