Mythmaking and the Modern Wrestling Fan

As happens occasionally, especially for wrestling fans engaged with the Internet, backstage controversies and news (or NEWZ) took clear precedence over the action within the ring this week – at least with regard to WWE. I could scarcely tell you what occurred on RAW other than the show ended tease of Shield vs. Wyatts (confirmed on Smackdown), but I was absolutely glued to Twitter once the news of Punk’s departure broke (work or shoot? Batista’s fault? Concussions? …). Monday’s RAW becomes a must see, not due to the actual scripted product, but due to the question of how the WWE will directly or indirectly reference the incident. Subtext becomes text. And trying to wipe Punk away entirely would speak loudest of all.

This all informs the product and gives us something to talk about between Mondays. But dwelling on the question of whether Batista has a title reign written into his contract or if Punk’s walkout is really a savvy contract bargaining maneuver ultimately reduces the spectacle to something less than its possibility. And maybe that’s unavoidable, but wrestling has also worked best when it approaches the order of myth. A great wrestling match, or angle, can fill one with awe in the same way we marvel at the power of gods and monsters. This is probably the case for any piece of performance art, but wrestling’s simplicity cuts through to heart of it: good and evil, humility and arrogance, vigilance and dishonesty. Through wrestling, we can act out our hopes, our fears, our moral truths, and the lies we tell ourselves to keep it all together. And this led me to thinking about Bruiser Brody.

No other wrestler perfectly personifies the tension between wrestling’s potential as grand spectacle and its ugly reality. If you want the gory details, click here. I don’t want to dwell on the circumstances surrounding Brody’s death – one of the sadder details is thats probably the first thing a knowing wrestling fan does think of when he/she hears Brody’s name. And it shouldn’t be, because watching Brody is one the great pleasures I can have as a wrestling fan. Few wrestlers in history have managed the absolute mastery of a character like Brody – from the hair, to the facial expressions (especially his eyes), even the way the man walks conveys the force of menace. This is particularly notable, since Brody often played babyface. In an era where babyfaces were generally clean cut, the wildman Brody was an absolute badass who you simply would rather be with than against,

See the match above – one of his many bloody brawls with Abdullah the Butcher. The two men stumble through the crowd, in a stadium in Puerto Rico. Part of the beauty of their feud was its transcontinenal nature – Japan, the US, the Caribbean islands. Gods are not constrained by borders. Fan surround the two, drawn in by the intensity of the battle but careful not to get too close when the behemoths collide.

Into the ring, and Abdullah jams a stake into Brody’s eye. This builds to a crescendo moment, as Brody revives and delivers a series of kicks to the Butcher’s head, with the crowd screaming in joy with each. Brody gets the stake, and crowd jumps to another level. Also, this all happens in the first 3 minutes of the match. As the match progresses, the video is marred by the camerawork, especially once Bruiser and Abdullah wander into the crowd again. It’s less a wrestling match than a scene of ritualized brutality. Best I can tell, the match ends in a no contest. Fitting, you can’t exactly constrain this even within the boundaries of sport. Ultimately, both men just kind of wander off, destined to battle once more. At least, until Brody wasn’t.

The business of wrestling can be ugly. And of course, I’m not in any way comparing the events of this week with Brody’s death, other than the fact that they both occurred backstage rather than in the ring. But the point is, great wrestling thankfully has the power to make us forget everything going on behind the scenes and focus on the power and the terror when giants collide.

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Of Dragons and Punks …

Well, it’s been a shit week to be a wrestling fan. On Sunday, I said that the Royal Rumble was like a wrestling fan’s Christmas. Today it feels like Santa broke into my house, stole all my toys, and punted my dog for good measure. Hell, even before the news of Punk’s departure, some brilliant fan had brought a “This Is The Darkest Timeline” poster to RAW.

The reaction to Daniel Bryan’s emphatic non-appearance in the Royal Rumble has already inspired a navel gazing, rambling post on the nature of “smart ” fandom deep within the recesses of my brain, but Voices of Wrestling beat me to it, with far more aplomb than I could have possibly mustered up. But hey, Daniel Bryan is still in the Elimination Chamber, right? Right?

Then came the reports that CM Punk, the other darling of the IWC, had quit. Left RAW, stormed out, fed up with grind, and the pain, and the shitty creative, and the politics, and the bullshit. One, probably more of those at least. Frankly and this point, with this industry, I don’t begrudge anyone with the “Fuck You” money to go ahead and cash it in. The guy has brutalized his body for over a decade now, without the potent combination of painkillers and booze (and depending on the decade, whatever illicit drug happens to be in fashion) to push on through. Everyone has a breaking point. And when you’re considered an “independent contractor” with no pension and no guaranteed health care, it pays to get out when you’re ahead.

I just hope we get to see him in the ring again, once he’s had a chance to find wrestling fun again. It’s ironic that I finally returned to pro wrestling after a long absence mainly due to the last time he was ready to leave the WWE. It led to the single best wrestling angle of the past decade and one of the greatest matches I have ever seen. And when the WWE Network launches in a month, I expect it will be one the first matches that fans will go back and revisit.

And at times like these, at least I can go back and remember why I still watch this shit. Because when wrestling is truly great, its the best thing there is. Thanks, Punk.

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It’s Time to Rumble …

Why don’t they do intro videos like this anymore?

Anyway, its time for the Royal Rumble, every WWE fan’s late Christmas gift. The awesome thing about the Royal Rumble is the breadth of possibility. For one night, any and all possibilities for WrestleMania are wide open. Unfortunately, when  WrestleMania rolls around, and I’m trying to get my excitement level up for Batista vs. Randy Orton, much of the magic will be gone. But then, there’s always next year.

There are basically three storylines heading into WrestleMania, each proposing a potential Rumble winner. Dave Batista has returned in all his Euro-Trash splendor, the Authority is putting CM Punk’s back against the wall as the #1 entrant, and Daniel Bryan continues his quest to get the biggest weekly ovations since “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s peak. We know Punk and Batista will be in the Rumble, but no word on Bryan due to his match against Bray Wyatt. It certainly seems like it would be a tremendous mistake to leave Bryan out of the match, especially given that this Wyatt-Bryan match feels like a complete anticlimax. Hopefully, this is pointing to a “surprise” Bryan appearance and win, and not a Wyatt family beatdown to provide an explanation for keeping Bryan out.

As for Punk, he’s a virtual lock to win the yearly “Iron Man” award by lasting the longest. More than likely, his attempt to go coast to coast will be thwarted (probably during the final four) by a combination of the Shield, the New Age Outlaws, and Authority interference. Since Punk vs. HHH seems to be written on the WM booking sheet in permanent ink, this is both the obvious choice and the right one.

And what of Batista? Monday’s return ovation was warm, but underwhelming in the face of the weekly Daniel Bryan “Yes!” induced pandemonium. A WM main event of Orton vs. Batista would be particularly disheartening after a year of worked-shoot storylines implying that Daniel Bryan, despite all of his fan support, could never be “the guy,” the one who main events WM and carries the company on his back for the rest of the year. Especially since neither Orton nor Batista are that guy either (it’s John Cena, if you haven’t been paying attention). If I had my druthers, we would get Orton vs. Batista at WM, just not for the title. Put Batista over with Authority help, turn him heel, and let him be the new, smirking “face of the WWE.” Give Orton some time off to recover. Frankly, for all the Internet gnashing of teeth about the way Bryan has been treated (some of it justified), Orton may have the biggest grounds for complaint. He has the belt, but he’s also playing second fiddle to HHH, Daniel Bryan, Cena, and now Batista on a weekly basis. He hasn’t had a single strong title defense, and apparently his win over Cena at TLC was so convincing that we need a rematch to actually determine “who the man really is.”

As for Cena, he faces Orton tonight for the title in the rarest of stipulation matches, a “wrestling match.” Shocking. He’ll probably lose, but he shouldn’t. Getting the title off of Cena opens a a much bigger range of possibilities for WM. Cena vs. Brock in a rematch from Cena’s improbable victory at Extreme Rules 2012? Cena vs. Bryan II, this time without the shadow of HHH hanging in the background? Hell, Cena vs. Taker, Title vs. Streak? Given that Taker has, maybe two or three more matches left, and Cena’s body seems to be falling apart at the seams, it might be time to pull the trigger. If Orton wins, we likely begin the inevitable slog toward Orton vs. Batista, though don’t sleep on the possibility of a three or four way. Orton vs. Batista vs. Cena vs. Bryan, with Daniel Bryan having to overcome every hand picked WWE champ of the last decade opens up some intriguing possibilities.

The other option for Bryan that wouldn’t lead to a server explosion at /r/SquaredCircle/ is a match with the Undertaker. At this point, the right to face the Deadman and break The Streak is probably a greater honor that wrestling for the title. Right now, the smart money is on Brock Lesnar getting the match, but given Bryan’s meteoric rise, Taker’s waning health, and Brock’s, um, penchant for “realism” in his fights, Bryan might be the fallback option. Keep on eye on the fallout from Bryan vs Wyatt tonight, if I’m right, we will probably get some kid of tease post-match.

Given that I’ve already come close to exhausting my word limit, I’ll stick my final thoughts on the Rumble in the guise of the traditional “Rumble Lottery Pool” response. Live Audio Wrestling does a yearly Rumble pool. I signed up too late to enter officially, but I’ll use this forum to go on record.

  • Who will win the 2014 Royal Rumble? Notice I never answered this question above. Barring a complete shock, it almost has to be either Dave Batista or Daniel Bryan. My head says Batista, my heart says Bryan. Since I’m not putting any money on the line, I’ll go Daniel Bryan.
  • Who will have the most eliminations? The obvious answer is Roman Reigns, and it is also the correct one. WWE is strapping a rocket to Reigns, who is almost certain to face an massive IWC backlash as he gets pushed down our throats all the way to the main event of WM 31.
  • Who will draw #2? CM Punk is #1. I’m guessing it will be a member of the Shield, in order to put Punk at immediate risk. My guess is they give this role to the Shield member lowest on the totem pole, and in the WWE’s eyes, that’s Seth Rollins.
  • Who will draw #29? Usually we know #30 coming in, but not in this case. I’m assuming that #30 will be the returning Seamus, so #29 will probably be someone completely non-descript with no chance of winning. I’m looking at you, Miz.
  • Who will be the last person eliminated? If Batista wins, it’s probably Punk, if Bryan wins, it’s probably Batista. Still going with my heart, I’ll say Dave Batista.
  • Who will be the second-to-last person eliminated? In my scenario, Punk gets eliminated earlier, so I’ll go with Roman Reigns.
  • What will be the total time of the Royal Rumble? Well, it’s a pretty deep undercard, so I’d expect a relatively short Rumble. let’s go with 58:30.
  • Who will last the longest? CM Punk is a lock here.
  • Who will last the shortest? The tough part here is actually picking someone who is a comedy midcard heel, but is actually well regarded enough to be included. Looking at the current list here, one name stands out. Say it with me … FAN-DAN-GO.
  • How many people will Roman Reigns eliminate? Since its basically been established that he’s going to get the Diesel Memorial  Award for most Rumble eliminations, this was added. My guess, he’s beats Diesel’s mark with 7, but doesn’t touch Kane’s record 11.
  • Who will be a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble? (Cannot be someone on the main roster and excludes Jake Roberts due to his recent appearance) I think Seamus and Jericho are probably locks, but would constitute main roster guys. Thinking about number, there have been 20 listed, Seamus and Jericho make 22. I think Bryan will be involved, making for 23. The New Age Outlaws aren’t listed yet, that makes 25. Sting and AJ Styles aren’t showing up. Hulk Hogan will be around for WM, but he ain’t bumping over the top rope. With 5 left, I think the Honky Tonk Man probably makes his yearly appearance. But, I’m saving my surprise pick for “Diesel” Kevin Nash. Given that Reigns is getting the Diesel push, why not let him eliminate the man himself?
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Hello? Anybody Up?

So maybe I bit off more than I could chew. OK, I definitely bit off more than I could chew. Basically, the idea of doing a long form post a day probably isn’t feasible. Moreover, I ended up obsessing over which matches to review, which angles to discuss, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, you don’t care. Point is, this whole thing is supposed to be fun, and I got too concerned with what to post that I forgot why I wanted to do this. So, reset. This may turn into more of a “What I Loved in Wrestling This Week” blog, with a few match reviews sprinkled in. That being said, this week I loved …

  • Daniel Bryan. Well, duh. Even the WWE marketing machine couldn’t convince me that this was all in their plans. However, despite everything, we got one of the best moments in recent RAW history last Monday. Please, let’s keep this up. YES! YES! YES!
  • Voices of Wrestling. I have no idea how I was unaware of this site for so long.Check out their top 50 matches of year. It’s an incredibly diverse list, including puro, American indies, and lucha, which led me to …
  • Dr. Wagner Jr. vs. L.A. Park. I had no idea this match existed until reading VOW’s match list. And it is awesome. The match freaking STARTS with a flaming chair, and just escalates from that point. Ferociously violent and intense, this is probably the closest thing to a classic Memphis Funk-Lawler double juice brawl this year. Basically, if you want to watch two veterans beat the ever living fuck out of each other, this is your match.
  • Lucha … you know, for kids! So the previous match isn’t kid friendly, but there is plenty of kid friendly lucha content. Which is great because, well, I’m going to be father in about six months. If you’re reading this for the first time, congratulations! You’ve joined the elite ranks of our close friends and family who know about this. Anyway, I’ve watched even more wrestling than usual lately, maybe already thinking about how I’m first going to introduce him/her to this thing that I love. I feel like lucha libre might be the way to go. In fact, I’ve already gotten permission from the Mrs. to use a lucha theme for the nursery (if the it’s a boy, which I frankly think is a bit of unnecessary gender bias. Maybe if it’s a girl, we’ll go with a Manami Toyota theme.) Anyway, there’s apparently a ton of stuff out there for lucha themed kid’s rooms, like this. Between that and the WWE Network, you can be fairly certain there’s another wrestling fan just waiting in the wings.
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Flair vs. Steamboat: Let’s Start at the Top

If we’re going to do this thing right, we might as well start with what is generally considered the single best rivalry in North American professional wrestling – Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat. This match is the first encounter of their three match series, from February 20, 1989 at NWA Chi-Town Rumble in Chicago.

The beauty of the Flair/Steamboat rivalry lies in its simplicity. Flair was the limousine riding, jet-flying, kiss stealing, wheeling dealing WOOOOO son of  gun, and Steamboat was the humble family man with the wife and kid at home. Two different philosophies, but two fantastic workers.

First note of the match – NOBODY has ever had better hair than Ric Flair in 1989.


Match starts with a basic Irish whip sequence – as Flair lays down, expecting Steamboat to leap over him, Steamboat simply drops down into a headlock. I love that move. Steamboat has the advantage early, and the early takeaway is the pace at which these two could work. Throughout the match, there is almost no rest, no wasted movement. Even when Flair bails to the floor, taking a quick time out, it serves the purpose of establishing the fact that Flair wants to slow down the pace, while Steamboat wants everything to quicken.

This is borne out further as Steamboat grabs a side headlock. Normally a simple rest hold, you’ll notice Flair is constantly moving, attempting to wrest himself out of the hold, while Steamboat is constantly working to cinch it in. At one point, Flair tries to force Steamboat into the corner, but Steamboat walks up the ropes and launches both men backward, keeping hold locked in. Most wrestlers would use this as simply an attempt to take a breather, but Flair and Steamboat use it to develop the psychology of the match and establish Steamboat’s tenacity.

Our announcer is the great Jim Ross, who does a fantastic job of laying out the history between the two men, including their past encounters in the NWA. At this point, Steamboat has recently returned to NWA after a stint in the WWF (where he had a fantastic feud with Randy Savage, culminating in a phenomenal Intercontinental title match at Wrestlemania III.) The two men exchange vicious chops – at one point, Flair delivers a stinging chop to Steamboat in the corner, and Steamboat returns fire with an even harder chop that knocks Flair down and forces the Nature Boy to beg off. Nobody begged for mercy quite like Ric Flair. Steamboat hits a double chop to Flair off the ropes, who does a Terry Funk-esque stumble through the ropes to the outside and bails.

As the two men battle on the outside, Ross brings his voice up a notch, emphasizing the physicality of the match. JR just has a way of raising the intensity at just the right moment. Flair gets the advantage on the inside, not surprisingly, slowing down the pace. He hits the patented knee drop to the head, attempts multiple pins, but Steamboat kicks out.

The pace really picks up around the 13:00 minute mark as Steamboat whips Flair into the ropes, leading Flair to perform his flip over the corner, run the ring apron, climb up the other corner, and finish with flying crossbody attempt. And it hits! But Steamboat reverses the momentum into a pinning attempt that gets 2 and nine/tenths. Crowd totally bought that. Flair comes back with an atomic drop out of the corner, and slaps on the figure four. Steamboat sells it like Flair is hacking off his leg at the knee. Flair does his part by illegally grabbing the ropes for leverage. Tommy Young joins the annals of bad pro wrestling referees by completely missing Flair repeatedly grabbing the ropes, despite the fact that Flair is about 2 feet away from him. Finally, Young sees it and forces a break.

Flair gets surgical on the injured leg of Steamboat. In a classic Flair-Steamboat spot, Steamboat desperately tries to pull himself up by the ring ropes, as Flair repeatedly (and dickishly) kicks the leg out from underneath him. Steamboat fights back with chops – Steamboat was absolutely fantastic at the minor “hope spots” – getting a quick burst of chops in to keep the crowd believing in his eventual comeback. Eventually, they go to the ropes, and Flairs hits a crossbody that takes both men over the top to the floor. Crowd pops big for that.

At this point, Flair kicks up the cheating, raking the eyes and running Steamboat shoulder first into the post. He suplexes Steamboat back in and attempts a pin with the feet on the ropes. Dragon tries to fight back, but misses a crossbody from the second rope – you could almost hear the air go out of the arena on that miss. I can’t emphasize enough how great Ricky Steamboat was at playing babyface. Flair goes back to work, which leads to the famous Flair/Steamboat pinning sequence, ending with Steamboat bridging out and hitting a butterfly suplex. Steamboat starts the comeback with chops and clothesline, finally hitting a big top rope chop and a crossbody (with JR absolutely losing his mind), but knocking out the referee in the process.

With the referee down, Flair tries a pin while grabbing the tights, but no ref to count. Steamboat tries to come back with a bodypress from the top, but misses. A cocky Flair lets out a big WOOOOOOO and starts to lock in the figure four, but Steamboat cradles Flair for the pin and the title at 22:13.

Simply put, this is two of the best of all time, at the top of their game. The best pro wrestling matches create the illusion of actual athletic competition, while actually riding on the strength of cooperation between the opponents. On this night, Flair and Steamboat were perfectly in sync, resulting in an all time great battle.


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Well, here we go …

I’ve always loved pro wrestling. Whether it’s the sport, the pageantry, the storytelling, or all of the above, it has held my attention through childhood, adolescence, and on through adulthood. I always assumed it would be something I grew out of, but at this point, it seems to exert a greater hold than ever.

Of course, for a functioning adult to exhibit a love of pro wrestling in the age of WWE “sports entertainment,” things can get awkward. So we couch our feelings in a layer or irony, or nostalgia, or just bury them completely. I guess this blog is an attempt to come clean, to explain my life of this silly pastime by exploring what makes it so compelling. Thanks to the likes of Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Steve Austin, Kenta Kobashi, Eddie Guerrero and a host of others who have made pro wrestling great, I have plenty of sources to choose from.

So one match a day, everyday. Some five star classics, some personal favorites, and a few unintentionally hilarious disasters. I just hope my marriage survives it.



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