Monday, June 28, 2004

#82. Luther Reigns, JBL, The Stunt Man

Here's testament to how long I've been gone (nearly two months, in fact): Blogger went ahead and redesigned its site. Okay, so that couldn have easily been accomplished in the normal weekly interval I'd gotten into, but you get the point. Hopefully...

Back to the subject of professional wrestling, then. Or to be more precise, WWE. Luther Reigns, bodyguard to Kurt Angle, GM (Smackdown) is not, as it turns out, a redressed Test, but rather somebody who previously wrestled under the name of Horshu who got his start at the WCW Power Plant (Goldberg is probably the biggest name alumn). I'd heard the name Horshu before, and if memory serves not in very favorable light. But he's made his WWE onscreen in-ring debut, and he doesn't look so bad to me. At last night's Great American Bash (another WCW holdover...hmmm) he made his PPV debut, squashing poor Charlie Haas. Haas has gotten the short end of the World's Great Tag Team lottery splitting ticket ever since Shelton Benjamin went to Raw and immediately entered a feud with Evolution (he hasn't appeared on Mondays since his loss to Randy Orton at Bad Blood, unfortuntely, as far as I know). Even his partnership with Rico has stalled, what with them losing the tag team championship to the Dudleys a few weeks ago and Rico reportedly suffering a leg injury in the process, though it's not as if they were seeing much television action since Judgment Day. Haas cashed in some remaining chips from his days as Team Angle to get the jobber role, and it's looking more and more than he has more in common with Scotty 2 Hotty than Benjamin (I guess it really is all about him, as he used to say on Heat).

But getting back to Reigns, he's one of three rookie stars on Smackdown to have a match last night. The others were Kenzo Suzuki (who must strive to avoid the creative black hole other Japanese stars have found in WWE, including Tajiri of late on Raw) and Mordecai (Mr. Gimmick, Also With Questionable Future Accessory). Suzuki, who cashed in chips won this past Thursday against Billy Gunn, has an unusual ring precense and style. At the moment it seems somewhat ungainly, but this is mostly due to the fact that he's still in upstart mold, where he's got to introduce himself in quash matches, much like Mordecai, who is also using his time (while almost exclusively on PPV) yacking about "sins" and "evil people." Mordecai is one of those cartoons that was so favorable to the company during much of the 90's, which tried its best to outshine the 80's in this regard.

It's where Bradshaw got his start, if you'll remember. Back then (1996) he was Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw, and he came to the ring with a manager and a cowboy outfit. He branded banished opponents. Strangely, this did not catapult him into any kind of spotlight, so he had to endure another 80's holdover in a New Blackjacks tag team (with one of the Windhams, I believe) before hooking up with the equally floundering Farooq (who learned, much as Goldust did, that Ahmed Johnson was not the source of stability...heck, even Johnson learned that, and it was probably rubbed in at the turn of the millennium when he was "Big T" in WCW and Harlem Heat 2000). The Acolytes, who traded on Undertaker's heat in the Ministry (much as Edge and Christian did, and to a lesser, more unsettling extent Mideon and Viscera), soon gave birth to the APA, the Acolyte Protection Agency. The APA was better known for its backstage poker n' beer antics than its in-ring action, which might have explained why the world was so ill-prepared for Farooq's retirement and Bradshaw's elevation... WWE champion! After two months of push from Kurt Angle, GM, and pushing himself as the best mouth on Thursday (I think he wrestled only about once during all that time, in a quash match against Rey Misterio), and two PPV main events, he controversially defeated Eddie Guerrero (Angle more or less gave him the victory) and strapped on what's probably his first singles championship (there may be a hardcore title or two in his past, and they both might be from WrestleMania 2000). And you know what? He totally deserves it.

Let me say it again, John Bradshaw Layfield, good ol' JBL, deserves to be WWE champion. Not many wrestlers could establish themselves so well in two months, as he needed to, after the loss of Angle as wrestler and Brock as WWE superstar (and heir apparent to the title of company frontrunner) and a less than satisfying lottery reshuffling brought John Cena's GAB opponents and so far not much else to Thursdays. Bradshaw is a regular miracle. And assuming I'm write, he's only going to make Eddie's continued reign as Smackdown's preeminent star all the more interesting. Let's face it. Eddie brings an even less dynamic presence as champion than Brock did, but you'll never hear anyone say this because he's perceived as having earned the honor while Lesnar was "given" it. So far all he's really done is reacted. What he needs is something to establish the character of his reign. "Tough Little Scrapper" is all well and good, but that can characterize just about anyone, from Steve Austin to Tazz to Spike Dudley. With Bradshaw acting as such an annoying rival, and always being favorably handicapped by Kurt Angle, GM, it gives Eddie a chance to develop his role in a way that's similar to the one Austin had in '98 but in a unique way. He won't just be the Latino That Could, but the Latino That Would.

Speaking of which, there's Cena, the Doctor of Thuganomics to consider. He walked away from the fatal fourway with his United States title still in possession. RVD, Booker T, and even Rene Dupree couldn't see him, couldn't make the acquisition. Dupree might have struck up a feud with the FBI, Nunzio and the Bull (Pinky and the Brain, anyone?), and RVD still needs to find himself, or he'll forever be the little engine that couldn't, so that leaves himself and Booker T as Cena's future opponents. Or maybe Luther Reigns. All I know is, Booker and Van Dam really need to start their engines or the lateral shift will be looking like an ever-increasing downward spiral. They have careers, right?

Rey-Rey got a PPV win over Chavo Guerrero, after defeating the departing Chavo Classic on television to recapture the cruiserweight championship. Maybe Paul London, who at least got some air time last Thursday as everyone pretended someone other than Chavo would be facing Misterio last night, would be the next contender, Chavo moving on. Or Kidman. Or Noble. Definitely not Spike or Shannon Moore...

Whatever happened to Orlando Jordon? And why weren't the Bashams given a PPV perch, after helping Eddie Guerrero remain in-ring relevant (countering the Bradshaw approach) for the past few weeks?

Sacrificed to the alter of the Undertaker, perhaps? The Dead Man let Paul Bearer perish last night even after seemingly turning down Paul Heyman and the Dudleys' offer with authority. Too bad. That unholy alliance could have been like "D"evolution on Smackdown, assuming the writers are still plotting a pile of bodies at Taker's feet...

Anyhoo, it's safe to say Thursdays are safe for wrestling again. How about Mondays? Chris Benoit is still champion there, and the shadow of Triple H still looms, though there are always complications. First there was Shawn Michaels, then Kane, and now...Eugene. That's right, the Raw answer to Zack Gowan is still kicking, as Nick Dinsmore's sound fundamentals are still being allowed to do the very most they can while still remaining within the confines of a mentally handicap character a lot of wrestlers are willing (including The Rock!) to lend support to. (In the end, I think that was Gowan's greatest flaw, that he just didn't get the same kind of support, for whatever reason.)

Edge, meanwhile, is still wallowing in tag team competition, even if "wallowing" in this case means his partner is Benoit and his favorite opponents are Evolution and La Resistance (Rob Conway and Sylvin Grenier, better with Rene Dupree, and vice versa, apparently, are at least more likely to see significant action). When will he be taken seriously as a singles star again? Or has that boat sailed?

Chris Jericho is still chugging along, and he's now cleaned the clocks of Christian (wish I could have seen that cage match) and Tyson Tomko (haven't seen him in action personally yet, so I can't really say too much about him, other than the fact that he seems to be Raw's answer to Reigns, Mordecai, and Suzuki in the WWE rejuvenation project, last yielding the impressive Cena and Orton). Is Christian out with injury? And Trish Stratus has benefited from that seemingly endless angle as well, parlaying it into an unprecedented fifth women's title. Also in that scene are Victoria and Lita, who's having Stacy Keibler issues with Kane.

Am I forgetting anything or anyone? Maybe, but I won't lose sleep over it. The Pro Wrestling Illustrated mid-year report will probably be in soon, and I can't wait to read the assessment. It's too bad by the time the PWI 500 hits in September that Goldberg and Lesnar will have missed six months out of the year covered, as they had very notable runs in the time they did have (Goldberg finally became champion and Lesnar had that Ironman match with Angle, to name the highlights). Shawn Michaels will have to be ranked higher than them, and that just shouldn't be, not because HBK doesn't deserve it but because the two titans deserve better than they got. I've rewatched the WrestleMania XX match and still find it to be better than anyone has admitted, even PWI. It was a different kind of encounter, one that doesn't come around too often, and nobody seems to have savored it. A pity...

If you haven't already, and chances are you haven't, go out and rent, or buy if you have to (you won't regret it), The Stunt Man, a film by Richard Rush starring Peter O'Toole. No, it's not austere, but rather a mindbending odyssey that tugs at the corners of reality in a little over two hours time. It's only about twenty years old, but aside from hairstyles and some early dialogue from bit players, you'd hardly be able to tell. It's surefire.

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