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Monday, May 24, 2010

ENTER THE IDIOTS

Oops ... he did it again. Or I should say, it was done to him again. On May 21, yet another fan felt compelled to get physically involved with ROH wrestler Austin Aries. This time it was during the ROH on HDNet tapings at The Arena in South Philadelphia.

As Delirious chased Aries through the crowd during the six-man-tag main event pitting Aries, Kenny King, and Rhett Titus against Jerry Lynn, Delirious, and heavyweight champion Tyler Black, one fan thought it would be a good idea to shove a chair in Aries' path. Aries, who is known to have a short fuse when it comes to belligerant fans, disagreed, and responded by hurling the chair at the offending fan, striking him.

It was one of those "unfortunate" incidents that seem to be following "A-Double" around lately. In fact, it was the third such incident for Aries in the past two years. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured. The fan shouted a few obscenities at Aries before being removed from the building and the situation was over as quickly as it flared.

When this type of incident occurs, I immediately think of that famous snake story. You remember the one where the well-intentioned, if not naive, traveller encounters a dying snake on the road, takes the snake home, and nurses it back to health, only for the snake to bite him.

"How could you," asks the traveller, "after all I've done for you? I saved your life." The snake then explains, "Hey cousin, I'm a snake. You knew that when you picked me up. I'm just doing what snakes do."

Had this fan pursued some type of legal action against Aries or ROH, that little parable probably wouldn't have made for a robust defense, despite its logic. But it does speak to the stupidity of fans who think the price of a seat includes an invitation to join in the action. What kind of reaction should fans expect when they engage or try to injure a testosterone-fuelled athlete who is focused on doing his job and wrapped up in the heat of the battle?

Personally, I support Austin Aries' decision to hit back, for the following reasons:

In the crowd, wrestlers are exposed, and must show that they are willing and able to hurt anybody in the audience who might get carried away. In ALL cases of male-on-male aggression, I advocate a swift, decisive, and disproportionately violent response.

Let's face it, some fans are beyond obnoxious and need a chair or fist to the head to cool them out. They must be taught that despite paying for admission, they are still guests of the promotion and should act accordingly. Fans must also be made to realize that the people sitting next to them bought tickets to see Aries wrestle other members of the ROH roster, not the jackass to their left or right. In both cases, the message is: Touch the wrestlers at your own risk!

The fan who threw the chair on Friday night got the attention he wanted ... and was very lucky he didn't get more than a chair to the face in return.

--Frank Krewda
Editor-In-Chief


Friday, May 21, 2010

Is poor timing of Sunday’s PPV "Lost" on WWE?

 A prediction: This Sunday’s Over the Limit pay per view will draw one of the smallest buy rates of any WWE show in quite a while.

Part of it has to do with the fairly lackluster card and the fact that it is an “off-month” show without much of a hook to lure in fans. But, mainly, it has to do with WWE’s competition for viewers on Sunday night – the epic series finale of the ABC series Lost.

Wrestling companies blaming low viewership on strong competition is nothing new. Some of it is valid, and much of it is not. We get an almost weekly dose of such excuses during football season. More recently, TNA blamed its unmitigated failure on Monday nights on fans being torn between watching Impact and Raw. (It would seem they weren’t that torn.)

But in this case, WWE may legitimately be facing some of its toughest competition in years. Lost averaged about 14 million viewers over its first five seasons, and has been doing huge numbers as of late as it approaches its series finale this Sunday. ABC has blocked off its entire night for the television event, beginning at 7 p.m.

Unquestionably, there is a big crossover in WWE’s core audience of men between the ages of 18-34 and Lost’s fanbase. But putting that aside, the final episode of the series about a magical island and the castaways who inhabit it promises to be a television event on the level of the final episode of M*A*S*H*, Dallas and The Sopranos.

And how is WWE counter-programming the big show? Well, we’ve got a world title match between the still-unproven WWE World champ Jack Swagger and part-time main eventer The Big Show. A couple title matches involving up and comers such as the Hart Dynasty and Drew McIntyre. And for the third time in as many pay per views, Batista will wrestle John Cena and Rey Mysterio will wrestle C.M. Punk.

I don’t mean to criticize the show, which features a good use of much of the younger talent that WWE has recently been investing in. But it’s fair to say that this is far from a loaded line-up.

…Which makes me wonder. Is it possible that WWE deliberately held back on offering a strong line-up once it realized it would be going head-to-head with the final curtain call of Hurley, Sawyer and “The Smoke Monster?”

Conspiracy theories aside, WWE should brace itself for what promises to be a smaller than usual television audience Sunday night. WWE should just accept that fact and, come Monday, "move on" – just as Jack has implored Locke to do.

What will you be watching?

-Al Castle
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

TNA: Looking for Love


Whether it's a cable network deal, a move to Thursdays, a live show, or a move to Mondays, TNA always seems to me so much like the proverbial longing-for-love single -- always checking the door to see if the next person walking into the room could be her destiny.

Always clinging to its moniker of providing Total Nonstop Action, TNA has come to mean so much to so many. As a company, it has persevered over the years, living largely off the reputation of a strong X division and a collection of WWE defectors and castoffs. It has lived with tempered expectations and applauded itself for the few decent accomplishments it has had.

It always tried for the baby steps.

When I met Dixie Carter at YouShoot Live last week, I asked her if going back to Thursday night was any sort of a setback. Her answer was not really unexpected, but still somewhat surprising. She believes with all of her heart that TNA had nothing to lose by exposing itself to a Monday night crowd. She also said that the fans have to respect it just for trying.

I never believed it, until I heard the confidence and conviction with which she spoke. Recently, TNA's future has been subject to so much debate, especially these last six months since it added 180 years of experience (with just three men!). Will it survive the year? Will Panda ever become frustrated over sluggish ratings and a bloated payroll, and cut ties? Where can TNA ever go after having to retreat from Monday nights?

TNA might not make all of the right decisions all of the time. A lot of times, it may seem like they aren't necessarily making any. Still, you have to admire Carter and her boys for having the gusto to always try to move forward, even when it seems there are millions telling them TNA just isn't ready.

After all, you are never going to meet "Mr. Right" by staying home on your couch eating bon-bons.

--Brady Hicks
Contributing Writer

Do As Bret Says, Not As He Does

It's funny how those who complain the loudest always seem to engage in the very type of behavior they criticize.

Roughly a dozen years ago, in one of the many asinine moves that stripped WCW of credibility and viewership, actor/comedian David Arquette somehow found himself wearing the WCW World title. Perhaps the only person more critical of the decision than me at the time was Bret Hart, who used his column in the Calgary Sun to vent long and hard about the insult Arquette's "title reign" represented to all the workers, past and present, who had busted their butts on the indie level and overseas fighting to build a career, but were never given a chance, fairly or otherwise, to wear a belt.

Indeed, Hart climbed on his soapbox and sang his displeaure from the mountaintops ... and I was right there with him voicing mine in the pages of PWI, Inside Wrestling, The Wrestler, and several now-defunct magazines. As a fan I was appalled, and I could only imagine how somebody who took professional wrestling as seriously as Bret Hart did felt about it all. It was a slap in the face to the industry and the hard-working people in it.

However, Bret Hart's brand new U.S. championship win over the Miz on Raw is not far behind it. Not only was it sad to see Bret, who, for all intents and purposes, can no longer even wrestle a full match, take the belt from a young-up-and-comer like The Miz, in one of the most convoluted bouts of all-time, it was insulting to see him celebrate in the ring with The Hart Dynasty as if it were a meaningful accomplishment.

Clearly, WWE wanted to fete "The Hitman" in his "final" WWE appearance, especially since it occured in Canada, and I'm all for restoring some of the good will that went up in smoke over the past 13 years between he and WWE. But the feelgood story of his return has gone on too long when they use a major secondary title to do it.

It was shocking, at least to me, that Bret, who has campaigned so strongly and loudly for preserving the heritage and integrity of the sport would even agree to accept a title match, much less the title belt itself. Celebrating Hart's involement in the business it fine, but they undercut The Miz at the same time.

--Frank Krewda
Editor-In-Cheif

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Randy Orton, Babyface ... I'm not buying it

When Senior Writer Dave Lenker started sending columns questioning Randy Orton's push several months ago, I kinda brushed it off. Probably jealous of Orton's look. Spending too much time with that old crank Brock, I figured. But here we are a few years later and somehow, someway, Orton has become a fan favorite.

Why?

Yes, he's a lean, good-looking athlete who bullied two loathesome stooges and kicked some people in the head. For that, he was justifiably and understandably hated. Now, however, he is soundly cheered. Was his WrestleMania 26 victory over Legacy that impressive?

What has Randy Orton done in the ring or on the microphone lately that would inspire fans to cheer for him? In my humble opinion, his wrestling is average, his look is average, and his promos are below average. His attempts at portraying a mentally deranged sociopath are unconvincing at best.

I don't know Randy Orton, nor have I ever met him, but by many accounts, he's surly and not particularly fan-friendly. His history of bad beahvior, though in his past, hardly makes him an effective ambassador for the business.

His body of work was more entertaining to me when he was a goofy prospect who interrupted Raw with his unsolicited updates on the Titantron.

Admittedly, Orton was a very effective heel when he was running around delivering head punts, but those days seem far behind him. Is that alone enough to make him a beloved babyface? Somebody please explain this to me.

-Frank Krewda
Editor-In-Chief

What could Richards' upcoming ROH title shot mean toward his future?

Like Bryan Danielson, Samoa Joe and Nigel McGuinness before him, the latest wrestler out of Ring of Honor to create a legitimate buzz throughout the wrestling world is Davey Richards – the compact-sized bulldozer who observers frequently compare to the Dynamite Kid and Chris Benoit.

But, as I mentioned in a recent magazine story, the best comparison may be between Richards and Brock Lesnar. Both are farm boys who excelled in amateur wrestling. Both plied their trade in the ring, and turned out to be naturally gifted pro wrestlers. And both disliked the grueling demands of the sport enough to turn their backs on it.

Indeed, Richards told me that he is not long for the professional wrestling game, and is already training for his next career, as a firefighter. While he declined to give specifics, he said he would certainly not be wrestling in five years, and that he had no interest in working for TNA or WWE.

And so I was quite surprised to read today that ROH had announced the challenger to Tyler Black’s heavyweight championship for its next Internet pay per view next month. At “Death Before Dishonor,” live from Toronto, Black will defend his belt against none other than Davey Richards.

The match is intriguing, not only because it will pit two of ROH’s most exciting competitors against one another – but because of the uncertainty of Richards’ future in wrestling.

Unquestionably, Richards would be on most any ROH fan’s short list of viable heavyweight title holders. And ROH certainly values Richards – even signing him to a contract recently in order to prevent him from working for competing independent promotions. That includes EVOLVE – a company Richards helped form and served as its public face. ROH owner Cary Silkin, himself, told me in another interview recently published in PWI that “nobody works harder” than Richards.

But, speaking purely from a good business stand point, would it be wise to put your top championship around the waist of a wrestler who has made it clear he is not in it for the long haul?

That’s not to say that Richards’s exodus from the sport is imminent. Perhaps a run as ROH’s standard bearer might give Richards the inspiration to stick with wrestling for a while longer.

Or, on the flip side, maybe the increased demands and pressures of being ROH champion may drive Richards to throw in the towel even sooner than he anticipated.

Whatever the case, we could learn a lot about the future of Davey Richards, and of Ring of Honor, from the upcoming June 19 event. And even if we don’t, we should be in for a heck of a match.

- Al Castle
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

Thursday, May 6, 2010

When did NXT become the Diva Search?

Coming up next week on WWE NXT: Daniel Bryan gets torn between alliances with The Miz and Boston Rob, CM Punk and Darren Young have trouble at the Roadblock, and Wade Barrett shocks the world when giving out his final rose. Plus, David Otunga does a Rumba to Remember!

Sound lame? Yeah, I think so too. But sadly, parts of that “preview” might not be too far from the truth in the very near future.

Yes, I’m one of the million and change viewers who watches WWE NXT. And sometimes, I wonder why. The wrestling part is fine, and for the first six weeks it was a great show highlighting eight guys trying to make it and the pros who love them. Perfectly acceptable wrestling.

But whose idea was it to rip off pretty much every other “reality” show (including the Diva Search, ostensibly) on television in the last few weeks?

I know it’s not easy to fill an hour of television time—but what exactly do a keg race, selling programs, the American Gladiators joust and a dizzy bat obstacle course have to do with professional wrestling?

Nothing, yet all four of those “events” have occurred on NXT in the last month.
The “speaking” challenge, where all eight rookies were given 30 seconds to expound upon a random word? That I can understand, because charisma is a huge part of wrestling these days, even more so than wrestling talent (just ask Shelton Benjamin).

But a virtual dizzy bat race, with the winner gaining an Immunity Pass for next week’s elimination? Really?

Last I checked, Survivor was on Thursday nights, yet for about 10 minutes last night I thought Russell Hantz was going to slide out from under the ring and sabotage the babyfaces.

It’s almost insulting to my intelligence in a way that the Diva Search never could be. At least that featured attractive women in skimpy clothing, and last I checked, one of WWE’s main demographics was men 18-49.

But this? This is just plain bad. And what makes it worse is that you’d never see anything like this on “real” WWE programming featuring “real” WWE Superstars. I mean, instead of that Triple Threat Match a few weeks back to determine John Cena’s opponent at Over the Limit, could you have imagined if Batista, Randy Orton, and Sheamus had to see who could climb the Sundae Slide the fastest?

I don’t think even former RAW guest hosts Cheech and Chong could’ve gotten high enough to book that, at least not without Divas involved.

Maybe I’m just salty because after 20-plus years as a wrestling fan, I’m now taking up precious DVR space to time-shift things I can watch my neighbor’s kids do in the backyard. Maybe it’s because my friends and I booked a more coherent “Tough Enough” style competition when we used to play WWE’s dice-based role playing game as teenagers (yes, I’m a loser, I know).

Hell, maybe it’s because I’m afraid my new On the Farm column (now featured in every issue of Inside Wrestler/The Wrestling Magazine) is going to require me to buy a pair of British Knights and interview Marc Summers.

Whatever the reason is, I know I’m not the only one. The ratings tell me that a show that debuted with a 1.35 cable rating (which is roughly 1.5m viewers) has drawn a .79 and .81 the last couple weeks.

That still beats Impact much of the time, which tells me that either the WWE brand is worth 750,000 viewers automatically or most of America somehow has Spike TV blacked out on Monday nights.

It’s sad, really, thinking of what WWE NXT could’ve been versus what it actually is.
But I’ll try not to think about it – at least until next week, when Darren Young dances the Argentine Tango with Cheryl Burke and Skip Sheffield sings "All of Me."

-Louie Dee
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

TNA should be applauded - not ridiculed - for waving the white flag

The first step of any 12 step program is admitting defeat. And so if that is any guideline, TNA’s announcement last night that Impact would return to its usual Thursday night timeslot may turn out to be a landmark moment in TNA’s ultimate success.

It would be easy – and perhaps well deserved – to kick TNA while it's down right now. Indeed, the new “Monday Night War” that it declared about two months ago turned out not even to be a skirmish. And after drawing ratings so dismal in its Monday night slot that its previous ratings on Thursday looked gigantic in comparison, TNA and Spike TV effectively tapped out last night, and announced Impact would return to Thursday night.

I’ve heard a lot of talk today about TNA management retreating with their proverbial tails tucked between their legs. And that is certainly accurate. Dixie Carter, Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, and Vince Russo have themselves largely to blame for TNA’s ultimate failure on Monday nights.

It’s true that putting a dent in the ratings juggernaut that is WWE Monday Night Raw would have been tough for even a finely tuned wrestling promotion. But, by any standards, TNA’s performance on Monday nights was a major disappointment. And that had everything to do with not giving fans what they want, and giving them far too much of what they don’t want.

But now may not be the time to look back. After months of bold moves by TNA, the boldest may have come last night. Returning to Thursday nights – and in the process admitting defeat – is a wise and brave move, and one TNA should be commended – not disparaged – for.

The company has taken other important steps in that direction as of late, as well. The coronation of Ron Van Dam as the new TNA champion, the attempt to create a fair ranking system and the re-introduction of Samoa Joe as a back-to-basics butt kicker are all important building blocks for TNA.

Rather than continue wasting time and money fighting a losing battle against WWE, TNA is smart to concentrate on building its own brand, on its own night.

- Al Castle
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

Monday, May 3, 2010

A True Win-Win For TNA

I am a Ric Flair "mark." Always have been. Always will be. But even I was dismayed by the prospect of him wrestling Abyss on Impact. Just the idea of a 60-something man donning tights and becoming a jiggling, bleeding mess makes me feel embarrassed for Flair and TNA.

At this point, I doubt any fans want to see the "Nature Boy" in the ring. However, I think many more still enjoy the dramatic, over-the-top promos only Flair can deliver (although I must admit, Flair has lost his fastball in this department as well). So, how can TNA use this wrestling legend in a way that embarrasses nobody?

Enter Matt Morgan. Morgan is an athletic behemoth who, A) Seems to be going nowhere fast, and B) Isn't the most gifted talker in pro wrestling.

See where this is going?

A partnership between Flair and Morgan accomplishes several positive things without hurting anyone. For example, when was the last time wrestling saw a truly charismatic and enduring male manager? Flair, already known as "The Dirtiest Player In The Game," would fit the bill to a T.

He's got the gift of gab, the guile, and the wrestling experience to gain instant credibility as Morgan's handler. Flair could easily mask Morgan's deficiencies on the microphone, which would add another dimension to Morgan's character. Besides, Flair's long past the point where he can contribute anything truly meaningful inside the ring. Why not use all those skills and experience to elevate a very promising talent like Morgan?

It's not as if Morgan couldn't use the help. In the Volume 34, 2010 issue of The Wrestler/Inside Wrestling (on sale June 8), we document some of the travails Morgan has faced in trying to establish himself among TNA's elite. Without giving too much away, I think it's safe to assume that Morgan's stock would rise considerably with Flair guiding his career.

Flair wants to stay relevant to the business, Morgan wants to go to the top. Neither appears likely in the immediate future as long as these men stay on their current paths. But by working together, both stand a better chance of getting what they want.

Smells like a true win-win, which is something TNA is desperate for these days. What do you think?

Frank Krewda
Editor-In-Chief