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Thursday, September 30, 2010

HIAC: More At Stake Than The Butterfly Belt

As far as marquee value goes, Kane vs. The Undertaker for the WWE World championship in a steel cage easily trumps the Natalya vs. Michelle McCool Divas title match, as do the Bryan vs. Miz and Sheamus vs. Orton bouts. But the Nattie-McCool match at Hell in a Cell on Sunday night bears watching, especially if you have any interest in the state of women's wrestling.

Most of the criticism leveled at the 2010 PWI "Female 50" rankings (November 2010 ; visit www.pwi-online.com to buy the issue) has centered around our selection of McCool as the top-rated female wrestler. Comments have ranged from the absurd-"The only reason McCool is number one is because she's married to The Undertaker, and he obviously paid the editors to put her there" to the reasonable- "While McCool has worked hard to improve, she still hasn't really connected with the fans."

However, the critics have been nearly as vocal about Nattie's number-29 showing. Obviously, many fans look at Nattie's pedigree, as well as her un-Diva-like appearance, and feel both should have been rewarded with a higher ranking. Of course, neither of those "qualifications" measure up to in-ring accomplishments, which, when all is said and done, is the primary factor in determining our rankings. And, like it or not, Nattie, who mainly served as The Hart Dynasty's valet for most of 2010, had next to none last year. Hence her middling rank.

I do, however, agree with our detractors that Nattie is an immensely credible wrestler whose somewhat untraditional look represents a refreshing departure from the model-type appearance of McCool, Maryse, and Kelly Kelly. And should Nattie defeat McCool for the Diva's title on Sunday night, a much stronger case can be made that she should receive a higher ranking in the 2011 "Female 50."

I'll stop short of calling this match a "referendum on looks vs. ability" but clearly, putting the title on a woman as respected as Natalya seems to be would be a wise first step in restoring credibility to women's wrestling.

--Frank Krewda
Editor-In-Chief

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This Train Is Bound For Glory

The spiritual tune “This Train Is Bound For Glory,” popularized by the great folk artist Woody Guthrie, tells the story of a train full of passengers who are pure of heart and full of virtue: “Don't carry nothing but the righteous and the holy/This train is bound for glory, this train.” The competitors for TNA’s upcoming Bound For Glory pay-per-view event stand in stark contrast to the folks described in Woody’s tale. From the haggard, hardcore vets of EV 2.0 to the vain and opportunistic rogues’ gallery of Flair’s Fortune to the larger than life trio who will slug it out for the World title, TNA has assembled a formidable “crazy train” of its own heading into the 10-10-10 show.

As an organization, TNA has taken some bold steps forward in the effort to gather momentum for an event that might well prove to be a major step in the company’s development. Resurrecting stars of the past, pushing new talent to the top of the card, and laying the groundwork for an exciting future are all on the agenda for the second Sunday in October. Of the three most prominent matches on the event’s card, any and all of them have major implications in the continuing evolution of TNA.

Ken Anderson’s elevation to “main event” status is a terrific step in a new direction. Anderson is not necessarily a rookie in the business, but his attitude and charisma have garnered an appreciative and enthusiastic fan base. The fact that Mr. Anderson is up against fan favorite Jeff Hardy and living legend Kurt Angle in a bid for the TNA championship suggests that he’s earned the confidence and approval of the promotion’s backstage decision-makers. Angle’s pledge to retire should he fail to regain the title makes for a compelling subplot to an already intriguing three-way dance. Thankfully, TNA recognizes that wrestling fans appreciate good, suspenseful storytelling, and the Angle-Anderson-Hardy rivalry has secured a well-deserved spot at the top of the card as well as the attention of TNA fans.

TNA continues to appropriately portray the feud between Flair’s Fortune and EV 2.0 as a spectacle of epic proportions. While many of the singles encounters between members of the warring contingents tend to climax with run-ins and riotous melees, there are decisive victories in these contests from week to week. This is an important departure from the WWE tradition of using “no finish” results to build suspense for big PPV matchups. Brian Kendrick’s surprise victory over Matt Morgan a couple of weeks back, along with AJ Styles’ ladder match victory over Sabu, seem indicative of the fact that TNA isn’t content to end a battle with a simple brawl or disqualification. By providing each stable the opportunity to showcase their respective power and collective abilities week after week, TNA is effectively setting the stage for a highly anticipated showdown between these titanic forces at Bound for Glory.

Also on the books for October 10 is the arrival of a group known only as “They.” Week after week, The Monster Abyss heralds the imminent arrival of the mysterious collective pronouns with vignettes that push the boundaries of my own personal suspension of disbelief (I’m not feeling the recent branding-iron scene, for what it’s worth). Nevertheless, the unrelenting ferocity of this entire campaign serves to keep the nagging riddle of TNA’s mysterious new faction in the forefront of an undeniably bustling promotion.

As the TNA train rolls on to its date with destiny, we’re surely in for some great stuff on the way to the big show. Barring a tremendous gaffe or colossal misstep in the coming weeks (which does happen every so often in the wrestling industry), Bound For Glory has all the makings of a watershed moment in TNA history.

All aboard!

Mike Bessler
Contributing Writer/PW

Friday, September 24, 2010

Signamania VI Tomorrow!

If you're within striking distance of Philadelphia, I urge you to join me at Signamania VI tomorrow (that's Saturday, September 24) for an opportunity to meet and greet some of the biggest names in the sport.

Among those who will be appearing this year are Rob Van Dam, Carlito, Mickie James, AJ Styles, Mean Gene Okerlund, The Motor City Machine Guns, and Angelina Love. Seventy-five bucks gives you full access to all the stars for photos, autographs, and a little chit-chat.

I attended the past two Signamania events in Fairless Hills, PA, and had a lot of fun both times. Depending on how well my dog is feeling (seriously!), I will be there tomorrow, so if you see a 6'4" thin guy with mostly gray hair and a camera, come up and say hello.

The event, presented by George's Collectibles, will be held at the Bucks County Tech School, 610 Wistor Road, Fairless Hills, PA, 19030. Visit their website, signamania.com, or contact George's Collectibles at 215-943-2475 for further info.

Stu Saks
PWI/Publisher






Monday, September 20, 2010

Is Tag Team Wrestling Dead to WWE?

Cody Rhodes & Drew McIntyre, who have wrestled exactly two matches as a team, are currently the WWE Unified Tag Team Champions.

Rhodes & McIntyre won the belts in a Tag Team Turmoil Match tonight at Night of Champions. Entering the fray last, they defeated another makeshift team, Evan Bourne & Mark Henry, to win the match and the gold.

So now if you believe in the significance of the secondary titles in wrestling (a topic we look at in the December issue of PWI), then this now 2-0 duo is the best tag team in the land.

I know that you're never more than an opportunity three-count away from being a champion, but that's kind of ridiculous, don't you think?

Honestly, it speaks volumes about the art of tag team wrestling and its place in WWE.

The teams that started the match, The Hart Dynasty and The Usos, have been feuding over the title for months, and the third of the five teams in, Santino Marella & Vladimir Kozlov, have been doing the odd couple schtick for weeks now.

That's fine...but in the end, the championship came down to Bourne & Henry vs. McIntyre & Rhodes, a pair of duos who before tonight had less wins together than most combinations of Divas.

As it is, even their involvement in the match is suspect, regardless of the result.

Seriously - on the SmackDown roster alone, you have two teams in The Dudebusters and Vance Archer/Curt Hawkins who are or have been actual regular teams, and the duo of MVP & JTG have teamed up a couple times as well. Then, on Raw, you've got four members of Nexus, R-Truth & John Morrison (who fought for those same titles at WrestleMania, mind you), and a character with all the money in the world in Ted DiBiase (who could've bought himself a makeshift partner for the night) not collecting a PPV paycheck.

Consider that a lost opportunity. Now, McIntyre is the "chosen one" and the writers are badly trying to get Ravishing Ripoff Rhodes over with his new gimmick, but isn't there a better way than slapping them together, giving them belts that become more meaningless by the day, and letting them run wild on both shows?

Guess not. And unlike when WWE did the same thing with Edge & Chris Jericho, Jericho & Big Show, or Big Show & Miz, this time they're relying on two guys who have never really been considered to be in the upper echelon of talent - so it looks less like "opportunity" and more like "desperation."

The same thing has kind of happened down in FCW, which went from The Usos and Los Aviadores having five-star barnburners on TV to a team winning the belts in their first-ever match together (a phenomenon you can read about come Oct. 19 in the next issue of Inside Wrestling/The Wrestler).

Maybe The Usos are the kiss of death?


I don't know. But I eagerly look forward to watching Rhodes & McIntyre battle Yoshi Tatsu & Goldust while the Samoans, Canadians, and Dudes all sit at home doing a whole lot of nothing.

-Louie Dee
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Night Of The Same Old Headliners

In the Volume 36 issue of The Wrestler/Inside Wrestling (on sale date October 19), Liz Hunter laments the way WWE snatched the spotlight from Wade Barrett and Sheamus at Night of Champions by turning their WWE title match into a Six-Pack Challenge.

In convincing detail, Liz explains how and why WWE is risking its future for the sake of a few extra PPV buys. Her "On Assignment" column is a must-read and I hope you check it out.

However, I'd like to take a different look at the situation. Speaking as a fan, not an analyst, I can't help but feel frustrated by the way WWE has tinkered with the Night of Champions main event.

First, Barrett and Sheamus were supposed to lock horns (with Nexus "banned" from ringside). Then Raw's anonymous GM decided the match would be a Six-Pack Challenge. Then it became a Five-Pack Challenge when Chris Jericho lost his place in the match to John Morrison on Raw last week. Naturally, Jericho regained his spot last night by defeating The Hart Dynasty in a steel cage.

I realize that the permutations listed above are intended to build drama and provide a compelling backstory to the match, but in my opinion, the intrigue of watching two relative WWE newcomers headline a pay-per-view would be infinitely more compelling than watching Orton, Cena, Jericho, and Edge in yet another PPV main event.

I've left it to Liz to explain the business reasons why allowing Barrett and Sheamus stand or fall on their own makes sense, but the fan in me says, buy rates be damned! I want to see something new.

Frank Krewda
Editor-in-Chief

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Don't Count ROH Out Just Yet

Saturday night's big Ring of Honor show from New York City was newsworthy for several reasons. A new ROH champion was crowned. An ROH legend returned. And two of the best duos of our generation clashed in a tag team dream match for the ages.

But you probably won't find the biggest headline coming out of Glory by Honor IX in any report of the show. It is this: Ring of Honor is alive and well - at least in the hearts of wrestling fans.

Several recent developments in ROH have left some observers wondering if the Philadelphia-based wrestling promotion may have its days numbered. One of the company's top attractions, Tyler Black, signed a contract to join WWE while still wearing the ROH championship. Davey Richards, considered by many the most exciting performer on the independent wrestling scene, announced his intention to retire at the end of the year. And the company's well-respected booker, Adam Pearce, was fired after clashing with ROH management over the directions of their business model.

With something of a dearth of obvious candidates to fill the vacancies at the top of cards, and concerns that the company's business is not growing as fast as it should, some have wondered if ROH owner Cary Silkin may be forced to shutter the company doors.

But if fans were looking for reasons to be optimistic about ROH's future, they got one the moment they arrived in front of the Manhattan Center Saturday night. Unfortunately, some of them did not get any further than that.

So packed was the 1,200-seat Grand Ballroom that officials with the fire marshal’s office were forced to turn away ticket-carrying fans.

That development may have boded badly for the disappointed fans (who, incidentally, were taken care of by apologetic ROH officials) but it was a positive sign for a company that desperately needed a win. Clearly, fans were interested in what Ring of Honor had to offer in 2010. They would not be disappointed.

The jam-packed crowd was red hot for throughout the entire night, and for good reason. ROH put on one of the best events of any wrestling company this year.

Among the highlights of Glory by Honor, which was also streamed live as an Internet exclusive pay-per-view courtesy of gofightlive.tv: ROH's most personal feud of 2010 reached a bloody climax when Colt Cabana & El Generico defeated Kevin Steen & Steve Corino. The biggest jaw-dropper came after the bout, when Generico was unmasked by his former partner, Steen.

The tandem once known as The World's Greatest Tag Team, Shelton Benjamin and Charley Haas, got a heroes' reception for their dream match against Claudio Castagnoli & Chris Hero. The Kings of Wrestling came out victorious, but the former WWE tag team champs left the ring feeling like winners when the ROH fans implored them to "Please come back!"

And in the main event, Roderick Strong defeated the WWE-bound Tyler Black to capture the ROH championship. The great Terry Funk donned the zebra stripes to count the fall.

As if that wasn't enough, Homicide, having recently been exiled from TNA, returned to ROH after the main event to challenge Strong for his title at a future show. Another big piece of news came when Jim Cornette announced that Richards had signed a new contract with ROH, and would be challenging for the championship at December's "Final Battle."

With the ROH championship around the waist of a talented and deserving company veteran, a former ROH headliner returning, a top contender sticking around, and a top-flight tag team making its first of what fans hope will be regular appearances, Ring of Honor suddenly looks in considerably better shape than it did just 24 hours ago.

But there is more work to be done, for sure. ROH management needs to strike while the iron is hot and capitalize on the audible buzz that the company has generating in recent days. That means parlaying the company’s strong reputation among its fans into lucrative business opportunities, whether they be in the form of new advertising revenue on its HDNet program, further international television deals, or even a live televised pay per view event. ROH, which still relies largely on the same business model of selling videos of its live shows, desperately needs to expand into new ways of generating revenue. The Internet pay per view concept is a good start.

If ROH proved nothing else Saturday night, it is that it remains a relevant, and essential part of the American wrestling landscape. With WWE trying to cater to the masses, and TNA too often chasing its own tail, ROH remains the most viable alternative for wrestling fans looking for exciting action, compelling stories, captivating personalities, and solid production values.

For the good of the sport of wrestling, it is imperative that ROH not only survives, but thrives.

-Al Castle
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

Thursday, September 9, 2010

John Cena Takes One For The Team

Like most wrestling fans, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news: John Cena is appearing on the September 12, 2010, episode of Hannah Montana Forever on the Disney Channel. The human brain has an uncanny ability to recall minute details of surroundings and sensations when faced with something really good or something really bad; it's called "eidetic recollection," I think. In my case, my snapshot memory occurred Sunday evening as I headed up the steps to my bedroom. At the top of the stairs I was met by my 11-year-old daughter and her Cheshire-like grin. She proudly (and loudly) informed me that the world of professional wrestling was slated for a head-on collision with the bubblegum pop world of Miley Cyrus, noting that “tweeners” around the world were dancing in the streets to this very news. That was the gist of what she said, anyway. For my part, I handled the news with as much dignity as possible, grabbing the handrail with one hand while I clutched my chest with the other. There were some retching noises, too. Then came the inevitable question: “Will you watch it with me?”

It took me a while to get to a place at which I could process all of this with some degree of clarity. My mind raced with thoughts like, This is exactly why I can't stand Cena! ... He's everywhere!... Give me a break ... What the heck is the world of professional wrestling coming to, anyway?"

A lifetime of enthusiasm for pro wrestling—through all its ups and downs—does provide some badly needed perspective from time to time. In the broad scheme of things, a guest spot on Hannah Montana is, by and large, mostly consistent with Vince McMahon's vision of a “Rock and Wrestling” connection. It’s this very strategy that helped to effectively ingrain professional wrestling into the very fibers of American popular culture. Through the decades since the very first WrestleMania, the general image of pro wrestling as an institution has been continually reinvented and reinforced through the success of cross-promotion. Merchandising, Saturday morning cartoons, and celebrity guest appearances are the very things that put the "entertainment" in sports entertainment and, in the long run, this is what sustains professional wrestling as a cultural institution.

John Cena plays an important part in this discussion. He's extremely popular in certain key demographics, but it seems like a lot of dedicated wrestling fans are still quick to hold his success against him. Try as we may, it's awfully hard to impugn his work ethic, though. To get an idea of his true potential, look no further than his April 23, 2007, Wrestlemania 23 rematch with Shawn Michaels (appropriately named Cena’s all-time “Best Match” in the current issue of Inside Wrestling). This match was a marathon contest that showcased the best of Cena’s ever-evolving talent. If that isn’t enough, check out his performance in the main event at ECW One Night Stand 2006. Or watch his 2006 TLC match with Edge. Or have a look at his 2008 Last Man Standing match against the Samoan Bulldozer, Umaga. Love Cena or hate him, most wrestling fans might well agree that all of these matches are classics.

Even Cena himself admits that his in-ring repertoire is lacking at times but despite his limitations, his career thus far is replete with stellar moments. He’s headlined events before capacity crowds and he’s held his own against many of the greatest talents in pro wrestling’s recent history. All things considered, it’s highly unlikely that Cena will remember his guest appearance on Hannah Montana as one of the greatest moments of his career.

In the biographical segment of his I Walk Alone DVD set, Dave Batista reflected a bit on the stress that comes with being “the face of the company.” Maintaining the physical demands of a busy schedule featuring house shows, televised matches, and pay-per-view cards is challenging in and of itself. The added responsibilities of public appearances, outreach work, and the occasional guest spot on a sitcom or kids’ show—under the watchful eye of a boss who is infamously quick-tempered and demanding—is a tremendous load for one person to bear. Nevertheless, John Cena balances the full weight of WWE on his shoulders with confidence and skill.

When it comes down to it, John Cena will take one for the team this Sunday when he crosses over from the smash-mouth world of professional wrestling into the sickeningly sweet world of The Disney Channel. Remember. folks, he’s doing this for the benefit of wrestling fans all around the world. Just tell yourselves that over and over again and it won’t seem all that bad.

For my part, come Sunday night, I’ll be right there in front of the television as a show of solidarity with fathers of pre-teen girls everywhere, watching every agonizing minute of this week’s Hannah Montana alongside my adoring daughter. She might not grow up to be a wrestling fan like me, but if I’m lucky, she’ll always remember the night I took one for the team.

Mike Bessler/PWI Contributing Writer

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Some Thoughts On Jim Kettner

This is now the seventh time I've deleted my words and tried to start over. Still, it hasn't gotten any easier. It's been about three weeks since Jim Kettner--the longtime promoter of the East Coast Wrestling Association (and my friend)--quietly slipped out the back door of the Boys and Girls' Club of Newark, Delaware, presumably never to return. After three long weeks, the news still hasn't gotten any easier to digest.

I first became familiar with Jim and his ECWA product when I was invited by a few colleagues to attend my first Super 8 tournament, back in 2007. As an avid reader of Pro Wrestling Illustrated, I was somewhat familiar with the tournament and its historical significance. For those who are unaware, Super 8 has served as a launch-pad for a number of careers. It has showcased men such as Christopher Daniels, Jeff Hardy, Low-Ki, Bryan Danielson, AJ Styles, and, most recently, Consequences Creed, among dozens of other men. For many, it was a first small taste of a lot of the glory that would lie ahead later in their careers.

Despite being somewhat star-struck when meeting Jerry Lynn, Sonjay Dutt, Rob Conway, and Nunzio that night, my most significant memory will always be sitting down with Jim during the show. I'll never forget the sight of Jim with his slick, jet-black hair and now oh-so-familiar red button down shirt and black tie strolling toward me, taking up the vacant seat to my right, and casually telling me my input on the show would mean a lot to him. Here I sat--little more than a casual fan--surrounded by a half a dozen fellow PWI writers, men and women all infinitely more familiar with the ECWA product and infinitely more knowledgeable about what made for good wrestling...and HE took the time to sit down and learn about all that I thought.

It was at that moment that I was hooked.

Over the years, I'm so proud to say that my friendship with Jim has grown with each show. I can remember, in particular, a time of great difficulty for me, personally, in which Jim would contact me almost weekly, and even posted a notice on the ECWA website advising its fans to keep me in their thoughts. Like so many others, I could probably come up with a dozen heart-warming Jim Kettner stories.

I can also look back on many of our conversations and see vague inferences to his tenure starting to wind down, from the passing "I'm getting too old for this" to the not-so-subtle "Do you think the ECWA will have staying power when I'm not around?"

For 43 years, Jim Kettner has served the ECWA and its fans to his absolute fullest. Whether as a wrestler, a promoter, a mentor, or a friend, Jim has been instrumental in so many men and women making it in the wrestling business (or, if nothing else, feeling really good about themselves along the way). The ongoing list of ECWA "graduates" includes Daniels, Christian, Devon "Crowbar" Storm, Andrew "Test" Martin, Bryan Danielson, Low-Ki, and, most recently, Darren Young. After years of thinking about it, I would attribute this recipe for success to one part solid wrestling knowledge, one part caring mentorship, and a dash of family.

Perhaps even more telling than the long and strong list of men who have left ECWA to go on to fame and big-money contracts are the not-so-famous wrestlers, men who have mentored under Jim for any period of time, be it a few weeks or more than a decade. One of the truly unique things about Jim's roster is that it includes a number of dedicated wrestlers who--unlike a lot of other indies--have remained loyal to Jim AND JIM ALONE, despite strong offers to ply their trades elsewhere.

It always comes back to family.

Over the years, the manner in which Jim, his staff, and fraternity of wrestlers have welcomed me, a total stranger, into this extended family is like nothing I have ever experienced. I am guessing this close kinship is pretty much the only reason I've been able to come to terms with the tremendous loss that is Jim Kettner, and why I believe ultimately the ECWA will thrive under its new management. Just as in any family, there comes a point where cooking Thanksgiving dinner becomes too much of a chore for Grandma to keep it going. In that case, there is usually some other family member willing to take on the added responsibility just to keep tradition alive.

In promoters Mike Tartaglia and Joe Zanolle--himself a PWI colleague and, coincidentally, ECWA Hall of Famer--Jim has found two men who care, very much, about many of the same nuances. In less than a year, Mike and Joe have taken their own vision for the revamped Tri-State Wrestling Alliance from a vague idea to a family show that is very similar in nature to the ECWA. Plus, Joe has firsthand knowledge of Jim's magic, having personally stood at ringside capturing images of the faces of the ECWA for many, years.

Recently, Jim sent me an e-mail, telling me about all of the confidence he had in his successors. He certainly must, to walk away from a promotion that has been his since 1967. Everything about ECWA--from its ringside fans, to its yellow-shirted staff, to the very men who sacrifice their health each month in an ECWA ring--resonates with the close kinship that Jim has helped instill.

It is a kinship I know Mike and Joe hold close to their own hearts, as well.

For anyone who has never been to a Jim Kettner-promoted ECWA event, I don't believe things will change that drastically. I recommend giving the company a chance. My heart still aches for the loss of my close friend to retirement, but Jim's very spirit will live on for years in the hearts, in the minds, and in the attitudes of those with whom he was always closest: those he considered family.

Brady Hicks/PWI Contributing Writer