Monday, May 13, 2013

#581. Frog Splash Monday

Well, I think I've succeeded in completely alienating myself as a blogger.  As I've told you before, this was the natural state of my blogging for years, so if you're feeling all smug, just know that familiarity has inoculated me to this shunning.

On to professional wrestling!

WrestleMania 29 is being released on home video tomorrow.  I've only seen two WrestleManias live on PPV, WrestleMania 2000 (the sixteenth in the sequence that was in fact broadcast in 2000, when I watched it with my wrestling-obsessed friends at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA, where large groups in the dorm lounge on Monday nights was the norm) and last year's WrestleMania 28, thanks to my brother-in-law being on leave from a deployment and wanting to enjoy himself a little (sometimes his idea of enjoying himself is doing a lot of work around the house, so this was a welcome change of pace).

(It does occur to me that if I ever wanted to change the name of this blog, it would be to Life In Parentheses.  Seriously, who else do you know who writes so many parenthetical phrases?  I'll wait.  Or perhaps the Leo Five feature will be renamed that, now that it technically stars not just Leo but Monk and soon Joe Cocker, who is not the famous pop act but a cocker spaniel.  You'll see if that does in fact happen, Theoretical Reader.  And I realize that parenthetical phrases that turn into whole paragraphs don't need parentheses after all, but I'm the writer.  And I also realize that I do have some readers, such as the Geek Twins, who show up with comments rain or shine.  You are always appreciated, despite my cynical rhetoric.)

Anyway, since WrestleMania XX in 2004, I've been making an effort to add the subsequent DVD releases to my collection.  Previously I used to ogle the videos at the late Movieland in Lisbon, ME, although I rarely actually rented them, all the older ones, and 2003's WrestleMania XIX was the last time I allowed myself that peculiar indulgence.  And anyway, I picked up the whole anthology WWE released that included I-XX (with 21 as a bonus) on the cheap at FYE, and now have a complete collection, although with my ever-present lack of funds, I've been wondering if I should sell them, and if I can make good money off of them, unlike my comic book collection.  I've had three separate listings on Craigslist for some other items for months now, and the only interest I ever got was from a scammer.  (Seriously, scammers?  Why must the idiocy of most people allow you to believe you won't experience the psychic wrath of people who aren't idiots?  Psychic Wrath would make a great name for a rock band.)

(The phrase, "[fill-in-the-blank] would make a great name for a rock band" comes from Dave Barry, who used to write a Pulitzer-winning humor column syndicated throughout every decent American newspaper.  Fill-in-the-blank would also, incidentally, make a great name for a rock band.)

After a while, you start to realize that the popular response to any WrestleMania is the always the same.  "It just wasn't that good."  This amazes me.  Most commentators on wrestling seem to believe the majority of wrestling isn't any good.  They've got the same response as the people who don't watch wrestling.  The only difference is that they engage in the classic Internet exercise of sado-masochism.  They force themselves to watch what they hate in order to complain about it on the Internet, because, y'know, "it'll make the creators improve the product."  Baby, anyone who seriously heavily relies on outside input shouldn't be doing something creative.  There will always be a fair amount of give-and-take.  In fact, wrestling is the most interactive product around.  Fans create and destroy careers all the time, almost equal to the amount of similar effort on the part of promoters.

(I will also acknowledge that a really fun project would be to create an entire story from suggestions, like the ultimate Choose Your Own Adventure.)

That being said (the thing before that last parenthetical phrase), I always expect that the given WrestleMania is better than the response it garners on the Internet.  The funny thing is, I often get in the way of my own appreciation of wrestling because I invariably attempt to do something else when I pop in a DVD, such as use the Internet (really?!?) or fall asleep.  I fall asleep watching things all the time.  I'm an equal opportunist like that.  This is not an indication of my active interest.  (Consequently, when someone says they fell asleep watching something because it was boring, either I assume they were mistaken or we just have different interpretations of this phenomenon.)

Sure, sometimes the matches on a WrestleMania were clearly put together because the bookers wanted someone on the card and couldn't figure out how to do it usefully, and there are a lot of WrestleMania matches like that.  But this year's WrestleMania doesn't seem like that at all.  I assume if the wrestlers showed up to perform, they did something worthwhile in these matches.  I will probably talk about this again next week, just so you know, because hopefully I will have finally seen WrestleMania 29 for myself.


Anyway, in TNA, Sting addressed the AJ Styles situation on Impact last week.  Sting is the dude who made a name for himself in WCW, the face-painted warrior who was not the Ultimate Warrior (who was in WWE until a perhaps misguided effort to confront Hulk Hogan a second time), who was as much the face of the company as Ric Flair, for years.  When the New World Order thing happened, the bookers were tired of relying on Flair.  Seriously, he was a nonentity during that whole (years-long) thing.  During one of the points where it seemed like it was over (but wasn't), Flair and Hogan had another series of matches, which they'd done when Hogan first appeared in WCW (but not when they were both in WWE).  Anyway, Sting was tapped as WCW's savior.  He spent fifteen months not actually competing in matches.  This is unheard-of in wrestling.  And something that will probably never happen again, and I'll explain that momentarily.

Anyway, there was even a fake Sting the nWo (some people might present that as NWO, but I stay true to the spray-painted logo) used for a while (and then sent to Japan, the land where this whole angle originated).  The real Sting finally staged his comeback at Starrcade 1997 (Starrcade was WCW's WrestleMania).  This match with Hogan was hyped beyond anything else from the decade.  Bret Hart was present, having just joined WCW after the Montreal Screwjob debacle of the previous month's Survivor Series match against Shawn Michaels in WWE.  When Hogan technically won the match fair and square (the referee was supposed to botch the count, but inadvertently botched that), Hart charged in the ring and declared "Not again!"  The ringside commentators (I don't care what anyone says, WCW had the best of these) accurately observed that at this point the match was restarted, or in other words an entirely separate match began.  Sting was all fired up, unlike how he'd been earlier.  He won easily.

Still, because of the controversy of whether or not Hogan had gotten a fair shake (never mind that it wasn't nWo policy to give anyone a fair shake), the result was declared null and void, and another match a few months later tried to resolve this huge moment.  This was the beginning of the end of the momentum the company had had over WWE.  It didn't hurt that Goldberg, who became a huge phenomenon in 1998, was still completely overshadowed by nWo shenanigans.  It's also worth noting that as much as everyone wanted everyone else to believe, the dedication Sting had demonstrated to being the savior hadn't been matched by the conduct of the rest of the company.  Hogan had lost and won back the WCW heavyweight title to Lex Luger only a few months earlier, and at the 1996 Starrcade, he lost to Roddy Piper (which is significant even if the title wasn't on the line).  The full heel version of Hogan (he had previously been the biggest face ever, literally, though he still wrestled as a heel, which was what big men until Vince McMahon saw dollar signs in Hulkamania were, including the Hogan prototype "Superstar" Billy Graham) was hated, but he was unappreciated.  He should easily have been more successful, but again, wrestling fans are insane.  A Hogan who was champion and undefeated throughout the same fifteen months would have been a more effective opponent.

Still, keeping Sting out of action for so long created a lot of logistical problems.  The Starrcade match was perhaps doomed to failure from the start.  The part of the match that Hogan technically won was dominated by Hogan, with Sting receiving one long beating.  It seemed like the smart thing to do.  Was a guy who'd spent fifteen months out of action prepared to contend a match any other way?  Then the second part of the match, the one that Sting technically won, featured everything that the fans really wanted to see.  Suppose that the two aspects of the match had been blended (as more or less intended).

You'd really only have that as a possibility today, with AJ Styles.  AJ is the TNA equivalent of Sting (and Ric Flair), the face of the company (other than Jeff Jarrett, who dominated the early years), a reliable talent of extraordinary ability (his nickname is in fact "Phenomenal").  Last year he lost the ability to compete for the heavyweight title for a full year.  He had his most distinguished run with the title in 2009-2010.  When you're championship material like that, anytime you're not in contention, observers label you an underachiever.  TNA has never truly mishandled AJ, but they've typically lacked direction for his character (something that has plagued Randy Orton in WWE for the last few years, and it's always far more obvious with him, because he doesn't have the compensating ability in the ring).  Last year they gave him direction in a big way.  One of his perfect rivals is Christopher Daniels, whose career closely mirrors his own except in championship gold.  They've wrestled each other countless times.

Last year they finally gave Daniels a chance to distinguish himself as something other than a standout wrestler, and in the process elevated AJ back to the forefront as well, but the real testament is that they've allowed him to follow the Sting example as closely as possible.  TNA has been plagued by the Aces & Eights faction for almost a year.  Every member is a former wrestler in WWE, something the more naive fans will always claim as meaning they're nothing but limited cast-offs.  WWE and WCW and ECW swapped talent for years.  If ECW had ever been in a position to gain marque talent, it would probably still be in business today.  In fact ECW is the reason Steve Austin became a huge star.  The promotion flipped him from his underappreciated WCW days to stardom in WWE.

AJ has spent large swathes of time not competing.  He's changed his look.  But he's in fact wrestling again, and it hasn't been fifteen months, and his first opponent wasn't the wicked leader of Aces and Eights (Bully Ray, who used to be known as Bubba Dudley).  Sting is Bully Ray's next opponent.  It's obvious that AJ will defeat Bully in their inevitable match.  A lot of fans seem to equate inevitability with predictability, and therefore uninspired product, but great fiction uses inevitability all the time.  It's not knowing that something's going to happen that dictates how it should be received, but how it's executed.  When you expect to be disappointed, chances are you will be.

AJ and Bully Ray should have a good match when that happens.  They've got contrasting styles in the ring, and they both know (and are further learning) how to pull off a dramatic episode.  Putting together a match isn't just about stringing along a series of moves.  It's knowing how to pull them off effectively.  Sometimes that means that there's far less action than you'd expect.  If the Sting/Hogan match was a true failure, it was that there truly were two distinctive parts of the match, one where Hogan was dominant and one where Sting was dominant.  There didn't seem to be interest in integrating either one.  It's funny, because Hogan was a master of changing momentum.  He built all his matches on the same sequence of events, culminating in the dramatic comeback.  The entire Aces and Eights angle has been teaching the entire TNA roster how to do that.  The payoff should be worth it.

That's all I'll yammer about today.


The Armchair Squid said...

Wow! It's not merely performance art. Pro wrestling's like a soap opera.

(Just so you know, I read everything you had in parentheses but skimmed over some of the other stuff. Most everyone does it the other way around but seeing as you practically dared us to try it the other way, how could I resist.)

Tony Laplume said...

(Although I clearly write a lot one way or another, my best bits are in parentheses.)

Maurice Mitchell said...

That parentheses is a good title Tony, so it might work. I admit I'm not into wrestling enough to appreciate these posts but I do love to learn new things. You're welcome BTW. ***Fist bump***

Tony Laplume said...

Not a problem!


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