Thursday, June 28, 2007

#144. Chris Benoit Tragedy

Funny, that I haven't yet converted the wrestling news site link to something I'm using myself. Left Power Wrestling probably sometime last year, but I've been a WrestleView regular for a while now. One of their columnists has summed up my continuing understanding of the Benoit tragedy quite well here.

(Incidently, I'd still patron PW if it weren't infested with pop-ups, which WV is free from, so I'll leave that link up in case some (theoretical) readers can sidestep that malady.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

#143. Chris Benoit

Can't believe the news today...

Yesterday I was finishing up my latest column for Paperback Reader, well aware that it was stretching past the half hour mark at 8, when Raw was broadcasting another three hour edition of its regular programming. So when I finally got out into the living room, I had my sister switch to the USA network, because she hadn't been aware of the event. We found ourselves watching Steve Austin speaking about Chris Benoit. I didn't understand what was happening. I knew that Chris had pulled out of Vengeance the previous evening so he could go home for personal reasons, so I thought we should call my other sister, who might know what was really going on. She hadn't been watching (had, in fact, also forgotten about the altered start time), but the only thing she knew was what she'd been reading on the Internet recently, that it was illness that caused Chris to exit so abruptly. That wasn't what I'd heard.

Then the television made it all but clear. Chris, his wife and his son, were all found dead earlier in the day. Just like Eddie Guerrero, a personal hero, a favorite wrestler, was gone.

I had to decide if I was going to go to work today. I could've called out last night, but I was so baffled by the sudden news, I still couldn't figure out what to do, even by the end of the program. This morning, I still didn't know what I would do. Finally, I made the decision to call out, because I had to know what the world knew, not just that he and most of his family were dead, but what was being reported as to the cause. I also wanted to know if his death would be reported in the paper. It was, and this was the first time, after hours of dreading what it could be, that the first suspicion was that he had killed his wife and son on the weekend, and then himself on Monday.

And I can't believe that. I've spent the last few hours scouring, as the name of the blog implies, and that's as much the conclusion as anyone's reached, based on what we've been told. And I still can't bring myself to believe it. As with anything else, death has become a prominent fixture in wrestling, be it Eddie Guerrero two years ago, Owen Hart, the Von Ehrichs, and on and on, but this is the most difficult one to understand. We watch these men compete week in and week out. They literally become a part of our lives. They may compete in a sport where most of what happens is predetermined, but what they go through is as real as it can be. Some have speculated that the stress of the ring, of the wrestling experience, finally got to him. And it probably wouldn't be too hard to understand how. Aside from Eddie, Chris can be likened, more than with any other current superstar, to Kurt Angle, who became famous not because of his prowess, but for his inability to walk away, even to his own personal harm, to the point where he went from one company to another, when he was supposed to be taking some time off, just so he could continue to compete.

I'm not condemning Angle. And I'm not condemning Chris, whose dedication was legendary. More than any other wrestler in the modern era, Chris Benoit was the epitomy of commitment. He truly loved this business of professional wrestling. And so I can't come to any easy conclusions to how his life could have ended like this. In many ways, someone elsewhere made the proper allusion when they referenced Phil Hartman, the great comic who was involved in another such incident a decade ago. It's just so hard to understand.

I cannot conclude any other way than to express my gratitude for having had the privilege of watching Chris over the years in the wrestling ring. No, he was never the top star. But he was always the best. Back in 2004, when he and Eddie captured heavyweight titles and Pro Wrestling Illustrated picked him over Eddie for the top position on their annual PWI 500 ranking, I couldn't help but be angry, because I felt Eddie deserved, despite not having that Royal Rumble win, or the WrestleMania main event, that honor. But that was something Eddie didn't need. More than anyone, Chris truly deserved the recognition, to be named, for one brief moment, the top man in the game. Eddie was the showman. But Chris was the spirit of the sport.

Today, wrestling mourns a giant.

Monday, June 18, 2007

#142. Cloak of Shrouded Men Proof, 2007 Draft

Oh shiiiit! I just got the proofs back on my book! First, there will be some textual corrections. Second: Cooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool!

Sorry if that seems corny to you. But it's my book! My honest-to-god, I'm-going-to-be-published-even-if-I-had-to-do-it-myself book!

Okay! Now that that's behind us, the 2007 WWE draft. And there were some big moves, from last Monday to this past Sunday's lottery picks. Raw and Smackdown each got ten, while ECW drew five less. But really, I think everyone can celebrate:

  • King Booker - I really thought he was making this move two years ago, but here he's finally going. He's been played out on Smackdown, even had a lengthy championship run, and one major character change (which I hope disappears in the brand switch). He's proven that he's a valuable member of the WWE roster, no matter where he is. On Raw, maybe he won't be a top contender, but he won't be overlooked. Raw is like the big family filled with big personalities right now, where the company's attention is clearly focused. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and you'll see why with Booker.
  • Bobby Lashley - There was so much talk that Umaga was basically a part of ECW's roster that everyone overlooked the obvious: that Lashley was being groomed for the big stage. He's proven that the company's faith in him isn't wasted, that he can take big spots and run with them, even if he isn't a top performer in any category. He's game, that's what really makes him worth every penny, game for whatever's thrown at him, because he'll sell it, and still come out strong in the end. The dude lost his title to Vince McMahon. And nobody thought he lost anything, regardless of the circumstances. That's a power you can easily overlook. Well, no more.
  • Snitsky - He's the kind of patented psycho monster the company loves so much, first and best embodied by Sid. He's better than when he was last on the brand. If he's used as is, he'll be another Umaga.
  • Mr. Kennedy - WWE wants another big star; by placing him on Raw, the company is finally going to have him. Bottom line, end of discussion. Misssssssterrrr Kennedy!
Kennedy! John Cena? Meet your match! The champ is here!
  • Paul London and Brian Kendrick - Despite the near-constant threats that if London does his flying off turnbuckles once more, his star only continues to rise. And here his team is, out of the reach of cruiserweights, which can only mean the company's confidence in them has grown. Brothers, they really are the future of the tag team.
  • The Sandman - Certainly introduces a unique element to the brand, and perhaps, among all these other names, will be the one to watch, to see how he's going to be used. We know at this point that he can actually wrestle. But is that what he's going to do? One way or another, the face of ECW has changed once more, and another of its favorite sons is given the chance to break the mold. That's what this guy does, right?
  • William Regal - He's besmirched! Oh, come on! You all know that's exactly what you've been waiting for!
  • Jillian Hall - Even Smackdown's Divas graduate to Raw. There goes another! Sing, baby, sing!
  • The Great Khali - Somebody for Mark Henry to feud with. And possibly Batista. There's still life left in this giant, and opportunities.
  • Torrie Wilson - Never seemed at home on Raw, anyway. Welcome home!
  • Chris Masters - And here, finally, we see Smackdown's achievement. Masters is clearly being shifted so he can have a chance to shine, outside the clutter. There was just no room for him on Raw, and it was only going to get worse. On Smackdown, with its more intimate setting, superstars are free to be as big as they can be, and be celebrated as much as for what they do as for who they are. Masters can do that here, but...
  • Ric Flair - ...can do it better! Who better than Naitch? Wooo! And, really, hasn't this been natural all along?
  • Kenny Dykstra - Same deal as Masters. Raw prepared him, but now he needs Smackdown to go the rest of the way. It's ironic, that Smackdown develops the next generation superstars in some respects, while nurturing others left suffering at the same time. It's the paradox of Friday nights.
  • Hardcore Holly - Imagine this guy in a feud with Finlay. Wooo!
  • The Major Brothers - Uh, new contenders for Deuce & Domino's tag titles!
  • Victoria - Really intrigued by this one, to see where she's going to go on this brand, where the Divas don't wrestle as much as they give attitude. Hey, wait, in some respects, that's Victoria! So, save your knees!
  • Eugene - A wrestling savant. He's like Smackdown personified!
  • The Boogeyman - Kevin Thorne, meet the thorn in you side. Worms intended.
  • Chris Benoit - Ever since Kurt Angle jumped ship (alas! only this title eluded you!), this brand's been looking for the kind of fully-functional star who can take the extreme in every degree, who will develop what's there and make every look good in the process. Now, just imagine the first Benoit-CM Punk match...
  • Viscera - The 2007 ECW Show!
  • The Miz - Be it Hardcore Holly or Rene Dupree, ECW's been quietly attempting to rehabilitate careers for superstars who've been unfairly kicked to the curb (carrying on a company tradition, in fact). Guess what, Mizfits? This guy's in that category, too.
  • Johnny Nitro - This is perhaps the most interesting draft choice of all. Why Nitro? Why ECW? He may be the missing piece of the puzzle on this brand, that's why, that's what.
And just like that, you understand that WWE is one company that knows how to make a few smart moves. When they aren't exploding people.

Friday, June 15, 2007

#141. Cloak of Shrouded Men Editing, A.C. Hall, Paperback Reader, Books, Wrestling

Well...I suppose updating once a month is better than...nothing?

Anyhoo, Cloak of Shrouded Men has kicked and screamed through its final revisions (I hate that stuff! even when it produces necessary and beneficial changes!), meaning it's that much closer to being published via iUniverse, which I can't be more excited about. I keep entertaining myself with all the possibilities of how great people are gonna think it is. I'm so happy for myself! Still haven't heard back about The Jingle Jangle, but I can be patient sometimes, really! Though I really hope to hear positive word on it...

One way or another, I'm still writing. A.C. Hall, a fellow columnist at Paperback, has invited me to contribute a story for a fiction anthology his other haunt, Stumblebum Studios, will be putting out, and based on the theme, I've cobbled together something about a time-traveling Nicola Tesla, whom I last encountered in Christopher Nolan's superb The Prestige (to see my ideas of good movies, be sure to stop by the Observation Lounge at Lower Decks, which has now completely segued from a Star Trek site to a general genre lair, which I've become comfortable with; I'm working on a flashbacks feature for Lost, the first thing I'll have done in relation to that site since a 40th anniversary Star Trek story last fall, the first in a potential series, if I have the time). And I think I'm closer to writing a poem worthy of 9/11 (after all those anniversary pieces were lost in the Great Crash of '05) and the Iraq war, to be called "'Cause You Want to Believe She's Infallible." I can't wait to find the time...

Speaking of Paperback Reader, the recent return of a past contributor, along with a site redesign by operator Bart Gerardi, has me thinking again how much I appreciate my ongoing work there. It's made me that much more engaged in the landscape of comic books, and given me a regular platform to write about them, even if my reviews have slowed to a trickle, though the weekly column persists. I was set to write two reviews, and I've been on the computer long enough now, this evening, but the column only seems to command those thoughts more and more, now that my commitment to 52 is over (I reviewed every issue of that breakthrough weekly DC series). If you can't find me here, chances are you can always find me there!

Or at work. Sometimes, it seems that's what I do, besides eat and sleep. But I read, too! And at the bookstore, I keep finding more things I won't be getting around to reading very soon (I've been stuck reading William Least-Heat Moon's River-Horse for months now). But I'll get more into that later.

Another thing I'll be returning for is thoughts on the new WWE draft (begun the night Vince McMahon "died"). But I'll leave with this thought: at this year's WrestleMania, John Cena-Shawn Michaels was an instant classic. And this was definitely a year to have something like that. But, as I said, more thoughts in a few days...


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