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Friday, August 8, 2014

Taking One (Too Far) For The Team

I'm sure that a lot of wrestlers and fans will disagree with me on this but after working closely with victims of violence and abuse for many years -- the vast majority of whom were female -- I was pretty uncomfortable with how everything went down with Dixie's table spot at the end of it all.

I've interviewed Bully and Devon and corresponded with Tommy Dreamer while working on different projects. They're all nice guys and I'm sure they very were careful in how they executed the move. Dixie knew what she was getting into and she sold it well. But the sight of a large contingent of the male-dominated locker room demanding that Spud turn her over to the guys and the sound of the entire Manhattan Center (again, mostly men) calling for her blood was just way too unsettling for me. I get that it's a show. I know she did it willingly. I understand the angle and everything that went into it. It just left me feeling really, really bad.

Mike Bessler
PWI Contributing Writer

Photo by Lee South/TNA Wrestling

Friday, April 11, 2014

The NXT Step In WWE's Evolution


The episode of Raw following WrestleMania is most always memorable, and Raw the night after WrestleMania 30 was certainly no exception. The Shield lived up to their “Hounds Of Justice” moniker by rescuing Daniel Bryan from actual injustice at the hands of Triple-H. Cesaro hitched his wagon to Paul Heyman, a move that can only help the “King Of Swing’s” already sizzling momentum. Perhaps every bit as important as either of these things, though, was the large presence the NXT brand had on the show.

The April 7 edition of Raw was notable for the appearances of two NXT stars: Paige (the first and, to date, only NXT Divas champion) and Alexander Rusev (with his valet, Lana, by his side). Additionally, vignettes aired for Adam Rose and former NXT champ Bo Dallas. Rusev dominated Zack Ryder in his first televised singles match on the main roster. Rose and Dallas’ vignettes were both well received. Paige made perhaps the biggest impression of the pack, putting an end to AJ Lee’s nearly 300-day WWE Divas title reign.

When AJ was interrupted by the debuting Paige, a sizable portion of the live crowd seemed to already be familiar with the self-proclaimed “Anti-Diva.” Sure, those in attendance the night after WrestleMania tend to be a hip crowd. Maybe some of those chanting for Paige had been following her since her days on the independent circuit. Still, one can’t help but get the feeling that the increased visibility of NXT (including its recent Arrival special) helped to make her debut all the more newsworthy.

Broad access to NXT programming, both through the WWE Network and Hulu, has fostered an awareness of WWE’s developmental system, which would have previously been unthinkable. Go ahead and watch the debuts of John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Randy Orton. All three men were products of lengthy stints in WWE developmental (at the time, quartered at Ohio Valley Wrestling). All three made a big impact pretty quickly. Yet few fans seemed to have any idea who these men were when they first appeared. In a sense, they had their work cut out for them. Thanks to the weekly NXT broadcasts being available online, burgeoning stars like Paige, Rusev, and Emma have already established loyal fan bases by the time they get to compete on Raw or Smackdown.

Lest one get the idea that NXT is merely a useful tool for young wrestlers, it’s also important to consider that the brand is good for fans. The sort of wrestling on NXT broadcasts is, for the time being anyway, markedly different than what we see on Raw and Smackdown. It’s quirkier, with a diverse crop of colorful characters that are learning to express themselves in new and unusual ways. The in-ring action is often more vibrant and unpredictable. In short, it is definitely an alternative to the other, more mainstream WWE programming.

At the same time, NXT might not remain a simple alternative for much longer. As more of its stars make the leap to the main roster—Cesaro, The Wyatt Family, and The Shield all cut their teeth at NXT—the tastes of fans change, and the norm shifts. Raw and Smackdown will continue to evolve to meet the desires of fans. That’s how we have come to see someone like Daniel Bryan, who hardly considered a career in WWE years ago, as one of the faces of the company in 2014. It’s an exciting time for the company, as the new guard challenges the old guard and encourages it to step up its game. Fans who want to see into the future know where to look. WWE developmental has, for years now, been a window into the future. It just so happens that millions of people can now peer through that window on a weekly basis.

Kevin McElvaney
PWI Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Twitter Contributor



Thursday, April 3, 2014

WrestleMania 30: Staff Predictions


Wrestling’s biggest spectacle celebrates 30 years this Sunday, when WrestleMania takes over  the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. Fans can count on the PWI team to be all over event, including with live Tweeting Sunday night (@OfficialPWI) and the usual wall-to-wall coverage in the July issue (digital edition on sale May 1; print edition on sale May 27), including our annual “Real Winners And Losers” feature. To kick things off, here are our staff predictions for WrestleMania 30, courtesy of Publisher Stu Saks, Senior writers Dan Murphy and Al Castle, and Contributing Writers Mike Bessler and Kevin McElvaney.

Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan or Triple-H: 
Triple-Threat Match for the WWE World heavyweight championship

Saks: Bryan
Murphy: Bryan
Castle: Bryan
Bessler: Bryan
McElvaney: Bryan

Analysis: It’s unanimous. We envision WrestleMania 30 ending much the same as most of you probably do: With 70,000 rabid New Orleans fans thrusting their index figers skyward and greeting the new World champ with a boisterous chant of “Yes! Yes! Yes!” 

Triple-H vs. Daniel Bryan: Winner gets added to the World heavyweight title main event
Saks: Bryan
Murphy: Bryan
Castle: Bryan
Bessler: Bryan
McElvaney: Bryan

Analysis: Our unanimous picks for the title match pretty much give away how we all think this match will conclude. That’s not to say it will be easy for the leader of the “Yes Movement.” We expect the Authority to put every obstacle possible in Bryan’s way to prevent him from coming out of this match victorious, and for Bryan to conquer them all.

The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar 
Saks: Undertaker
Murphy: Undertaker
Castle: Undertaker
Bessler: Undertaker
McElvaney: Undertaker

Analysis: Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us 21 times, shame on us. None of us are about to bet against the “Dead Man” extending his revered WrestleMania winning streak to 22-0. And, frankly, WWE hasn’t done a very good job convincing us that the former UFC heavyweight champ is even that much of a threat. To be sure, we’ll see 'Taker go down for some convincing nearfalls throughout the match, but we won’t buy it. Or, at least, we’ll try not to.

John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt
Saks: Wyatt
Murphy: Cena
Castle: Cena
Bessler: Cena
McElvaney: Wyatt

Analysis: Finally, something we can’t agree on. We’re leaning toward Cena getting the duke here, if only to make up for slotting WWE’s biggest star in a mid-card match at the biggest show of the year. But with fan favorites expected to triumph in the night’s other big matches, this may be an opportunity to keep Wyatt’s momentum going en route to an even higher-stakes rematch with Cena at next month’s Extreme Rules event.

Andre the Giant Memorial 30-man battle royal
Saks: Big Show
Murphy: Sheamus
Castle: Hulk Hogan
Bessler: Big E
McElvaney: Big E

Analysis: With 30 possible outcomes, it’s not surprising we couldn’t reach a consensus. But a couple of us are counting on WWE taking the opportunity to shine the WrestleMania spotlight on Intercontinental champion Big E. Despite WWE’s portrayal of the 7-foot Big Show as Andre’s heir apparent, only one of us is picking him as the winner. And one of us thinking a battle royal is just the right setting for Hulkamania to once again run wild, without the "Hulkster" never having to leave his feet.

The Shield vs. The New Age Outlaws & Kane
Saks: Shield
Murphy: Shield
Castle: Kane/Outlaws
Bessler: Kane/Outlaws
McElvaney: Shield

Analysis: By a narrow margin, we’re picking the “Hounds Of Justice” to get the win over the veteran team. It’s worth noting that the youngest member of the Authority team, Road Dogg, made his pro wrestling debut the same year The Shield’s youngest member, Rollins, was born. So it’s fair to say The Shield will have youth on their side.

14-Woman Vickie Guerrero Invitational Divas Championship Match
Saks: Natalya
Murphy: AJ Lee
Castle: Natalya
Bessler: Eva Marie
McElvaney: AJ Lee

Analysis: We’re pretty much split on whether AJ Lee will continue her reign as the longest Divas champ in WWE history, or if the sympathetic Natalya will realize her dream of recapturing the title at the “Showcase Of The Immortals.” It will likely come down to what makes for more compelling reality show fodder for Total Divas.

The Usos vs. Rybak & Curtis Axel vs. The Real Americans vs. Los Matadores: Four-way tag team championship match
Saks: Ryback & Axel
Murphy: Usos
Castle: Usos
Bessler: Usos
McElvaney: Real Americans

Analysis: Because the goal of the opening match at WrestleMania is typically to get the fans in the arena and at home excited for what’s ahead, we’re counting on the popular and energetic tag champs keeping their belts in this, the pre-show match.




Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

WWE Network Wish List

For decades, wrestling fans have enjoyed the art of fantasy booking. Now with the advent of a 24-hour pro wrestling television network, we can try our hand at fantasy programming as well.
Here’s a few ideas for shows I’d like to see on the WWE Network.


• A house show show: For years, WWE would air some of its major live events, known as “house shows,” on regional sports cable channels, like MSG. The no-frills shows were a thrill for fans because they featured key match-ups from WWE’s hottest feuds. These days WWE doesn’t even acknowledge its house shows outside of some local television ads. It wouldn’t take much effort or production cost to air a few key matches every Friday or Saturday night from a WWE house show. Not only would it make for good original programming, but it would give fans more reason to buy a ticket next time WWE comes to town.

 A news-documentary style show: WWE’s short-lived Confidential series, which aired from 2002 to 2004, broke new ground with some deep, shoot-style news segments covering a range of major stories, from Randy Orton’s military court martial to Steve Austin walking out of the company. Granted, every story came with the WWE spin you would expect, but they still often made for entertaining, and sometimes riveting, television. WWE would be wise to revisit this formula on its new network.


 A children’s show: There will always be questions about whether WWE’s brand of simulated violence is appropriate viewing for kids, but the fact remains that the K-12 crowd is a sizable, and important, segment of WWE’s audience. And they buy a lot of merchandise—or at least beg their parents to. Before WWE lost interest in it, Saturday Morning Slam was a fun half-hour on the CW network, and included some positive messages for kids about fitness and nutrition. The show wouldn’t need first-run matches, and instead could include some fun historical clips, and some light-hearted segments with Superstars.

 A Mystery Science Theater-type show: If you didn’t see it while aired, go out of your way to watch every episode of Are You Serious?—a Youtube show that aired for several months in 2012. The show featured Josh Matthews and the Road Dogg lampooning some of the worst matches, characters, and storylines in wrestling history from a viewing room inside “the basement of Titan Tower.” The hilarious show featured regular appearances from “Puppet H”—a raspy-voiced, sock puppet version of "The Game" himself. On any given week, Are You Serious? was the best thing WWE would produce. Reviving the show for the WWE Network is a no-brainer.

• A life-on-the-road-show: If the success of reality shows like Ice Road Truckers and Duck Dynasty have taught us anything, it’s that American television viewers love immersing themselves in the lives of people with unique occupations. And occupations don’t come any more unique than WWE performers. Each week, cameras could follow a new Superstar or Diva through their usual work week, capturing them living out of suitcases, driving hundreds of miles through the night, and eating at hotel bars. Depicting the less-glamorous side of WWE performers’ lives would give fans a deeper appreciation for what they do.

 Re-packaged classics in their original time slots: If you were a wrestling fan with cable television in the 1980s and '90s, there’s a good chance your television was tuned to TBS on Saturday night at exactly 6:05. Airing a different episode of World Championship Wrestling/WCW Saturday Night at the same time every week would surely put smiles on the faces of nostalgic wrestling fans, as would an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event each Saturday at 11:30 p.m. The old shows could be freshened up with some "Pop Up Video" inspired comments from some wrestling veterans from the era.

Post your ideas for new WWE Network shows in the comments section!


Al Castle
PWI Senior Writer

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

WWE Network: Early Observations


Some e-mails exchanges between PWI reporters through the first 30 hours of the new WWE Network era:

Louie D: I went out and bought a Roku last night (we had been wanting one anyway) so I could get the Network. It took me three hours to actually be able to sign up, but I'm watching WrestleMania 3, so it was worth it.

Louie D: Looks like no blurring/grayscale/etc. of blood is true. Just watched Billy Jack Haynes get busted open by Hercules and there is, as Gorilla Monsoon says, blood "pouring out of the forehead" of Haynes.

Louie D: Hillbilly Jim's music is the random banjo music they used on the WM Anthology DVD and not "Don't Go Messin' With A Country Boy" so I guess music rights issues are still a problem. Takes away a little bit in some instances, but again, beggars can't be choosers there.

Gerry Strauss: Just curious … within PPVs, etc., can you select specific matches to watch or do you have to scan through the whole shows?

Louie D: I'm on my laptop right now … clicked on WM3 and it played from the beginning, but I can "fast forward" the clip to anywhere in the show.

Al Castle: It took forever to get signed up (For once, I wanted to give WWE my money, and they wouldn't take it.) Up and running now, and it's pretty great. You can search by a wrestler's name or a match stipulation. Right now they're showing the awesome Bret-Shawn rivalry DVD. I'm the proverbial kid in a candy store. On my Roku 3, the picture is amazing. Better than when I get through my cable provider.

Mike Bessler: I just signed up and went right to WrestleMania III. Billy Jack vs. Hercules is one of my favorite underappreciated WM matches ever. I mean … wow! I still have my doubts about whether or not the model will work in the long run (I think it's bound to drive pro wrestling into a much smaller niche market at the end of the day), but speaking just as a fan, this feels like a dream.

Stu Saks: Why do you say that, Mike? Won’t more people watch their big events now?

Mike Bessler: On the PPV side, there is really a loss of incentive for fans to come together to watch the shows, either at home or at sports bars, etc. So that's one area where WWE will likely lose the ability to win over the kind of potential fans who are invited to experience wrestling collectively with devotees of the genre. WWE also loses the motivation to introduce a lot of new programming via conventional markets like cable television, which—whether Vince likes it or not—is still a medium of choice for millions and millions of fans. And the DVD market will, in all likelihood, take a humongous hit and eventually wither away with the emphasis on the network, so there will be less collecting and gift-giving of media in its tangible form. More merchandising with less emphasis on the primary product seems like a very unbalanced approach to me. All in all, I think the network caters well to true believers but leads the business into to into a bottleneck of a limited, pay to play fan base that doesn't do much to bring new fans into the fold. Still … pretty cool. Moved on to KOTR '93. I was totally at that show.

Kevin McElvaney: For what it's worth, I'm still planning to have a WrestleMania party at my place this year. (Who's bringing spinach dip?) You can watch the Super Bowl alone, too, but a social event is a social event.

Louie D: Me too, but remember three things, Kev: Umpteen million watch the Super Bowl but 10 percent of that watch the NFL on any given week, but that number is much, much smaller during the season—and part of that is because a lot of people watch at a bar or in a huge group at home to be part of the atmosphere as much as the game; the key for wrestling is keeping those people interested and having them come back for an Extreme Rules or Payback party. Two, in the same vein, if I'm a guy who is a casual watcher but cares little about the classic or ancillary content and knows a good friend has the network and thus every PPV (and likely will be like “hey, c'mon over and watch”), what's my incentive to give WWE any of my money? And, three, I don't know if they still do this everywhere, but my local Buffalo Wild Wings would still order all WWE PPVs simply because even if only one party comes in to watch but spends $20-$30 per head over the course of a night, it's a win. Either way, that exposes new fans to WWE in the fact that other people in BWW could theoretically watch. But now, can/will those places still want to do that, when tech-savvy people can pay $10 a month instead of $45 (or $30-plus at a BWW-type place) and watch at home —and even if they do, what if they have DirecTV or Dish or a cable company that decides to say "screw WWE, we're not carrying their events"? All that said, one area where I think the Network may actually help bring "new" fans is by bringing back old ones. A good friend of mine hasn't watched current programming in probably five years or more, but is subscribing to the network simply for the classic content; he says that now, but isn't there a chance he'll watch NXT, or Raw postgame show, or any other "current" event and maybe get the itch to check out Raw or Smackdown because of it?

Kevin McElvaney: No doubt. If your friend already pays the $10 per month, and you simply want to catch the pay-per-views, you might opt not to subscribe yourself. I was only countering what Mike said about the cheap subscription fee being something that might discourage group viewing habits. I don't think that'll necessarily be the case, although I can't imagine groups getting together for a Payback party. The Rumble, though, would probably be a weird thing to watch by oneself, so I guess it depends. A compelling event is a compelling event.

As far as I know, the pay-per-view Blast Zones (like Buffalo Wild Wings) are going to stay operational. There's a communal aspect to those, as well. Whether or not they'll stay active long term is another question entirely.

Louie D: Watching Survivor Series 1990—Hogan just said WWF, so I guess that piece of litigation is also now in the past.

Al Castle: Yeah that's been the case for about a year now. They can also show the old scratch logo now too. A lot of the legal stuff seems so arbitrary. On the HBK Mr. WrestleMania DVD I just bought, all the Ventura commentary is erased. But they're showing ’Mania 1 right now with Ventura on it.

Kevin McElvaney: Has anyone else been running into access problems with the Network? I only attempted to use it for the first time last night, following Raw, but I had no luck playing any videos. My guess is that bandwidth issues are going to be a major thing in the early stages of the launch. I can only hope we won't see streaming inconsistencies during WrestleMania and other future events.

Al Castle: I've only been able to watch the live stream, and some of the on demand selection of original shows. I haven't been able to pull up any of the archived PPVs on my Rokus. I always get a timed out error message.

Mike Bessler: I've had decent luck. The buffering issues during the afternoon yesterday thwarted my efforts at watching KOTR '93, but I watched a lot of WM 17 last night. Some of the delays and skipping is frustrating, but I'm sure it will improve.

Louie D: I had the same problems as Al last night on my Roku … only the live stream would work. I also noticed that not all of the PPVs would show up, either. In addition, this may just be a settings thing, but I couldn't even watch the ECW Hardcore TV that was on the live stream because it kept telling me my parental controls wouldn't allow it.

Al Castle: I've also noticed at least one missing PPV: Great American Bash 1991. How am I supposed to get my Skywalkers 2 fix?

Louie D: I've been going through Ron Simmons vs. Oz withdrawal for 23 years now! I didn't have a handful of WrestleManias or SummerSlams, which was weird. And nothing from like 2002-08.

Stu Saks: The Shawn Michaels-Bret Hart documentary starts and stops on my iPad more than a Larry Zbyszko match. Very frustrating.


Friday, February 21, 2014

WWE Network: Point/Counterpoint

I WILL NOT SUBSCRIBE
By Dan Murphy
PWI Senior Writer

With countless hours of content from the WWE vault (including footage from WCW, ECW, the AWA, and dozens of major historical territories), as well as new content (such as the long-delayed reality show Legends House), the WWE Network seems like a dream-come-true for wrestling fans. Throw in every single pay-per-view, including WrestleMania, for just $10 per month, and it’s a no-brainer, right?

Sorry. I’m just not interested.

First of all, while it makes economic sense for WWE to offer the Network as a video streaming service, as opposed to a traditional television channel, that’s a turnoff to me. I already have Netflix and a Roku box with dozens of on-demand content at my disposal. I also have a premium cable TV package with hundreds of channels, where I can watch anything from Cheers re-runs to True Detective on HBO (maybe I’m more of a Woody Harrelson fan than I ever realized). I literally have thousands of options for content, and maybe an hour or two of viable TV time available per day.

If the WWE Network was airing vintage Mid-South footage or episodes of World Class Championship Wrestling, I might tune in and watch a bit before bedtime, instead of tuning into Comedy Central for a bit. I might set the DVR and watch a little on the weekend. But WWE isn’t offering that programming yet. It’s offering its library of pay-per-views from WWE, WCW, and ECW.

If I have a spare bit of time, I’m not going to choose to fill it by watching Goldberg and Lex Luger stink up the ring from Mayhem 2000. I’ve already seen most of those PPVs and have no interest in watching 90 percent of them again. And, if I did want to see any of those matches, I’m pretty sure I can find them on one of the many free video sharing sites out there. I know WWE’s legal team works hard to keep that content offline, but it’s not hard to find.

But you can get live WWE 12 PPVs for just $120 for the year. That’s roughly a $600 value right there, you might say.

True, if I planned to buy every single WWE PPV. I have no earthly intention of doing that. Does anyone remember the string of lousy PPVs at the tail end of 2013? WWE should be paying me to watch the 2013 Survivor Series.

The WWE Network is going to make WWE programming even more of a niche and take it out of the mainstream. I don’t see casual fans making the jump the way WWE expects them to. Ten bucks a month isn’t a lot, but entertainment dollars are hard to come by, and there are so many entertainment options out there that $120 a year to watch wrestling pay-per-views is a tough sell, especially when the market is flooded with so much WWE programming isvalready available on free TV. Skip the PPV and tune into Raw the next night; not only will you get a full rundown, but you’ll probably also see several rematches from the PPV, right there on free TV.

According to WWE’s estimates, it needs 2 million subscribers for the Network to be a major financial success. That’s twice as many people that buy WrestleMania. I don’t think that many people will be willing to sign up; remember, there are still a lot of people of who don’t have Internet access in this country, let alone a video streaming provider like Roku or X-Box. WWE is making a huge gamble. This time, I’m betting against them.

I WILL SUBSCRIBE
By Kevin McElvaney
PWI Contributing Writer

Given all WWE has invested in its brand, it must continue to find ways to innovate and attract new fans in order to stay viable. YouTube exclusive programming, endless references to the WWE app, and even all the talk of trending on Twitter and social media are all attempts by WWE to stay ahead of the curve. The WWE Network is a major and, in my mind, very shrewd step in that direction.

Streaming video and internet-only programming represent the wave of the future. What WWE will be doing now starting Monday—streamlining some of its products and making them available independent of cable providers—is nothing short of cutting edge. Mark my words: You will see the HBOs and ESPNs of the world doing the same thing within the next five years. Is there a chance that some fans won’t bite, given the need for a tablet, streaming device, or other ìsmartî technology to watch the Network? Sure. For that matter, the moving of WWE’s weekly programming to cable probably alienated some fans. It also undoubtedly inspired others to subscribe to a cable service so that they wouldn’t miss the programming they were used to catching with their rabbit ear antennas. WWE’s younger fans are and will continue to be tech savvy, and WWE is wise to jump on the streaming bandwagon sooner than later.

Sure, there is already plenty of WWE programming available, even without the exclusive new and archival content promised by the Network. There are also, as Mr. Murphy mentions, only so many hours in the day to watch television. And yet, has this done anything to impede the success of Netflix, Hulu, Redbox, and various other convenient, new outlets for getting entertainment? No. It has only hurt those companies that have been unable to adapt, or those that increasingly cost too much money (looking at you, cable providers). A streaming service specifically for pro wrestling fans makes up for the dearth of in-ring content served up by other providers, and there is absolutely a market for this sort of thing.

Let’s consider what WWE Network offers. True, as my colleague says, it will not initially include much of the classic, regional programming now part of the WWE library. The service is just starting, though, and we will almost certainly be seeing World Class Championship Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, and all the rest offered on the Network sometime soon. In the meantime, every WWE, WCW, and ECW pay-per-view is nothing to take lightly. If you can’t find something to enjoy in an archive of that caliber, then maybe pro wrestling isn’t for you.

Then, there is the inclusion of every pay-per-view in the subscription price. Sure, I will admit to not having any interest in some of WWE’s monthly events. But do the math. There is not a year goes by when I’m willing to miss The Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, or SummerSlam. That’s about $180 right there. So, even if I’m only watching three monthly pay-per-views—for some reason neglecting the service for the rest of the year while dutifully paying the bill for it—I’ve come out ahead of the $120 yearly tab. In practice, I have plenty of interest in the archival content, most of the other monthly pay-per-view events, and, yes, even programs like Legends House.

The impending launch of the WWE Network is a big gamble. It’s untested, and it needs a whole heap of subscribers to be a success. My bet is that they’ll get halfway there pretty quickly, and then Dan Murphy and the many more holdouts will come to their senses.